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Associated Supermarket Owner Sued Over Efforts to Save Crown Heights Store

Pablo Espinal was given 30 days to vacate Associated Supermarket from its current building after serving the community for 30 years
The supermarket at 975 Nostrand Ave., between Empire Blvd. and Montgomery St. Photo: Screenshot / Google Street View

Crown Heights Associated Supermarket owner Pablo Espinal is facing a lawsuit over his efforts to save his supermarket, The City reports.

A complaint filed in Manhattan Supreme Court March 10 alleges Espinal is holding the building hostage and undertook a "smear campaign" against Midwood Investment and Development, the building owner, through local media reports of plans to demolish the Associated Supermarket building to make way for a new development.

The lawsuit alleges Espinal caused the company to lose "millions upon millions of dollars" in tax investments and future business opportunities and alleges he took advantage of the eviction moratorium.

In January, Espinal was told by developers the building would be demolished to make way for a new development. Espinal had been leasing the building month-by-month since June 2020, after his five-year lease expired.

Bklyner reported on the community members pleas to Midwood to keep the Associated open, saying its closure could create a food desert in the area. By February 4, more than 2,500 people have signed a petition to save the Associated Supermarket — with many adding their personal reasons why.

Then, earlier this month, Associated Supermarket, which has been in the Nostrand Avenue building for 30 years, was given a notice to vacate the building within 30 days, no later than April 8.

Associated Supermarket store manager Manny Tavares told Bklyner Midwood saw the increasing development in the area and wanted to take advantage of the property. Midwood denies this statement.

A number of community members and local politicians are standing by the supermarket and calling on Midwood to "leave us alone," and are questioning whether the area needed the type of development the company would bring.

Midwood representative James Yolles said the new building would include affordable housing and retail and would include a space for a supermarket larger than Associated. Yolles said Espinal had declined Midwood's offer of $300,000 and the right of first offer on new supermarket space, but Associated's attorney said the offer was misnamed and not viable, and did not provide any "firm option to reoccupy at market rent."

Councilmember Laurie Cumbo, who represents the area, said Midwood's plans would hurt the community.

"To give an essential business that has essential frontline workers that have risked their whole lives during this entire pandemic 30 days notice to vacate the property is perhaps the most tragic circumstance that I've come across during the entire pandemic. It is the epitome of a lack of humanity," Cumbo told THE CITY.

She said she had spoken to the development company and the store owners, but there was no resolution, and said the only option left to fight the development was with "sheer determination and human will."

"If that means we got to stand in front of bulldozers, and if that means we have to throw our bodies in front of the supermarket to save it, then that's what we're going to have to do."

Cumbo added she would elevate the issue to the mayor, attorney general and the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus of the City Council.

Meanwhile, Yolles said if Associated does not leave the premises by April 8, Midwood will sue him again and will seek damages and remedies under the lease.