Just in time for the Lenten season comes the miracle of a resurrection — Jim’s Shoe Repair is saved! Having now signed a new lease for the space at 50 E. 59th Street that it has occupied since 1932, Jim’s is a rare example of a successful and hallowed New York City business beating back the encroachment of a faceless mega-corporation. Some eighteen months ago the adjacent Duane Reade store, owned by Walgreen, tried to take over the space of the family-owned business, reportedly because to wanted to install refrigerators. Landlord SL Green Realty was ready to kick Jim’s out and it looked like another small New York City business would be swallowed in the maw of a national chain. (See May 2, 2014 post for background)
Although SL Green drove Posman Books in Grand Central Station out of business, the firm and its tenant Walgreen decided to relent in the case of this repair shop. Joseph Rocco, grandson of the founder, credits his lawyer Bill Brewer who worked pro bono. “Without Bill Brewer we would be out of here,” he said. “He brought his shoes in here one day and said, ‘What do you mean you are losing your lease? You are not losing your lease.'” Rocco also acknowledges the help of Fox 5, the N.Y. Daily News, bloggers who reported on their plight, and customers who signed their petition. Surely it also helped that customer Kim Cattrall was bringing in a black handbag for repair when the Daily News came to do its story.
The Roccos were determined to save their business and looked for another location. They did manage to find one last fall, and they thought they had a deal. However, that fell through when their prospective landlord dropped them for another tenant who offered more money. Disaster loomed until just before Thanksgiving when Brewer phoned Rocco, inquired if he was sitting down, and said that SL Green had agreed to renew. By Valentine’s Day the papers were ready. Could it be that mega-businesses like Walgreen, and even Real Estate Board of New York members like SL Green, care about their image? Maybe this time.
The survival of Jim’s is a rare victory for those who love New York City and who fight to help its people to thrive. However, more than blogs and Kim Cattrall are needed if even one more small business is to be saved. Today a stroll up Madison Avenue from Jim’s to East 72nd Street offers a visit of at least one empty store front on every block.
Last July, Danny Meyer wrote in the N.Y. Times about the threatened closure of his Union Square Cafe and called for New York City to create a body like London’s Rent Assessment Panel that has helped to preserve neighborhoods. Recently Mayor Bill de Blasio summoned the perfect metaphor when he said that New York City should not be a “gated community.” Nor should it resemble a strip mall in Stamford, but it does. Within a two block radius of my apartment building on the Upper East Side there are two Duane Reades and two Walgreens, plus a CVS. We have more bank branches than delis, which is no accident because the banks took over the spaces of the family-owned food shops that all used to thrive in the days of commercial rent control. If the city can’t bring back fruitful regulation then it must explore the creation of an arbitration panel for commercial rent rates or a similar mechanism that will promote New York’s economic diversity. If the city’s business elites can’t bother to figure out how they can profit from the economic well-being of residents, let them at least think of the tourists. Those Stanford strip malls aren’t much of a draw to all those people that are flying in from Beijing and Rio. Please scroll down to the “Leave a reply” box and comment.