Follow the Money

I’m not ready yet with my next installment in the gentrification series, so I’ll return to one of my other recurring topics, a small-business association whose stated goal is preventing 7‑Eleven stores from opening in the East Village. I am referring, of course, to No 7‑Eleven NYC. They posted a flurry of tweets two days before the law was to go into effect banning the sale of sugary drinks in cups or containers larger than 16 ounces. Here is one of them:

In another tweet No 7‑Eleven NYC posted, they advance the idea that once in place, the law will be ineffective, because people will go into 7‑Elevens and bodegas to buy their sodas (which they seem to think they will then be permitted to take into restaurants and movie theaters), but in the one above they claim that the ban will hurt bodegas. The fact is that, while the ban would not have affected 7‑Eleven, neither would it have affected bodegas. Bodegas don’t sell sugary drinks in cups, and bottles and cans would not have been affected by the law.

But there are bigger issues than this. Back in January they tweeted:

The day after Judge Milton Tingling blocked the ban from going into effect, the NY Times ran an article detailing the relationship between the soft-drink industry and community groups around the country:

    Dozens of Hispanic and African-American civil rights groups, health advocacy organizations and business associations have joined the beverage industry in opposing soda regulation around the country in recent years, arguing that such measures — perhaps the greatest regulatory threat the soft-drink industry has ever faced — are discriminatory, paternalistic or ineffective.

    Many of these groups have something else in common: They are among the recipients of tens of millions of dollars from the beverage industry that has flowed to nonprofit and educational organizations serving blacks and Hispanics over the last decade, according to a review by The New York Times of charity records and other documents.

These activities echo those of the tobacco industry, that for decades contributed to minority and women’s organizations, encouraging them to focus on concerns other than smoking. Leaders faced a real conflict: either accept the money, or speak out about the disproportionate toll of tobacco on the health of minority populations. Women’s groups, heavily supported and buoyed by support for events like the Virginia Slims Tennis Tour, were silent on the rapidly escalating epidemic of lung cancer in women, focusing instead on breast cancer and other problems. (Advocacy Institute 1998).

When speaking publicly about their products, the beverage industry uses a playbook similar to that used by the tobacco industry, that focusses on “personal responsibility,” raises fears of government action destroying personal freedom and civil liberties, criticizes studies that hurt the industry as “junk science,” and promotes physical activity over diet.

Both industries’ tactics rely heavily on “personal responsibility” arguments that claim regulation isn’t necessary because it’s up to consumers to make healthy choices, yet they spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually to undermine personal responsibility. On February 24, the NY Times published an article describing the efforts food companies have made over the years to addict people to their products:

    As the sensory intensity (say, of sweetness) increases, consumers first say that they like the product more, but eventually, with a middle level of sweetness, consumers like the product the most (this is their optimum, or “bliss,” point). …

    “[M]outh feel.” This is the way a product interacts with the mouth, as defined more specifically by a host of related sensations, from dryness to gumminess to moisture release. … [T]he mouth feel of soda and many other food items, especially those high in fat, is second only to the bliss point in its ability to predict how much craving a product will induce. …

    “[S]ensory-specific satiety.” In lay terms, it is the tendency for big, distinct flavors to overwhelm the brain, which responds by depressing your desire to have more. … The biggest hits — be they Coca-Cola or Doritos — owe their success to complex formulas that pique the taste buds enough to be alluring but don’t have a distinct, overriding single flavor that tells the brain to stop eating.

Efforts to encourage these industries to self-regulate are failing. Instead, the companies are consolidating power by building financial connections with health agencies and non-governmental organizations — and using that power to lobby politicians to oppose health reforms. In the February 23 issue of the English medical journal The Lancet, a team of researchers from around the world wrote:

    [T]hrough the sale and promotion of tobacco, alcohol, and ultra-processed food and drink (unhealthy commodities), transnational corporations are major drivers of global epidemics of [non-communicable diseases] NCDs. … Despite the common reliance on industry self-regulation and public—private partnerships, there is no evidence of their effectiveness or safety. Public regulation and market intervention are the only evidence-based mechanisms to prevent harm caused by the unhealthy commodity industries.

On the day the ban was halted, No 7‑Eleven NYC retweeted:

That’s where they stand.


