A Letter To East Harlem Politicians From SuperNice Cafe’s Owner

hello friends, neighbors, customers, and elected officials,

i appreciated the opportunity to speak at least night’s cb11 economic committee meeting with respect to the timbale terrace development plan.

we have a unique perspective on this project here at super nice as we are both around the corner from one of lantern’s current projects, prospero hall, as well as being situated just off the corner of what has become one of the worst corners in east harlem for drug dealing and drug use: 117th and lexington. we watch, day after day, graphic scenes of drug use play out in front of us. here is one particularly poignant scene from right outside our shop:

i am out on the street starting at 5am. i live on 118th st. and go to the grocery store at night. i can’t speak to what it’s like out there between midnight and 5am, but i can speak knowledgeably about what happens between 5am and midnight, and scenes like this are common. ambulances to treat those in the midst of an overdose are common. paramedics called to assist those in the grips of a mental health episode are common. police calls for quality of life crimes are common. for example, someone tried to steal our janky chalkboard sign in the middle of the day on monday. why?

what’s going on? why are things so bad right now? why would anyone want to do business in this environment? and why are we talking about these things in the context of the timbale terrace project?

well, we know what’s going on: Harlem East Block Association’s message below explains clearly what’s going on and why things are so bad. i don’t need to rehash all of that.

what i can do is speak to is the economic impact of this environment as well as the impact that timbale terrace, as proposed, will have on the neighborhood.

let me be very clear: attracting talent in this neighborhood is INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT. i’ve had many potential employees reject job offers because they’ve come to the neighborhood and refused to work here. i have staff who refuse to take afternoon shifts because they don’t feel safe here. i have staff who refuse to go into the subway at 116th st because they don’t feel safe down there. attracting and retaining talent is hard anyway, but add in the scenes that replay daily in front of the store and it’s a recipe for disaster. i’m trying to open another restaurant in the neighborhood. why? because the the neighborhood is woefully underserved, my roots here go back over 100 years, i love this neighborhood, and i want to make great things here and see it flourish. but i’m petrified of opening another business here because of how bad it’s gotten.

as i mentioned in the meeting, i try as hard as i can to hire staff that live within walking distance of the shop. this is really important for a couple of reasons, but chiefly among them i think this is how you help strengthen neighborhoods. the more money that stays in the neighborhood, the stronger and more vibrant the neighborhood will be. it’s one thing to employ people who get paid and take that money back to brooklyn, queens, or the bronx, but it’s a very different thing to employ people who turn around and spend that money in the same neighborhood. 

neighborhoods like ours are filled with small businesses, run by neighbors, to serve our neighbors. so when we buy our ham for the hot honey ham sandwich from the meat market on the corner, it’s not because baldor doesn’t sell it, it’s because we’re intentionally spending money here in the neighborhood. when our staff goes to the supermarket, or to have a drink at la chula, or have dinner at dona maty’s, or a cemita at il gnocchi, or a salad from healthy choice, or to the laundromat, or the hardware store, they keep the money they earned in the neighborhood and help to prop it up. all of these local businesses can be better supported when dollars from neighbors go directly to other neighbors who in turn spend that money with even more neighbors. but now we have a situation where staff don’t even feel comfortable coming to work, let alone walking around and supporting other businesses in the neighborhood. 

and that’s saying nothing of trying to get people to come here from outside the neighborhood. do you know how hard it is to get coverage from eater or the infatuation?!? this is a complete wasteland to them. but we ought to ask ourselves: what are we representing to people outside the neighborhood?

that we don’t mind bearing the disproportionate burden of treating the mentally ill and drug addicted populations that other neighborhoods refuse to treat? 

that we tolerate the proliferation of open air drug use and drug dealing? 

that we tolerate people treating the streets and building doorways as public toilets? (sure, we don’t have enough public toilets, but you know what we also have a lot of: drunk people that hang out all day and need to use the bathroom.) 

that we are creating amazing things despite the failure of our elected officials to stem the influx of vulnerable populations? 

what is going on here?!

and now we’re presented with timbale terrace. we would LOVE to have ALJA in the neighborhood – what a wonderful addition they would be. we would LOVE to have more affordable housing in the neighborhood, what a blessing that would be.

but we absolutely cannot handle another 99 vulnerable people – those already receiving services for drug addiction and mental illness – added to the neighborhood. no chance. make it housing for seniors. do something else. as presented, this timbale terrace proposal is an outright disaster for the neighborhood. our addiction and mental health service providers are already overwhelmed, the neighborhood already bears far more than its fair share of the city’s (and region’s) drug addicted and mentally ill populations. another 99 people will be a disaster.

this neighborhood is already buckling under the weight of the burden it bears for the rest of this city. we all want to help those who struggle – but we’ve got to put our oxygen mask on first, before we can safely offer more help. we cannot put ourselves in more danger in order to help more people. this neighborhood is hurting. we see it everyday. we talk to our neighbors about it every day. we can make it better. but bringing in another 99 vulnerable people is not the way.

i fully support the message from the block association and am hopeful that cb11 will reject the current proposal for timbale terrace and work towards another solution.



Super Nice Coffee and Bakery

156 E 117th St., NY NY 10035 || shop phone: 917 261 5069

196 W 108th St, NY NY 10025 || shop phone: 332 257 8886

They Can’t Read Your Mind

Residents on East 126th Street have been complaining about rats to 311 and the DoHMH that manages rat control. A week ago, they got action as a result of their complaints.

Traps and bait have been set out on the block between Park and Madison.  In particular they were focusing on two abandoned buildings at 53 and 51 on 126th Street.

One result is illustrated, below:

Voicing the issues to 311 and complaining to the Department of Health and Mental Hygene will get action.  It’s a step by step process but if you don’t complain, they can’t hear you.