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Sandy blows away critics

The Brooklyn Paper

An illegally operating Emmons Avenue market is enjoying the community’s support for the first time in years, and its all thanks to one event that changed everything — Hurricane Sandy.

Due to zoning laws, the Cherry Hill Gourmet Market has been running a popular but illegal grocery operation out of the historic Lundy’s building since it started up in 2009. The community initially didn’t appreciate hosting a business that willfully violates city zoning laws, but many neighbors had a change of heart after seeing how the business has persevered throughout the hardships unleashed by Sandy.

“I think there is one word to clarify what happened,” said Community Board 15 chairwoman Theresa Scavo. “It’s ‘Sandy.’ ”

Hoping to rectify the long-standing zoning issue, Cherry Hill Gourmet is working with the Department of City Planning to reach a workable compromise, but the agency wouldn’t even begin talks with the grocers until they received a non-binding letter from board 15 supporting the market.

“City Planning wanted a non-binding letter saying that we will keep an open mind down the road if they come forward with a feasible option to allow them to remain there,” said Scavo. “City Planning does not want to allocate man-time if they don’t stand a chance of getting through the community board.”

Low and behold, at a sparsely attended meeting the board voted 11 to one — with 37 members absent— in favor of sending the letter. The general consensus was that with so many businesses flooded out, what’s the sense of pushing out the popular grocer over what many feel is a technicality?

“The same people who voted for it now were against it for years. They felt that voting in favor of an illegal business would set a bad precedent,” said board member Edmond Dweck. “I don’t condone illegality, but [Cherry Hill] is good for the community. They were up and running after Sandy a lot sooner than a lot of other businesses.”

Many board members were willing to overlook the legal issues, but some couldn’t give a hoot about whether the market is law abiding — they just like the place.

“He’s not doing anything wrong,” said Ed Eisenberg, a board member living in Manhattan Beach. “They’re not blocking traffic, they provide parking, and the food’s great. I’ve been a supporter of their’s since it opened. I’ve never had a problem with them.”

Some community leaders, however, feel that natural disasters should not trump city ordinances, and whether or not the market is well liked, there’s nothing good about supporting an illegal operation that’s competing with legally operated businesses.

“Hurricane Sandy doesn’t change anything,” said Bay Improvement Community Coalition president Steve Barrison, an attorney and long-time Sheepshead Bay resident. “What about the other small businesses they’re competing with, which are operating legally? They’re not following the law. It’s not personal, it’s about treating everyone fairly.”

One thing’s for sure, you don’t want the area reverting back to what Cherry Hill Gourmet Market manager Uzi Mizrahi described as a run-down refuge for drug fiends and call girls.

“We’re not doing any damage, we’re doing good for the community,” said Mizrahi. “Lundy’s, before [owner David Isaez] took over, there used to be hookers, druggies, people taking drugs — we cleaned up the place here.”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4514.

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