Further reading:

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. rob hollander
    Mar 17, 2013 @ 09:12:46

    NO 7-Eleven has no position on beverage choice, and you won’t find such a position in our literature (our press release, our mission, our talking points). You will find in our literature pointed criticism of the low quality of the food they purvey, including the sugar, and a questioning of the motives of the so-called ban.

    NO 7-Eleven is not related in any way to any of those articles or any business association. The top article is from ABC News. The second is from CNN. The third and last is from NYC Beverage Choices, whatever that is, probably a shill for some business group. I don’t really know why the NO 7-Eleven tweeter tweeted any of those since NO 7-Eleven has NOT discussed or issued a position on the Bloomberg beverage plan except that the ban does support 7-Eleven over pizza places, felafal places, Chinese places and bagel shops (that’s in our literature), and probably over bodegas as well since, even though bodegas *can* serve larger drinks, they don’t specialize and market the Big Gulp and the giant Slurpee. I think you can see that petty clearly.

    The question for NO 7-Eleven is why Bloomberg initiated a selective ban at the same moment as 7-Eleven’s New York aggressive campaign in New York. The mayor’s rationale is itself contradictory — he claims it’s not a ban, because consumers can buy multiple drinks. If so, consider what his point is. Is it to compel consumers of sugary drinks, particularly favored among low-income consumers, by the way –upscale, health-food consumers avoid them as cheap and beneath them — pay more for less? So it doesn’t harm commerce — it bolsters commerce by raising the price of the same quantity. And it promotes 7-Eleven, a recession revenue winner. Why do you think the NAACP objects to the “ban”?

    The picture begins to emerge. When the recession hit, the state replaced the State Liquor Authority commissioner, who had been investigating criminal acivity in bars and carefully reviewing licenses and listening to community needs, with a new commissioner whose priority was to speed up the process of giving more liquor licenses as quicky as possible. Why? Because bars thrive in a recession and New York, having lost its maufacturing base, now relies on nightlife/tourism.

    I don’t know why you are so excercised over NO 7-Eleven. It is true that it is not an anti-gentrification effort — that was clear to me from the beginning. It is an anti-corporate campaign. Of the two, corporations are more important to deal with than gentrification since the former causes the latter. So you should support NO 7-Eleven. As you point out, gentrification will continue as long as corporates grow, so your objection to NO 7-Eleven amounts to: you favor 7-Eleven because it provides cheaper options for the remaining low-income consumers in Loisaida. But that’s purveying the big gulp and slurpees to them. Which is it going to be?

    Btw, mom and pops, like bodegas, are more likely to give a chance to ex-felons trying to make good, than corporate stores which systematically exclude them from employment. To me, that reason enough to ban corporate stores.

    I’ve invited you to email exchange or getting together — we’re practically neighbors — to learn about NO 7-Eleven. If you are interested in NO 7-Eleven — and you seem to be — pease contact me.


    • shmnyc
      Mar 17, 2013 @ 10:08:03

      No 7-Eleven NYC has clearly taken a position on the soda ban: they oppose it. I don’t know how you can claim otherwise. Listing some of the literature where it is not mentioned does not change this. Their Twitter and Facebook pages speak otherwise.

      Regarding why I write about No 7-Eleven NYC, there are a few reasons. In no particular order: they’re in the East Village, and so I heard about them; they started around the same time I started this blog; they relate in a peripheral way to gentrification, my topic du jour; they and their supporters make ridiculous claims; they are a small-business organization masquerading as a community organization. Regarding it being an anti-corporate campaign, I would be willing to bet that most bodegas are incorporated. It would not surprise me to learn that they all are.

      Regarding 7-Eleven itself, I don’t support them, but I don’t oppose them either. You should realize that I’m not a big “consumer”. I go days without spending anything. I eat at home, I take my lunch to work, I don’t buy coffees or gum, I go into buildings that I know have water fountains when I’m thirsty… I see this primarily as a struggle between competing capitals, but it’s one where the potential for the people working in them favors 7-Eleven, ex-felons notwithstanding. To that end, there are other groups I intend to write about once I’m finished with the main thrust of my gentrification pieces. A couple of them are ROC United and Food Chain Workers, groups which advocate for improved working conditions for food workers.

