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New Supermarket Not Upscale Enough for Some Harlem Buyers

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Back when much ink was being spilled over the transformation of Harlem, new condo building The Lenox debuted with a new type of business for the neighborhood anchored in its retail space: a luxury car dealership targeting professional athletes (the building is near the offices of the NBA Players' Association). The business attracted headlines and curious crowds, but it went bust in less than a year.

The building itself has suffered some bruises in the economic downturn as well: Developer Lewis Futterman filed for bankruptcy protection on the 18 unsold apartments in the 77-unit building. In other words, Futterman really needed to find something to fill that big empty retail space, and he did: Pioneer Supermarket. Yay, a happy ending! Until the residents heard about the plan, and a couple bad apples tried spoiling the bunch.

The Best Yet Market was greeted like a conquering hero when it opened in Harlem's Soha 118 building, so what do Lenox residents have to complain about in getting a new supermarket option in this produce-lacking 'hood? Plenty, it seems. A building tipster forwarded along an epic e-mail chain between residents and Futterman, in which a couple of troublemakers repeatedly expressed their concerns. Some direct quotes:

1) "I have never seen a classy Pioneer Super Market, in fact they are all pretty dirty looking. We also all live on top of a subway tunnel already, we do not need to further invite rodents to our supposed LUXURY BUILDING."
2) "I strongly oppose the installation of a Pioneer Supermarket in our
building. For starters please go to the web and read the reviews on that supermarket."
3) "I do hope Lew steps forward and does not allow this to happen to us. Possibly we can help Lew find something more acceptable to keep up the appearance of a LUXURY BUILDING. It should not ONLY be 'all about the money.'"
4) "Deliveries on 129th street in front of the garage and the building main entrance. Boxes and crates all over the sidewalk; like you see with any other supermarket it can't be avoided. Major inconvenience for the people in the building."

In lengthy e-mail responses to these residents and on the phone with us, Futterman made it clear that he always envisioned a "middle-class oriented" supermarket for the space (hence the dedicated delivery entrance). He went after Trader Joe's, D'Agostino, Gristedes and others, but those bigger chains either deemed the 10,000-square-foot space too small or they just weren't interested in Harlem yet. Futterman also said he approached clothing retailers like Daffy's and Filene's, but they didn't bite, either.

Before the Pioneer deal was struck, he says the only other firm offer was from a dollar store, but he didn't want to do anything to hurt the image of the building, because he's still on the hook for 18 units (he said the bankruptcy matter should be cleared up in the next two months). As for complaints about Pioneer's quality, Futterman told residents that the operator of this particular franchise wants to cater to "the New Harlem."

The complaints are just from a couple residents, the developer said, and others have told him they're happy about the supermarket, albeit concerned about noise and garbage issues (he unveiled the Pioneer plan at a condo board meeting last week, though the board has no control over the space). After burning through $500,000 carrying the empty store, Futterman said he won't make a penny off the new lease. The dismantling of what remains of the car dealership will begin this week, and Pioneer should open in November. Will this cantaloupe controversy subside by then?
· The Lenox [Official Site]
· The Lenox coverage [Curbed]