A Small Midtown Business Survives!

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.

Who are Patrick Lynch’s Real New Yorkers?

As president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Patrick J. Lynch may be obligated to stand up for every union member who commits a questionable act, even an indefensible one. However, his actions and tone are those of thug, of someone more like a semi-literate television Mafia capo rather than a responsible police officer. Lynch has created, or highlighted, a fissure that exists between an insubordinate, armed police force and the people of New York City, a large number of whom took to the streets in December to protest police treatment of minorities. Why has the media styled growing questions about a pattern of police conduct as an issue between Lynch’s rank and file and the mayor? Possibly because Lynch has spun it that way. Mayor Bill de Blasio owes “New York’s Finest” no apology for voicing concern about dubious actions by some officers – one of whom used a banned chokehold that killed Eric Garner and another who opened the door to a public housing stairwell with the use of a loaded and drawn gun, thereby killing Akai Gurley. The mayor owes no apology for drawing a distinction between officers who serve the public trust and those whose actions invite scrutiny. In every his pronouncement de Blasio has indicated that he does “have the back” of a responsible police force, despite the disrespect of those who literally have turned their backs on him at recent public events, including funerals of assassinated officers. Nonetheless, some contrition is due: Lynch owes an apology to New Yorkers for a work slowdown that has cost the city as much as $10 million per week, according to the Citizen’s Budget Commission, which bases the figure on a drop in the issuance of parking tickets. The N.Y. Daily News reports that Lynch has told his members to go back to doing half of their former workload.  Meanwhile, with all this going on, Lynch through the PBA website and in newspaper ads thanks “real New Yorkers” for not believing that their insubordination has anything to do with labor negotiations and for “holding accountable” those who stir up hatred and violence against police officers.  The question is what kind of people does Lynch regard as “real New Yorkers” because sadly, almost half of his members, notably the white ones, don’t qualify. Some 40 percent are suburban and exurbanites, according to data from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Census Bureau. That is a smaller percentage than those other large U.S. cities, but the numbers provoke even more thought when they are examined along racial lines. While 77 percent of black officers live in the five boroughs and 76 percent of Hispanic ones do, only 45 percent of white officers are “real New Yorkers,” if being a “real New Yorker” means residing here and paying city taxes. Minority police officers are more likely than their white colleagues to be willing to live among the people they serve and, apparently, be comfortable with us and raise their families alongside ours. When it comes to living here, can we say that New York City police officers are turning their backs? If minority cops can find a way to afford living here, why can’t – or won’t — white ones? Could moving out of the boroughs be the most questionable act of all? Please scroll down to the “Leave a reply” box and comment.

The Trouble with Noerdlinger

About five weeks ago New York City’s First Lady Chirline McCray sent a mass email inviting recipients to be an “UpStander.” Her message said in part “…all of us can be UpStanders, not bystanders, in preventing domestic violence. We can be UpStanders by teaching our kids to respect one another, by supporting victims fleeing abusive relationships, or by speaking up when we hear jokes or other statements that promote violence or victim blaming.” The missive included a link to a city website.

This crystalized why Rachel Noerdlinger should have resigned as McCray’s chief of staff as soon as details of her controversial home life became public in early October. None of the many stories about her relationship with her problematic live-in boyfriend Hassaun McFarlan indicate she was ever physically beaten. However, police records indicate that she made a very bad choice of a longtime companion for herself and for her son. McFarlan’s background includes recent arrests, inflammatory rants against the police on his Facebook page and a six-year term in prison for manslaughter.

If Chirline McCray takes it upon herself to urge women to make healthy life choices, Noerdlinger is not the person she should have by her side. So it is a good thing that the chief of staff finally took an indefinite unpaid leave of absence after her son’s arrest last weekend.

The people who should have been involved here are not McCray and Mayor Bill de Blasio but Oprah or Dr. Phil. Perhaps New York’s first couple stuck by Noerdlinger because they did not want to give in to foes like police unions who may well have fed facts to the media. Possibly the two are blindly loyal. Whatever. If Noerdlinger were the essential public relations whiz she was supposed to be she would have resigned immediately, no matter how the de Blasios protested that she must stay. She would then have been at least as loyal to them as they have so unfortunately been to her.

The background: DNA Info broke the story that McFarlan served six years for manslaughter in the 1990s. Noerdlinger lives with him and her son in Edgewater, New Jersey where in 2011, police arrested him for possession of marijuana. He had been driving her Mercedes-Benz the wrong way with Noerdlinger and an underage passenger, presumably her son, in the car. She received a violation for allowing McFarlan to drive her car without a license.

De Blasio stood by her, saying that his aides knew about McFarlan, even if she had not included information about him in information the law required her to submit to the city’s Investigation Department. The mayor said, with some righteousness, that she should not be judged by the behavior of a companion. What if the behavior endangers a minor and the public and is part of a larger pattern? Will de Blasio allow himself to learn from this? Please scroll down to the “Leave a reply” box and comment.