Garden of Eden’s Loss Further Expands Chelsea’s Food Desert | chelseanow.com

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Garden of Eden’s Loss Further Expands Chelsea’s Food Desert

Signs posted on July 27 made it official: Garden of Eden’s longtime W. 23rd St. location was closing its doors for good. Photo by Scott Stiffler.

UPDATE: The store was remained open through Fri., Aug. 4, with most of the shelves bare and, on its final day, a 40% discount on the last remaining items.

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | Longtime local business Garden of Eden Marketplace on W. 23rd St. has closed its doors.

The independently owned grocery store at 162 W. 23rd St. near Seventh Ave. has been a part of the community for two decades — and was considered a more affordable option for quality products and produce than some of its competitors.

That is what several customers told Chelsea Now on the afternoon of Tues., July 18, as rumors were swirling that the market would soon close.

Retiree and longtime Penn South resident Pauline Rothstein was sipping a coffee and scanning a newspaper at a seating nook at the front of the store. She said she has been shopping frequently at the grocery store since it opened and spoke highly of the fruits and vegetables it offered. If you want to maintain a healthy diet, especially if you are older, it is good to shop at Garden of Eden, she said, pointing to the selection of fresh greens and custom-cut veggies. Price-wise it is reasonable compared to Whole Foods, she noted.

Rothstein said she likes the “ease of shopping. You don’t have to go through a big store like Whole Foods. It’s never crowded and I don’t understand why — it’s [a] good location.”

She also had praise for the store’s catering service, saying it was a good bet to order large meals from the store if you’re entertaining guests. Rothstein said the cashiers were friendly and got to know the regulars. And as she sits and has a coffee, she socialized with those around her. “If you go often, you see the same people,” she said, adding, “I will miss it.”

Penn South resident Pauline Rothstein said she would miss Garden of Eden. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.

Hulya Yorulmaz, who said she is the administrative assistant for the store, told Chelsea Now during our visit that she was unsure if or when the store would be closing.

“We have the same customers for a long time. They don’t want that we close but that is the situation,” she said, noting that the store had been around for more than 20 years and that many of the employees have worked at the store for 15 years or longer.

Yorulmaz said the store faced “a lot of competition.” 

Indeed, it is sandwiched between Trader Joe’s at 675 Sixth Ave. near W. 21st St. and Whole Foods at 250 Seventh Ave. near W. 24th St.

Julio Montanez, who has worked behind the deli counter for three years, said he would miss his co-workers. “That’s what keeps me coming to work — and the customers,” he said. “It’s sad it’s closing, it’s a good store. I wish everything could work out in the future. The food is good. The area is good.”

Mustafa Coskun — identified as the owner and founder on the Garden of Eden’s website edengourmet.com; and his LinkedIn says he is CEO of the Garden of Eden markets — said in a Wed., July 19 email that they were negotiating and would announce whether or not the store was staying or closing the week of July 24.

Signs went up later that week, thanking customers for their business and announcing the store’s closure but with no date. A letter to customers, copies of which were placed at the checkouts, stated the “last effective day of business” was Fri., July 28. It also stated that they appreciated the business of loyal customers (doors stayed open through Wed., Aug. 2, although the counter with prepared food and deli service had closed two days before). 

Both the sign and the letter touted the addresses of two other Garden of Eden locations, including one at 7 E. 14th St., near Fifth Ave. Garden of Eden also has stores in New Jersey, according to its website (edengourmet.com).

Coskun did not respond to requests for a phone interview, and declined repeated requests to answer questions via email concerning the store’s background, whom he was negotiating with, and whether rent as well as competition from Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods were factors in the store’s closing.

Garden of Eden filed for bankruptcy protection last year, the New York Post reported in September.

Jacinto Rodriguez said the service at the store was great. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.

Jacinto Rodriguez has been coming to the Garden of Eden for three years, often to grab something for lunch. Rodriguez works nearby at the Made Man Barbershop (169 W. 23rd St.). “It’s great service,” he said. “I love the people who work here.” 

Like Rothstein, he liked the quality of the fruits and vegetables and said there were also organic options. Rodriguez said it would be sad if the store closed, noting “all the people around here go to Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods.”

Another customer, Stephen Ironside, said it seemed that Garden of Eden was suffering from competition from the chains. Sometimes he’ll go to the other supermarkets, but they are so busy he’ll walk in and then walk out.

For around six years, Ironside, who said he lives on the northern edge of Chelsea, said he has been coming almost everyday to Garden of Eden for their prepared food, prices, and “the quality here is quite good.”

Ironside snagged some fresh pineapple and greens from the cold salad bar while talking to Chelsea Now. When he heard the store might be closing, he said, “That’s a drag. I’m disappointed — I think they’re one of the finer small markets.”

“The quality here is quite good,” said Stephen Ironside, who often shopped at Garden of Eden. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.

While Jill Iversen comes by the store less frequently, she said she appreciated the selection and good deals, such as when two containers of raspberries cost five dollars.

“It’s not my store of choice, but there are certain things that they have that are great,” said Iversen, who has lived in Chelsea for around 25 years. “I wouldn’t want them to close. I don’t want anybody to close.”

Italo Medelius, a new member of Community Board 4, has been working on the issue of food access in the neighborhood.

After the Associated Supermarket at W. 14th St. and Eighth Ave. closed last year, there was a little bit of an uprising, he said by phone. “It’s been an issue that has riled the community. Because it’s just been way too common for access [to be] limited,” he said. “People are opening their eyes to what is going on.”

About six months ago, Medelius formed a subcommittee of the Hudson Guild Neighborhood Advisory Committee that focuses on food access. “People that are suffering the most… are the seniors, the disabled and the homebound,” he said. The subcommittee’s online “Chelsea Grocery Affordability” survey, launched in March, can still be accessed (visit goo.gl/vCd6YR). The survey is meant to gather data that will be used to ameliorate the area’s growing “food desert” (a term used to denote a lack of affordable options within reasonable walking distance).

Medelius said that many area residents shopped at Garden of Eden, which was “not the most affordable option, but they’re good.” He added that the store did “feed a lot of people in the area with moderate prices.”

Armando Moritz-Chapelliquen is the campaign coordinator for equitable economic development for the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development, known as ANHD (anhd.org). He said it seems like every other day, the association is hearing about a small business closing.

“We keep hearing this story over and over again,” Moritz-Chapelliquen said by phone.

For over 40 years, the association has been fighting for residential housing and protections, and now wants to shine a light on the problems commercial tenants are facing. While there are residential tenant protections, there has not been the same progress for commercial tenants.

“When you see small business displacement, you also see cultural displacement” for the neighborhood, he said. “It’s where community happens. If you lose small businesses you lose the opportunity for those interactions to happen.”

Meanwhile, back at Garden of Eden that Tuesday afternoon, Tribeca resident Wallace Cheatham said he has been occasionally stopping by the store for about 10 years. “It’s convenient and the prices are reasonable,” Cheatham noted, adding, “I think it would be a big loss. There’s not a lot of grocery stores in the area. These smaller independent stores need to be supported.”

—Additional reporting by Scott Stiffler

“These smaller independent stores need to be supported,” asserted Wallace Cheatham, who said the store’s closing would be a big loss. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.

Garden of Eden on W. 23rd St., still looking robust on July 11. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.

Garden of Eden offered a selection of specialty items. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.

Customers touted the freshness and quality of the store’s veggies. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.

A sign announces the store’s last day: August 2, 2017. Photo by Scott Stiffler.