The opponents of Atlantic Yards are so frustrated by Bruce Ratner and his high-priced pals that they’re taking out their aggression on a lowly bagel store owner.
Just a few hours after bagel man Ravi Aggarwal put up an “Arena Bagels and Bialys” sign on his soon-to-open Fifth Avenue shop, opponents of the basketball stadium that inspired the name made their feelings clear: they planned to protest outside Aggarwal’s store if it remained “Arena Bagels.”
Aggarwal initially told this bagel-loving scribe that he would never relent to such bullying — but as more and more potential customers dropped by to express their concerns about buying their morning coffee and bialy at a place named “Arena,” he ultimately caved.
“In the end, I had to change my mind,” said Aggarwal. “I can’t do anything that goes against the neighborhood because I’m a neighborhood guy. These are my customers and I can’t go against them.”
So there it is, folks: An immigrant from Punjab — a guy who worked himself up from a dishwasher to a manager to, finally, the owner of bagel stores in Queens, Long Island and Brooklyn — is gunned down in the war over Atlantic Yards.
It started innocently enough: Aggarwal told The Brooklyn Paper that he wanted to link his new shop to the basketball arena that is slated to rise just a block and a half up Fifth Avenue.
“For me, naming it ‘Arena’ was all about location,” he said. “I just knew I wanted to come to Brooklyn with my bagels, which are the best, by the way. I don’t know anything about the Atlantic Yards project.”
He quickly got an education about the mega-project — and the negative passions it provokes in some.
From the moment the sign went up this week, people started complaining — and some were openly hostile, he said.
“At first, I said, ‘No way. I’m not going to be pushed around,” Aggarwal said.
But that steadfast conviction didn’t last long. Aggarwal said the sign would come down on Thursday — after this issue went to press. His other stores are named “Slim’s Bagels,” so he said it’s likely that he’ll name the Fifth Avenue store “Brooklyn Slim’s.”
This week, Atlantic Yards opponents were pleased that they’d beaten the bagel man into submission.
“I think the whole story shows perfectly how passionate this neighborhood is against Atlantic Yards,” said Jon Crow, one of the people who expressed his displeasure to Aggarwal.
By caving in so quickly, Aggarwal chose a different approach to dealing with the arena foes. Last year, when some opponents organized a boycott of Brooklyn Brewery products after company owner Steve Hindy expressed support for Atlantic Yards, Hindy stuck to his taps.
That misguided boycott fizzled like week-old beer.
But it remains appalling that hard-working men like Aggarwal and Hindy have had to face such outrage.
Indeed, as support for Ratner’s project goes, Aggarwal’s decision to name his store “Arena Bagels” pales by comparison to the wheel-greasing done by the state, the city and the Borough President. If Atlantic Yards is ever built, blame George Pataki, Mike Bloomberg and Marty Markowitz, not Ravi Aggarwal.
Barring a victory in court, the opponents’ main strategy right now is to block anything that gives even the appearance that Atlantic Yards is inevitable. If Ravi Aggarwal has to spend another $1,000 on a sign so that the word “arena” won’t hang near the soon-to-be-built arena, these people couldn’t care less.
Well I say it has to stop. If Ravi Aggarwal is mean to his customers, fine, don’t shop there. If his coffee isn’t fair-trade organic, get your beans at the Food Co-op.
And if his bagels aren’t good enough, go to Bergen Bagels a few blocks away.
But don’t crucify Ravi Aggarwal for Bruce Ratner’s sins. Besides, you’d be missing out on a good bagel.
“And my bialys are even better, if I do say so,” Aggarwal said.
©2007 Community News Group
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