Block Association Olive Branch is New Barneys Bauble

A view of Barneys’ front façade on Seventh Ave., where trucks are unloaded. Photo by Sean Egan.

A view of Barneys’ front façade on Seventh Ave., where trucks are unloaded. Photo by Sean Egan.

BY SEAN EGAN | Nearly two decades after leaving its flagship Chelsea location in 1997, Barneys New York recently caused quite a stir when it returned to the old neighborhood — bringing with it memories of 1980s-era street theater actions to protest the retail behemoth’s displacement of longtime tenants, and stirring up a whole new round of conflict with nearby residents. Now, it seems an amicable period of calm has settled between the store and the community it has affected.\

The greatest source of tension was between Barneys (101 Seventh Ave., btw. W. 16th & W. 17th Sts.) and the 100 West 16th Street Block Association, regarding the potential loading and unloading of delivery trucks on W. 16th St., which residents asserted would cause major traffic issues. As Chelsea Now has previously reported, when Barneys was seeking a liquor license for Freds, its third floor bar/restaurant, a rep had agreed to the Association’s stipulation that no loading or unloading would be done near the (non-commercials) W. 16th St. side entrance. The group felt duped, however, when the condition was not included in Community Board 4’s (CB4) Business License & Permits (BLP) committee endorsement of Barneys’ liquor license request.

Shortly thereafter, signs began to appear around the block announcing that Barneys was trying to convert parking spaces on the block for commercial use, confirming the worst fears of neighborhood residents. In response, the Block Association came out in full force at the March CB4 Transportation Committee meeting, where the issue was to be discussed. The proposal was shot down when it came to a vote.

Surprisingly, Barneys rescinded their proposal entirely the night before the April CB4 full board meeting, where it was set to appeal the decision to the board. Following this, Barneys reached out to 100 West 16th Street Block Association Chair Paul Groncki in order to clear the air.

“A consultant that [Barneys] hired contacted me, and said that they wanted to sit down and talk about their relationship with the block, because they got off on the wrong foot with us,” Groncki noted. A meeting between Barneys reps and Block Association members was arranged for April 29, where the reps apologized for the situation, noting that they would not be pursuing any change to W. 16th St.

“Apparently somebody decided to [try to] change the parking without talking to the people who were in the know [the management],” said Groncki, adding that the reps confirmed that the offending party was no longer with them. “They were very upset by this, and very upset with the bad relationship with the neighborhood.”

According to Groncki, the delivery situation has been rectified as well. As it stands, the trucks park on Seventh Ave. during early morning hours, and unload onto carts that are then wheeled over to the W. 16th St. entrance.

The W. 16th St. side entrance to Barneys, where deliveries from the Seventh Ave. unloading site are brought. Photo by Sean Egan.

The W. 16th St. side entrance to Barneys, where deliveries from the Seventh Ave. unloading site are brought. Photo by Sean Egan.

“There’s a lot of bad feelings in this neighborhood about the old Barneys,” Groncki noted, recalling the tooth-in-nail battle Chelsea activists fought thoroughly (and creatively) in the 1980s and early ’90s surrounding the retailer’s flagship store.

“But this, the Pressmans [original owners of the chain] aren’t involved anymore,” Groncki asserted. “This is a different management, so we’re trying to treat them fairly as well.”

At the meeting, Barneys broached the subject of Freds extending the hours of its liquor license to 10pm, beyond the store’s 8pm closing, in order to run through its dinner hours. Groncki sent out an email to the Block Association outlining the situation, and requesting responses from members.

As of the time of this writing, Groncki reported that he has received about 35 replies to his message, all of which indicated support of the extension of hours. Going forward Groncki and the Block Association would contact Barneys’ lawyers to approve of the stipulations, before it goes before CB4’s BLP committee on May 10.

This new spirit of cooperation seems to cut both ways though, as, according to Groncki, reps from Barneys have offered to help the Block Association with “pro bono legal help regarding our battle over the French Evangelical Church site” in addition to playing a part in the Associations’ fall block party, and working with a local resident to create a window display that pays tribute to the history of W. 16th St. This, combined with Barneys’ follow-through on the loading situation, appears to indicate that the retailer is making good on their promise to be a better neighbor.

“As in many of these situations, bad communication often causes problems,” said Groncki. “There were some problems in communicating between Barneys and the neighbors when they were first opening the new store. It looks like those communications problems have been resolved, and Barneys seems to be acting like a good neighbor, and we look forward to working with them in the future.”

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