      And I’ve already written that I think Slurpees and the like should be covered by the ban. If this ban is allowed to go forward, it would not be long before they were.


  2. joe
    Mar 17, 2013 @ 09:51:06

    There’s always a danger in constructing an argument in terms set by your enemy. That is the trap No 7-Eleven falls into by framing their opposition in terms of market individualism (free market, personal choice, anti-nanny state, etc). No 7-Eleven inadvertently ends up sounding like another mouthpiece for corporate beverage interests opposed to the Bloomberg soda ban even as No-7 Eleven champions small business against the big bad 7-Eleven chain.

    A lingering question. I don’t think anyone is happy about 7-Eleven coming to the East Village. So what would be “legitimate” grounds for opposing 7-Eleven in the East Village?


    • shmnyc
      Mar 17, 2013 @ 10:18:49


      Very good question. I’ve been thinking about this since the beginning. What I’ve come up with so far is that the battle between 7-Eleven and those who oppose it is an internecine struggle between competing capitals.

      Something I was thinking one night as I was walking home and formulating responses to people on EV Grieve is that all of our discussions, all of our framings of the issues and our remedies (that never gets addressed), are based on the functioning of the real estate market under capitalism. The only way 7-Eleven could be opposed legitimately (!) is if all stores, of every type, and not just in this neighborhood, were regulated with regard to the number and location and products/services offered and working conditions — like Harvey says, democratic control of the surplus. That, of course, would remove the 7-Eleven problem entirely.

      I don’t know if there’s a good way, under capitalism, to handle it. They see themselves as protecting small business owners; I see the situation of workers being better at 7-Eleven (as bad as that might be) than at bodegas. Rob says that if you restrict what can exist in an area, you can keep rents down and allow a wider range of stores to operate. I think that’s wrong. The amount of money available, that people are willing to pay, is so great that the upward pressure on rent is not going to disappear. I didn’t make that connection with my “Luxury Listing NYC” post, but it certainly points out what we’re up against. I think the result would be that the stores that open will be of the boutique type — expensive places that don’t make most of their money from foot traffic but from contracting, e.g., there’s a hat store on 4th Street that works with TV and movie costumers, and furniture stores that work with interior decorators. I think all of the clothes stores in “Nolita” make their money working outside their shops. I don’t think chain stores are better, or even “good,” but I don’t see much difference between them and what exists on 9th Street, for the people who live there. Are “quaint” and “garish” the only options?


      • rob hollander
        Mar 17, 2013 @ 14:11:04

        I can agree with all of this shmnyc.

        I don’t see any chance of full local control over all commerce — I see no movement there — but there is a groundswell against giant corporate control from afar. Movements usually can’t be manufactured and paternalism and democracy don’t mix. Movements are waves you can ride, if you spy them. They usually come with unwelcome stuff like populism and naive analysis and such, unfortunately.

        I see no hope for the EV. It is not a neighborhood I would choose to live in if I were looking for a place today. It belongs to young upscale transients mostly, and they will retain nightlife here since nightlife can support higher rents even than chains or boutiques. Otherwise your comparison with Nolita is apt.

        One request: it’s one thing to identify unintended consequences of a group’s program, quite another to attribute them as intended. To claim that BAN *wants* the Bowery to be theme park is simply false — they’d be horrbly chagrined in they’d turned the Bowery into a theme park as a result of their work; to say NO 7-Eleven *is* a small business organization does you a disservice. Identifying the consequences is an important service to the public. To identify them as intended is, well — it makes you wrong when your complaint had been right.

        Can we agree to that too?


  3. rob hollander
    Mar 17, 2013 @ 11:45:04

    Here’s the 7-Eleven (I’m quoting their literature, not ABC, CNN) “Amazingly, 7-Eleven is exempt from Bloomberg’s ban on sodas over 16oz and will sell oversized Big Gulps and Slurpees, giving them an unfair advantage over local businesses.”

    That is the position. NO 7-Eleven objects to the unfair application of the ‘ban.’ You cite a bunch of retweets reporting other news items and you are possibly influenced by people who dislike 7-Eleven but who have no relation to NO 7-Eleven.

