Controversial liquor store illuminates gentrification in Harlem

Dec.December 02, 2011 12:56 PM

The new liquor store at 183 Lenox Avenue (credit: Harlem + Bespoke)
Rarely do liquor stores exemplify the tensions of a gentrifying neighborhood, where once-abandoned brownstones now garner $3 million-plus purchase prices, like the one coming to Lenox Avenue near West 119th Street in Harlem.

The New York Times reported that the liquor store owner, Behiru Mesfin, has drawn the ire of Harlem residents for a cheap-looking, bright yellow and red sign, a roll-down steel gate and low-quality liquor that recall the grittier days of the neighborhood when poor residents would sit on stoops drinking. The wealthier populace doesn’t mind a liquor store, per se, the Times pointed out, they just want one that fits in with their visions of a Park Slope-like neighborhood.

Meanwhile, longtime residents complain that the bodegas that accept food stamps, welfare check-cashing businesses and the like are disappearing from the neighborhood and driving them out. The campaign against the liquor store is taking on an “elitest tone,” according to one resident.

For now community advocates have gotten a stop-work order at the liquor store, at 183 Lenox Avenue, from the Department of Buildings, as the owner is altering a building in the protected Mount Morris Park Historic District. [NYT]

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