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.

Color The City Black and Blue

Delia Ephron wrote a wonderful piece Color Me Blue about Citi Bikes, Citibank and Mayor Bloomberg’s desire to mark and monetize every aspect of New York City. She pointed out that the jarring blue blight of the bike racks advertising Citibank is also an occasion to remember how banks pay scant interest to consumers and how they charge outrageous monthly fees . I also recall how Citibank drove me off as a customer when it raised its monthly balance requirements.  Maybe the increased minimum balance it requires from beleaguered middle class New Yorkers is how it sponsors the bike blight. Ephron also points out that Citibank’s $41 million sponsorship is billionaire chump change — it is about twice the $23 million recently paid for a co-op at 640 Park Avenue. While thinking about Citibank’s sponsorship of cycling, we might also remember the mortgage crisis and hasty foreclosures.

But let us always be mindful of public safety so that someone is. Last night I experienced stark evidence of how lopsided and contemptuous of the public Bloomberg’s cycling agenda has been. As I travelled from Manhattan’s East 70s to the Red Rooster on West 125th Street, crossing wide streets in the early dark of an October evening and changing buses and subways several times, I encountered many cyclists. All were dressed in black riding on black bikes in the black evening. It was hard to discern them, much less avoid them. No headlights, not even a red hazard reflector — certainly not visible clothing or sneakers — to provide a clue that moving objects were honing in. The Bloomberg bike explosion, of which he and his associates are so proud, has not been accompanied by a single rule regulating bikes — no requirement for licenses (make them large, readable white ones, please), headlights or even red reflectors. Cyclists might not care to see where they are bearing down on a human being, but pedestrians in the dark need to see that cyclists are coming. A short-lived program of posted reminders on bus shelters a few months ago observed that cyclists should follow traffic rules, but there has been no noticeable enforcement of any laws, certainly not the one that says no one over the age of 14 should ride on a sidewalk. Why can’t the police make streets safe and enforce laws on the books instead of stopping and frisking people of color standing in their neighborhoods? If all those men and women of color walking on sidewalks in their neighborhoods would just start cycling on them, they could move around with impunity.

Cramming for New York

Kenneth T. Jackson, a professor of history at Columbia, editor in chief of The Encyclopedia of New York City, and a past president of the Society of American Historians, to which I belong, is in favor of the East Midtown development plan that would build new and taller skyscrapers around around Grand Central Station. In a N.Y. Times op-ed, Prof. Jackson, whom I  respect, says that those who oppose the idea of building big and bold would compromise the city’s future as “the world’s greatest city.” He says high density is good where there is strong public transit and that those who balked at development would have prevented the building of the Empire State Building.

Having just fought my way through pedestrian traffic on Fifth Avenue on a Labor Day Saturday, when many residents are out of town, I have one word for him: Sidewalks! Midtown Manhattan sidewalks are so clotted with people — especially around Grand Central but including the pedestrian malls that the Bloomberg Administration has fostered at Times Square and the Macy’s area, that the idea of quadrupling the foot traffic in dense Midtown is a horrible idea — even if vehicles were banned from 42nd Street. There are plenty of other spots for over-building — how about the West Side Yards? Or how about grand schemes that would bring jobs and density to the Bronx, which is well-served by Metro North?

If you build it, they might not come. As Yogi Berra once said about a restaurant, “No one goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

Remember How NYC Democrats Used to Sound?

“We’ve gotten comfortable seeing low-wage workers as sharecroppers. When was the last time the mayor blew a blood vessel about the systematic violation of wage protections?” That question comes from Harvey Robins, who held top positions in the Koch and Dinkins Administrations, as quoted in Michael Powell’s column this morning in the N.Y. Times. Robins would like to see insurance companies subject to the business tax and would end the $17 million property tax abasement for Madison Square Garden. Robins, who served as deputy schools chancellor in the Koch Administration and ran Dinkins’ Office of Operations, is so revolutionary that he asks why Chicago and Boston keep their libraries open 50 hours a week while NYC barely muster five days.
I would like to know who Robins is endorsing in the mayor’s race. Better yet, I want to hear lots more from him.


Bloomberg Policies Are Stopped, Frisked

The Bloomberg Administration rationale for what it now calls stop-question-frisk — that blacks and Hispanics are the ones most likely to commit crimes — is the mindset that inspired two policemen to chase black Ramarley Graham from the street into his grandmother’s home and gun him down by her toilet (see earlier post).  Happily, a federal judge ruled today that the practice violates civil rights and has called for a monitor to oversee NYC police. Bloomberg claims that stop and frisk reduces the number of police deaths and he does not know what he will tell their families if stop and frisk is eliminated. What does he tell the parents of teens who are needlessly slaughtered by over-anxious police armed not only with guns but with data that says criminals are likely to be minorities and therefore minorities are likely to be criminals?