Manhattan Avenue has always been characterized by a unique blend of big business and mom n’ pop, major chain stores and small family-run restaurants, bars and 99-cent stores, and on Friday the Garden Spot will welcome a new franchise to its busiest thoroughfare: a 7-Eleven.
The new 7-Eleven will be open 24-hours, seven days a week, offering Greenpointers a variety of slurpies, sodas, groceries and snacks. The big biz convenience store will join the ranks of several others that line Manhattan Avenue, including a Duane Reade, Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks, all of which are just a stone’s throw from the new 7-Eleven, though owner Jimmy Solanki is determined to create an atmosphere that will allow the store to integrate into the Garden Spot with ease. For starters, he has joined the Greenpoint Business Association, as a sponsoring member.
“I always join the business associations in the areas where I do business,” Solanki said. At the moment, he owns one other 7-Eleven store, on the west side of Manhattan. He used to own another in New Jersey, but recently sold it in order to acquire the Manhattan Avenue storefront. “I like to know what the community is thinking and feeling, and how I can help. I like to be involved. All my stores are friendly—all my employees are trained that way. It brings a certain energy. The smile, how are you doing, have a nice day—it’s about person-to-person relationships.”
Solanki also plans to personalize his 7-Eleven store in order to make it even more Greenpoint-friendly: He is in the process of hiring four Polish-speaking employees, one of whom will be on shift at all times, ready to serve those who do not speak English. In addition, Solanki will stock a wide variety of Polish groceries and popular beer brands. Solanki also says he is committed to hiring as many local employees as possible.
“The Greenpoint Business Association sees this 7-Eleven as a positive national brand anchor in the community,” said Jennifer Hilton of the GBA. “There are small businesses that have similar types of products so there will be competition, but it’s a mix here, and it’s really important for Manhattan Avenue and Greenpoint to maintain the village feel. As long as we’re not overcome by national brands, and the small businesses aren’t pushed out, there is room for anchor brands like this. Small businesses are just as vital as any national brand, but as a person in the community, I think this is a good thing.”
“Woah, a 7-Eleven!” said a twenty-something Greenpointer, as he paused to look up at the red and green neon sign. “This is great!”
Owners of surrounding small businesses, however, don’t necessarily see it that way.
Sujit Kumar is the owner of LA Pizza and Convenience, just next door to the new 7-Eleven. Kumar’s convenience store used to be located in the storefront that 7-Eleven now occupies, though after eight years he was forced out due to rising rents. He bought the 35-year-old pizza restaurant next door, and opened his convenience store inside it. Not only is Kumar nervous for his own business in light of the encroachment of such a major franchise, but for the entire Greenpoint community.
“There are many convenience stores—that’s what Manhattan Avenue is, banks and convenience stores,” Kumar said. “This isn’t just going to affect me. It’s going to affect everyone. It’s less personal now. Here, everybody knows each other. If you don’t have a dollar with you, I’ll say no problem; bring it when you can. This is a community, and now this neighborhood is going to change.”
Barbara Lojko has lived in Greenpoint since 1964, and has witnessed to the changes the neighborhood has undergone. She, like Kumar, has serious reservations about the new 7-Eleven, though hers are mainly about the ways in which a 24-hour establishment will change the culture of Manhattan Avenue.
“If 7-Eleven is open 24-hours, there is going to be a lot more crime here,” Lojko said. “People are going to be hanging around outside all night. I don’t want a 7-Eleven. They should have opened a nice restaurant.”
Solanki understands the distress of local small businesses, and he feels for them—he has been in business a long time—and he vows to try his best to be a good neighbor, and a positive addition to the community.
“Right now, I think the other businesses are nervous,” Solanki said. “But I’m nervous too. How is everyone going to receive me? Are they going to accept me? I’m an entrepreneur too.”