With Rent Hikes Looming, Cooper Square Tenants Worry They’ll Be Kicked While Down

cooper squareSarah Darville Postal and other businesses on East Fourth.

Store owners already struggling to get by are worried about a significant rent increase planned by their landlord, the Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association.

The Local spoke to about a half dozen shopkeepers on Third and Fourth Streets, between Bowery and Second Avenue, who said they were grappling with a sluggish economy as well as challenges unique to their blocks. Some worried they would follow in the footsteps of La Sirena, which earlier this week announced that it would be closing, should they too face rent hikes of what is expected to be around 30 percent.

At Postal, a packing and shipping store on Fourth Street, owner Gary Patick said he alternates between busy days and days when “nothing happens,” and doubted he’d have any room to negotiate when his lease expires in two years. He described his profits, which in 2010 and 2011 were their lowest in a decade, as “a real roller coaster” and said that one-third of them go toward rent payments. 

“I’m just paying my bills — the cash flow is just terrible,” he said, adding that the Association has been helpful in allowing him to pay rent a few weeks late on occasion. “I’m having a hard time paying rent with a good price, so trying to squeeze more out of the retail tenants seems crazy,” he said.

Roza Payziyeva, who owns Roza’s Unisex Salon, said she was operating with a month-to-month lease, and her rent pressures were already quite high, especially since she charges just $15 for a men’s haircut and $25 for women with longer hair.

She said business was “extremely slow,” and estimated the salon was bringing in 30 to 40 percent less than it was last year.

cooper square - random accessoriesSarah Darville Random Accessories

Ms. Payziyeva said she’d first heard that large rent increases would be coming from the “neighborhood gossips” who she enjoys chatting with in the salon she has operated for 14 years.

“It’s going to be horrible. Of course I’m concerned,” she said. “I can’t complain about M.H.A., they’ve been good to us. But this now sounds totally different.”

The Association has justified the looming increases by saying they’re necessary to fund building repairs. “We’re not out to put anyone out of business,” said Val Orselli, its executive director. “We also can’t afford to subsidize our tenants.”

Tower Brokerage president Bob Perl, who will be negotiating the leases, said Wednesday that he still expects that “quite a few of the existing tenants will renew their leases.”

Lynn Freidus, owner of the Fourth Street gift store Random Accessories, said that with a year and a half left on her seven-year lease, she wasn’t sure she would be among those who could renew. The clientele of the neighboring New York Theatre Workshop has helped Random Accessories stay afloat, but otherwise Ms. Freidus said the location was tough. Like Ms. Payziyeva, she cited a lack of foot traffic. “What keeps us here is the rent,” she said. “If they raised it a good amount, I’d have to reconsider.”

cooper square - coopSarah Darville 4th Street Food Coop

For some businesses, a rent increase wasn’t a concern. Rose Pellegrini, a 4th Street Co-op member working in the store on Thursday, said they weren’t worried because the Co-op had negotiated what she called a “phenomenal” lease two years ago.

Other store owners are already looking onward. Last month, Keshav Das of Keshav Music told The Local that his $2,000 rent was “manageable,” but that the sluggish economy and high insurance costs will likely push him to look for a smaller space in the future.

But the owners of Pageant Print Shop hope they’ll be able to stay put when they negotiate a new lease in the coming months. In May, co-owner Rebecca Solomon told The Local that the store’s rent had increased at a “doable” rate of five percent per year. The next increase could be more sizable. “I’m very concerned,” her partner, Shirley Solomon, said after reading about the possible rent hikes on The Local.

The store, which opened on Fourth Avenue in 1946, left its original location due to a rent hike in the late 1990s, and Ms. Solomon didn’t want history to repeat itself. “I certainly wouldn’t want to move. You move, you lose,” she said.