On the morning of Saturday, Sept 25, several business owners along Liberty Street came into work that morning, to a yellow sticker in black lettering all uppercased, posted on their doors or windows.
The sticker, posted anonymously, was called a “Gentrification Notice” calling out the businesses that run along Liberty St. and parts of Broadway. The sticker says that they are not here to benefit the community but are destroying the community with property purchases and products that are not accessible or even affordable to the residents. The sticker continues to tell the owners to leave and close shop or find ways to help the community.
According to a city zoning chart, the section of Liberty St. that was targeted currently rests in the downtown area of the city, where medium and high residential density is most prominent. Many of the businesses are mainly businesses that serve or provide a variety of food.
Merriam-Webster defines the word gentrification as “a process in which a poor area (as of a city) experiences an influx of middle-class or wealthy people who renovate and rebuild homes and businesses and which often results in an increase in property values and the displacement of earlier, usually poorer residents.”
The Urban Displacement Project defines the word gentrification as “a process of neighborhood change that includes economic change in a historically disinvested neighborhood —by means of real estate investment and new higher-income residents moving in - as well as demographic change - not only in terms of income level, but also in terms of changes in the education level or racial make-up of residents.”
“Your business is not accessible and that is not acceptable,” the anonymously-posted notice read.
While some of the owners decided to take the sticker off their windows, Susan Knapik, owner of Oliver and Chatfield, decided to leave the sticker on her door. She posted the sticker on her Facebook with her own response and her number for the culprit to call her and talk. She did not receive a call from anyone claiming responsibility.
For Knapik, she wanted to get the conversation going about the topic of gentrification. When she saw the sign, she said the sign seemed a little off to her. “Ironically as someone who puts signs in my own front window, when someone put that on my door and assumed something maybe about me or my intentions, it just really bothered me,” said Knapik. She described the writing as very passive aggressive. With her social posting, Knapik opened up her store for anyone who wanted to stop and talk about the sticker.
Oliver and Chatfield has been at 42 Liberty Street since February 2019, after Knapik moved her business from Cornwall. When Knapik first moved her business to Newburgh, the business space previously was in shambles and needed work to be done. Over time, she created the space that it is today. As a business owner, she has created a variety of relationships with her neighbors in the direct area. However, Knapik has seen people from the city (New York City and afar) move into the neighborhood over time.
For Knapik, when she hears various negative comments from passerbyers and the quick passage of judgement about Newburgh, she is upset. Knapik hopes to use her store as a space to create hopeful conversations and to continue to learn more about the issue.
“I came to Newburgh not understanding fully, you know, everything about Newburgh but wanting to be a part of what I felt was a really rich community in Newburgh, ” Knapik said. “My goal of course always is to invite conversation.”
When Robert Popper came to open his shop on Saturday morning, Rob’s Roast Coffee at 42 Liberty St, he found the sticker covering the hours for the shop. He sent a picture of the sticker to his wife Stephanie, who co-owns the shop.
“Whoever posted this, did so in the dark,” Stephanie said, “So they didn’t want to be identified.” Stephanie, who grew up in the area, continues to see the change in people coming to Newburgh. She remembers growing up hearing the stigmas of Newburgh and settling their businesses elsewhere.
Now years later, more businesses are coming in and people are excited to come.
“One of the truly extraordinary things in my experience about Newburgh is that it’s generally been a very welcoming place for us to come to,” Robert said. “People have been happy to see us coming here.”
As business owners, the Poppers are trying to create and foster new relationships with them and between customers. In their shop, the bar style of sitting is designed to do just that. “We’re not coming in here and trying to kick other businesses out or take over anything,” Robert said. For the Poppers, they encourage all visitors and customers to stop by and talk to them in their shop.
Carlos Navarro Alvarez currently owns Palate Wines and Spirits at 115 Liberty Street. The business itself has been on Liberty St. for more than six years, but Alvarez has only owned it for a few years and currently lives in the city.
Upon first reaction, Alvarez said seeing the sign on the door made Alvarez uncomfortable.
“Very aggressive and very intimidating language,” said Alvarez. When Alvarez read the sticker over, he noticed several mistakes that may suggest the person wrote this without a clear direction of thought. “Then when I read that more carefully, there was a lot of like mistakes,” Alvarez said. “I’m just wondering if it’s like somebody that is really like stuffed with a lot of ideas.”
It took him about two hours to remove the sticker because the glue was difficult to remove, which Alvarez said may have been done on purpose.
“That sticker was so professionally done that it was so difficult for me to get rid of that,” Alvarez said.
The word gentrification itself for Alvarez is a term that is reactionary and can make others feel like a scapegoat. As a business owner, his goal is to provide a service and product to the community. Whenever real estate is brought into conversations in certain areas, gentrification is brought up as well, says Alvarez. For Alvarez, during the last several years, he has seen several new homeowners move into the area. With these new homeowners and other new properties being bought, Alvarez has seen his taxes go up and other public amenities not being utilized properly.
With this situation, Alvarez believes, similar to Knapik, that keeping the conversation going can be achieved if others are willing to come together and talk about it and work together with city officials to create more dialogue. An idea he suggested would be to make a sticker, collaborating with other owners, that combats the negative message shared on the one before and use his own art to address the topic.