Issue of the Week

SUPERSTORES

By Jessica Green

14 Feb 00

Need a ten pound tub of mayonnaise? A thirty-roll package of paper towels? Head to Queens or Brooklyn. But you won't find any so-called superstores in Manhattan. Not yet, anyway. Proposals by Costco, a warehouse-style superstore, and more recently by the Mayor, suggest that these big-box stores are here to stay, in all five boroughs.

THE LOWDOWN:

The proliferation of Costcos and Home Depots is not new. In 1996, Mayor Giuliani lauded superstores as a way to revitalize retail business, while affording consumers greater choice and lower prices. His proposed changes to the Zoning Resolution would have allowed superstores under 200,000 square feet to be built "as-of-right" - without the approval of the City Council. This sparked raucous debate between legislative and executive branches. The Council, which had only won control over land use decisions in 1991, vehemently disagreed, disapproving of anything that bypassed community input. Negotiations ensued: Could the maximum size be scaled down? Could the Council approve traffic plans? In the end, the Council overwhelmingly rejected the proposal, with only one dissenting vote.

Despite the Council's resounding no vote, superstores have grown, even flourished, without much further objection. Since 1996, about 40 superstores have been built, either downsizing or finding other loopholes in the zoning regulations to allow construction. Many of these stores have enjoyed wild success. The Home Depot in Flushing, for example, has been one of the top earners in the nation for that company. As a result of its success, Old Navy plans to double its presence in the City over the next five years to 20 stores. Earlier this month, Harlem U.S.A., a much-lauded retail and entertainment complex on 125th Street, opened the first of a series of stores. The ESDC has recently allotted monies for a similar project on 125th and Lex, for another 27,000 square feet of retail space.

And undeterred, the Mayor continues to tout superstores and large retail developments. He recently proposed the construction of yet another superstore in the Bronx, as part of a larger redevelopment project of the Kingsbridge Armory .

Now, Costco wants in on the action. First, it proposed a 70,000 square foot store on 14th Street, on the site of the 14th Street Armory. It withdrew those plans in December, in the face of substantial community opposition. Now it has set its sights on 55th Street and 10th Avenue for a similar project - a two story, 70,000 square foot store. Residents there are equally displeased. Presently, the community is awaiting a final proposal from Costco, to which they will most likely object. (For further info, read John Fisher's update.)

The superstorification of New York is here, and its merits are uncertain. Will the jobs generated by large retail outfits compensate for potential losses to local businesses? Will the economic growth promised by superstore supporters outweigh the consequences of "big-box" syndrome - large buildings out of character with the neighborhood, increased traffic, loss of neighborhood character? And if the City Council objected so strongly to superstores in 1996, why are they popping up all over the City?

JUST SAY NO:

John Fisher - Resident of Hell's Kitchen and head of the Clinton Special District Coalition explains what's wrong (what isn't?) with the proposed Costco.

BIGGER IS BETTER:

Mayor Giuliani unveils his plan to develop the long-empty Kingsbridge Armory. Read in a 1996 press release why New Yorkers need bigger supermarkets.

"Big Stores Love Big Apple" - Documents the superstore invasion, from Harlem to Queens.

"Rudy Says Superstore's on Way" - More on the Kingsbridge Armory, with one of its fans, Bronx Councilman Jose Rivera.

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