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.

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Remember the Alamo, Rizzoli Bookstore, and Jim’s Shoe Repair

Rizzoli Bookstore is still expected to close and Subway Inn was shuttered, but Jim’s Shoe Repair at 50 E. 59th has been given a new lease!!

See Present in the City blog of Feb. 17, 2015 for details as well as this fine ABC News New York story with an appearance by me.

Here’s the original post on the subject from May 2, 2014:

Jim’s Shoe Repair on Manhattan’s at 50 East 59th Street has been in business for 82 years. Now the adjacent Duane Reade chain wants its space, reportedly so it can sell frozen foods. Duane Reade, which Walgreen purchased in 2010 for $618 million dollars, is forcing the family-owned artisanal service to shut its doors.

Now is the time and here is the place for New Yorkers to take a stand if they are alarmed by seeing productive businesses destroyed by the combination of out-of-control generic big box stores, New York real estate interests, and the complicit Giuliani and Bloomberg Administrations. Maybe Jim’s Shoe Repair Store can be the place where the de Blasio Administration steps in to help small businesses and preserve what is left of commercial diversity in Manhattan. Surely small businesses are as worthy of salvation as carriage horses, even if their supporters are less organized.

Without a public outcry against Duane Reade and Walgreen ($72 billion in sales in fiscal 2013) and landlord SL Green Realty, Jim’s Shoe Repair will join the famed Rizzoli’s Bookstore, and the less iconic Nemati rug and tapestry store on Third Avenue and Vacesi Hardware on East 23rd, along with hundreds of other successful or promising small businesses that have been victims of predatory real estate interests.

Two Duane Reades, two Walgreens and a CVS all operate in a 1.5 block radius of my apartment, and most Manhattanites below 96th Street can say much the same of these interchangeable outlets. We do not need more of them and we do not need them to be bigger than they are. They should not gobble up more space and they should not destroy more productive businesses. Jim’s is trying to get redress through the Landmarks Commission, which ignored it in the past, but here’s a plan for the rest of us:

  1. Patronize Jim’s Shoe Repair at 50 East 59th Street near the Fifth Avenue N,R,Q subway. This support will help it to pay its legal bills to fight these greedy businesses that prey on the spirit of New York. In addition, you will also see what expert shoe repair looks like.

  2. Sign an electronic petition at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/save-jims-shoe-repair   or this site.

  3. Phone Customer Relations at Duane Reade (and why is this office not in New York City where it could hire the city residents who patronize these stores?)
    Here are two numbers – 800-925-4733, which I obtained from a company source, and 866-375-6925, which is on the website. Provide Jim’s address – 50 East 59th Street — and 625 Madison Avenue, the address of the building that houses it and the rapacious Duane Reade that is gobbling up its business.

  4. Phone Walgreen at 800-925-4733

  5. Call SL Green Realty, ask for the leasing agent of 625 Madison Avenue, and tell them that they should renew Jim’s lease. They will give you a polite runaround. Probably SL Green thrives on bad will, but perhaps it would like to generate good publicity by doing something decent.

  6. Contact REBNY – the Real Estate Board of New York. Its website says that questions about the commercial Brokerage Division should be directed to Desiree Jones at (212) 616-5226 or djones@rebny.com

Taking these actions would be constructive use of smartphones. On a personal note, without Jim’s to repair my shoes, I may have to use them less. Certainly if Walgreen and Duane Reade takes Jim’s down, I will never again walk into one of these outfits again. Drugstore.com* is looking good – and it sells cheaper branded contact lens solution too.

*Correction: In a demonstration of the importance of a family business, after this blog was posted my nephew David, a business grad student, informed me that drugstore.com is owned by Walgreen. One of us has made me proud.