Text and photos by Stacie Joy
I sat down with Ali Aljerari, partner in the Native Bean at 36 Avenue A (previously located at 50 Avenue A) to talk about why, after more than 20 years, his cafe has closed as of this past weekend.
"The problem," Ali says, "is I cannot pay rent. The landlord is asking for rent and the city is charging the landlord real-estate taxes, which go up every year. I need to pay rent, of course, and we are receiving no help from the city or state. No one is getting assistance from the government. We cannot survive the elements and adversities now — it's too overwhelming. Too big. We navigated 9/11, we navigated storms and disasters. We are waiting…but there is no help. The government should give landlords tax breaks — that would help.
"There is hostility from the city to us, the small businesses," he continues. "We are just a source of revenue to them and we are subject to harsh treatment. Every time an investigator comes it's a couple thousand dollars. Agencies just write tickets and charges. Small businesses are the heart of the city but we have no voice. I wish the city were kinder."
[Aljerjari with manager Mahammad Fofana]
I asked him how, if at all, the neighborhood — he’s also a long-term resident here — could help.
"The most beautiful people in the world are in the East Village. This neighborhood has the sweetness and beauty, it surpasses anything I had in my mind," he says. "People here are a treasure. I grew up in the neighborhood, and it made me who I am today. It is I who owes this neighborhood; they don’t owe me anything."
Ali doesn't rule out opening another business in the future, when COVID-19 subsides.