New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

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Village residents threaten to sue NYU if local Morton Williams isn’t saved

Greenwich Village residents demanded that NYU and city authorities preserve the Morton Williams supermarket near the Paulson Center — which is at risk of being demolished — on Sunday afternoon.
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Aashna Miharia
Community members met for a demonstration in response to save the Morton Williams supermarket on Bleecker Street. (Aashna Miharia for WSN)

A group of Greenwich Village residents said they would file a lawsuit against NYU if it does not preserve a local supermarket sitting on university-owned land. The supermarket, a Morton Williams that has been at risk of being demolished for years, could be displaced to make room for a school due to a 2012 agreement between NYU and New York City’s School Construction Authority.

Dozens of residents rallied at the grocery store on Sunday afternoon, in a demonstration organized by the community group Save Our Supermarket. The group has been fighting to keep the Morton Williams and the neighboring LaGuardia Corner Gardens on the Bleecker Street and LaGuardia Place lot for years. Protesters called for the SCA, which has said it will decide whether it will construct a school on the lot by the end of 2023, not to displace the supermarket.

Judith Callet, co-chair of Save Our Supermarket, claimed NYU said the plot of land is worth $65 million, and said that the SCA has until Dec. 31 to accept the university’s offer in an interview with WSN. Callet said if the SCA accepts the offer, her group and the grocery store will file a lawsuit against NYU.

“NYU has several other buildings where a school could definitely reside,” Callet told WSN. “This is not okay. This is not an area for a school. We have illegal pot shops. The street is narrow for having school buses here — it just would be a hazard and it’s not conducive for young people to be here.”

In a written statement to WSN, university spokesperson John Beckman said NYU is “working closely with the city and Morton Williams on the future of the site.”

The fight for the supermarket began with former NYU president John Sexton’s 2031 expansion plan, which included a version of the now completed Paulson Center, along with three other buildings nearby. The university came to an agreement with the SCA during the approvals process for the plan in 2012, giving the authority the option to take the lot by the end of 2014. 

After asking for the deadline to be extended twice to the end of 2021, the SCA announced it would use the space for a school. NYU had previously considered including space for the supermarket in the Paulson Center, but the university dropped those plans, citing that it did not believe the SCA would end up using the lot.

The university promised to keep the supermarket at or near its current location last year, alongside Greenwich Village politicians such as assemblymember Deborah Glick and state Sens. Brad Hoylman and Brian Kavanagh. The commitment came after pressure from local residents and activists, who say the supermarket is central to the community. 

In an interview with WSN, Ellen Reznick — the acting chair of LaGuardia Corner Gardens who attended the demonstration — said Save Our Supermarket has been pushing for NYU to lease land to the SCA elsewhere, possibly in partnership with the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. 

“There are a lot of options such as building a school elsewhere,” Reznick said. “That’s the only option if they decide to build the school. They’re talking about colocation — that still means shutting down the supermarket for a few years. NYU promised to keep a supermarket on the block and if the school is built, that will not be true. There will be no supermarket for a few years.”

Andrew Berman, the executive director of Village Preservation, said city and state officials “must recognize” the importance of the supermarket and LaGuardia Corner Gardens to local residents in a written statement to WSN.

“It is incumbent upon NYU to honor the commitments they made years ago regarding the supermarket,” Berman wrote. “There is no reason why we can’t satisfy the need for a school and the imperative to maintain a vital public service like the supermarket and our community gardens.”

At the Sunday rally, Callet said if the supermarket closes down, 60 workers — who are also members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 338 union — will lose their jobs, and the neighborhood will inch closer to becoming a “food desert.”

“These people have been in this community forever — when it was a middle-class, working-class town — and that’s disappearing,” said Aileen Paré, who attended the event and is a graduate of the Tisch School of the Arts. “This place makes me feel that sense of community. It’s more than the inconvenience of groceries. It’s dispersing a community center in a way.”

Yezen Saadah contributed reporting.

Contact Aashna Miharia at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Aashna Miharia, Deputy News Editor
Aashna Miharia is a first-year studying journalism and public policy with a minor in business studies. She’s from the Boston area and a novelist, coffee enthusiast and lover of independent bookstores. You can usually find her listening to an audiobook while wandering around New York City or on Instagram @aashnamiharia.

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