    You write, “they are a small-business organization masquerading as a community organization.” There is only one small business owner in it, and that Jane’s Exchange, a thrift shop that doesn’t sell food. So what you say is an invention. Did you mean that you think this community group is doing work that helps small businesses? There actually isn’t any small business organization here and there’s no BID (the Village BID ends at 2nd Ave.). None but one of the bodegas seemed to know anything about 7-Eleven’s spread or about NO 7-Eleven during our two Bodega Walks. All the business owners we’ve spoken to have expressed themselves against our tactics except not patronizing 7-Eleven. Business owners don’t like to go up against other business onwers with coordinated tactics. They’ve been clear about that to us personally — so it’s not just a public position, it’s what they genuinely feel.

    I used corporate store as short for corporate formula store. Sorry. What did you think I was refering to?

    @ Joe: The stuff about promoting the local free market is not directed at sugary drinks, but to alternatives to 7-Eleven — Russo’s dired sausage instead of Slim Jim, for example. I pushed for including “local free market” in order to fend off the many loud comments on the blogs that the proliferation of 7-Elevens is a mere free market phenomenon. Their view conflates the global free market with the classic free market notion of the “invisible hand” balancing demand and supply.

    One popular ground often set forth for opposing 7-Eleven is the low quality of their food offerings, but NO 7-Eleven hasn’t adopted that as a program because eliminating corporate formula stores won’t eliminate those food offerings. Bodegas offer that stuff too.

    The typical grounds for an anti-corporate (meaning large corporation controled from afar) campaign includes these: corporate formula stores raise commercial rents (a host of studies cite this, although Pratt has the only good counterfactually supportive evidence that I’ve seen); local stores recirculate far more money into the local economy — twice or three times as much depending on the kind of store and the location; local stores provide more variety and options (also depends on store type); and, yes, chains stifle the local free market.

    The objection is shmnyc’s: restricting formual stores don’t prevent more upscale commerce if the neighborhood draws wealthier residents. The 2008 rezoning prevents out-of-scale development, so the EV will not be transformed overnight. But there will be continual renovation and occasional small development throughout. The construction of large-scale market-rate housing in the NYCHA properties will transform Loisaida overnight. That’s where formula stores may become a last resort for low-income residents, sadly.

    But NO 7-Eleven’s program is not to eliminate corporate formula stores — it’s to allow the local community (through the community boards — not perfect, but that’s all there is to work with) to have a say on where corporate stores should be located. It’s regulation, not elimination. Our petition, for example, recognizes that 24-hour full service drug stores like CVS are needed — but at major intersections, not everywhere.


    • shmnyc
      Mar 18, 2013 @ 12:11:54

      What you quoted is a good example of a ridiculous statement by N7E. There is nothing amazing about 7-Eleven’s drinks being exempt from the ban. When N7E distributes this, they’re telling their audience: 1) N7E doesn’t know why 7-Eleven was exempt; and 2) they presumes the reader doesn’t know why either. The explanation for everything included and excluded in the ban is known. You may think 7-Eleven’s drinks should have been included (as do I), but there’s nothing amazing about the fact that they weren’t. Also, 7-Eleven would have had no advantage over local businesses, unless you mean restaurants and movie theaters, and you’ll be hard pressed to demonstrate that advantage.

      Only one of the three tweets I posted was a re-tweet. N7E posted seven during this spate of tweets, and five retweets from other people/organizations. Not one of them said they thought the ban should cover 7-Eleven’s drinks. “@No7ElevenNYC thinks the soda ban should include #7Eleven drinks.” How hard would that have been to write?

      Why I refer to them as a small-business organization: I don’t know N7E’s full membership, but I know there’s more than one business owner among them. More importantly though, are the number of comments they’ve made over time, on Twitter and EVGrieve, that take an owner’s point of view:

      And the comments that have been made regarding people who work there have ranged from apathetic to hostile.

      Bodega owners don’t like your tactics because they don’t want any attention brought to them. I discovered this myself when I did my own bodega walk. Many of them employ undocumented immigrants (paying them less than minimum wage), and some of them are involved in illegal activities. When N7E glamorizes bodegas, they ignore this.


