The recent New York Times story about the band of West Villagers who forced the closing (at least for now) of the Beatrice Inn--a basement nightclub ravaging an otherwise quiet block--made us realize that a handbook for this sort of activism might be useful.
For some advice, we turned to Marilyn Dorato, the executive director of the Greenwich Village Block Association, who was quoted in the Times story. Here's her playbook:
1. Form a block association or group immediately
“The first thing you really need to do is find out who else has your problem,” says Dorato, whose own block association was formed years ago to deal with problems at the old Wavery Inn. “If you’re out there by yourself making phone calls, the establishment may tell you you’re the only one with the problem and you won’t know any different.”
A block association will give you critical leverage.
“Your elected officials will pay a lot more attention to you and so will the community board,” says Dorato.
Note: Every area of the city has a community board appointed by the borough president and your city council member. The board is supposed to be the buffer between you and city agencies and elected officials.
2. Take your concerns to the owner of the problem establishment and try to resolve them.
“A restaurant that comes in and antagonizes a neighborhood is not going to be there forever,” says Dorato, so in that sense your overtures are also an intervention.
Also speak to the landlord, who is responsible for what’s happening in the building.
3. Inform your community board and local officials.
Ask for their help and keep them informed on your progress.
4. Dig up some legal dirt.
“With a problem establishment, the best thing to do is find out whether there are fire codes they might be breaking, building codes they might be breaking, landmarks violations, Board of Health issues, consumer affairs issues like hosting parties without a caberet or catering license,” says Dorato.
Your community board and elected officials can help with this. Dorato says she has found lawyers to be less useful (and expensive).
5. Get publicity
Dorado’s association distributes a newsletter (online and as a handout) as issues arise; other associations put them out monthly. Also put the word out to any news organizations who might be interested (including BrickUnderground—we are very interested).
“You’ve got to get publicity for your problem,” advises Dorato.
Your publicity efforts put the establishment and the landlord in a negative light, and step up the pressure on your community board and council member to help resolve things.
A word of warning: Have a lawyer libel-proof your communications. “Words like ‘seeming,’ ‘appears,’ and ‘believes’ are very valuable,” notes Dorato.