      • rob hollander
        Mar 18, 2013 @ 16:48:31

        “Amazingly” means, obviously, that that mayor came up with a plan to curtail sugary drinks for health reasons that managed to exempt 7-Eleven, which specifically trades on the Big Gulp. A more accurate word would be “shocking” or “outrageous!” or “hypocrisy!!” but “amazing” will do. He could have proposed a tax, or extended the DoH to inspect convenience stores, but what he proposed was not just amazing, it’s shockingly stupid given the health premise implying that the premise is false and therefore highly suspicious.

        Our twitter guy wrote to me “I tweeted those links and posted on Facebook because those links make a point of stating 7-Eleven is exempt from the soda ban. That’s why I posted them.”

        I don’t have a twitter account, so I don’t really know how retweeting is distinct from tweeting, but in any case, what you posted was content from ABC, CNN and some business group, none of which is NO 7-Eleven. NO 7-Eleven has been vocal on the low quality of food offered in 7-Eleven and we actually did a 40-minute program on Let’s Get Real, a radio program about healthy food. “Pringle-ization,” the buzz-word of NO 7-Eleven, refers the to low-quality food offerings and plays metonymically on its unhealthiness as well as its corporate character. So even if our twitterer is celebrating the court decision, since we definitely do oppose the unfair application of this attempt to ban sugary drinks, we obviously and conspicuously don’t support sugary drinks. Don’t be silly. On the other hand, we don’t have a position in favor of a ban either. That is an issue beyond land use. But I’ll say it again: it’s a price hike on low income consumers, so it burdens the victim, since it doesn’t wean them away from sugary drinks — juice is three times as expensive and doesn’t contain caffeine — but does steal their coin. Offering inexpensive healthy options is a measure I enthusiastically support.

        You say there is more than one business owner among the NO 7-Eleven members. I know only one. Have you ever gone to a meeting? I have. You won’t even meet with me after several genuinely friendly overtures. You seem to be a victim of your own confirmation bias, and you don’t want to get close to reality for that reason. Still I invite you once again — my treat. Or come to a meeting and express your concerns or just observe.

        I gave you the reason why store owners don’t like aggressive tactics against fellow store owners — but those are the words of two restaurant owners, not bodega owners. I haven’t asked that question of bodega owners, so I don’t really know what they think of our tactics. But you know what’s in their minds, even though you haven’t asked them. That’s so you, shmnyc.

        It is true that NO 7-Eleven does not address the problem of the illegal wage market among the undocumented. Neither does 7-Eleven.


    • joe
      Mar 21, 2013 @ 10:48:00

      @ Rob. I think supporting ‘locally owned business’ (Russo’s dried sausage over a Slim Jim or going to Ciao for Now instead of McDonalds) might be a better way to put it than supporting a ‘local free market’ because the former gets at something essential that is being lost in the EV — the mix of small businesses (galleries, restaurants, bodegas, bars, boutiques, etc) that are as much a part of what gives the EV its distinctive flavor as the residents and building stock. There’s certainly a fair amount of interest in promoting the small and local over transnational chains like 7 Eleven. Also, since the goal is regulation — having some control over where chain stores are going to be located — it might avoid some confusion introduced by terms like ‘free market.’

      I should say that I wish every success for No 7-Eleven. Even if it is not successful in stopping the outlet on Avenue A it may draw others into a conversation that has implications far beyond the EV.


  4. rob hollander
    Mar 17, 2013 @ 12:29:37

    And the aesthetic shouldn’t be discounted either. Years ago I gave a tour to a group of 19-year-olds from Odyssey House, all kids on lock-down from Rikers. Brillaint kids — kids who get in trouble often are. When we got to an 1890 tenement covered with terra cotta, the kids were rapt. I couldn’t get them away from it, they thought it was so beautiful and skillful. Walking back, I asked one what he wanted to do for a career. He said, as if he’d never thought about it before, I think I’d like to be an architect.

    I think Bob Holman really is onto something with his coinage “Pringle-ization” for 7-Eleven. There’s something deeply troubling about this corporate take-over of our streets. I got into this NO 7-Eleven reluctantly — the neighborhood belongs to upscale students and transient singles, what is there to defend? I’ve devoted my energy to Chinatown which still has a thriving immigrant economy — the only economy thriving there, the rest dying. But the NO 7-Eleven campaign, with Bob’s help, has expanded into a community land-use campaign that may help places like Chinatown a well, although the issues there are almost impossibly complex and conflicted.


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