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Making It | Barbara Shaum, ‘Solopreneur’

Barbara ShaumSuzanne RozdebaBarbara Shaum in her workspace on East 4th Street.

When you’ve been in business as a ‘solopreneur’ since 1962, you find you’re known for a few things, and you pay no mind about taking your time to relay all the details to anyone within earshot. For Barbara Shaum, 80-something, the legend behind the institution that is Barbara Shaum Ltd. on 60 East 4th Street, that means noting she was the very first woman officially to enter the male-only McSorley’s Bar, and that she hand-makes what fashion icons view to be some of the very best leather sandals and belts in the city. These days, it is rarity to enter a shop where there is a craftswoman who cobbles the very item you plan to slip on, right there in the store. Ms. Shaum, but she doesn’t have plans to retire either. Too many people are depending on her to outfit their feet.


How did you make your way into this business?


I was doing wholesale and living in a loft on West Broadway. I was working for a wonderful sandal-maker who taught me so much of what I know. This was back in the 50s. Then I went on my own in 1962, opening up a shop on 7th Street between Bowery and Second Avenue.


Right next to McSorleys! That must have been interesting.


Absolutely. It was for men only until 1970 when the Civil Rights Bill was passed and they could no long discriminate against women patronizing their establishment. I was the first woman in there and that’s the kind of person I am.


Was there a benefit to being in the location next to such a legendary place?


I sell to men and women and the bar was enormously popular. It was the 60s so there were hippies wearing a lot of belts and sandals so I was making a lot of sandals and belts. That was a good time for me. Lots of off-beat people with style.


People weren’t really worrying about making their rent so much then were they?


In those days things were not so much focused on real estate and money and that sort of thing. My rent was very low. It was $75 a month for quite a large place. I had a front part and a back part where I put up a wall and I lived back there. I also had a backyard and I’d have these big backyard barbecues with like 75 people coming by. Read more…

Construction Dust-Up Leaves Beer Hall’s Neighbor Out of House and Home

photoEdna Ishayik 265-267 Bowery.

A beer hall bound for 265-276 Bowery has become involved in a dust-up that could hurt its chances of snagging a liquor license.

Last Wednesday, Vanessa Solomon was working in her loft apartment on the second floor of the building between Stanton and Houston Streets when a cloud of brown dust came up from the storefront space where the Paulaner Brauhaus plans to open. Her floors, bed, clothes, and papers were covered in dust, she said. She and her live-in partner, Timothy Davis, spent the rest of the day scrambling to find a clean place for their five school-aged children to sleep that night.

“It looked like Pompeii,” Mr. Davis told The Local.

It was only the latest disruption for Ms. Solomon, who, after 17 years in the loft, had already started looking for a new home in Brooklyn. A week before the dust plume struck, her landlord, Craig Murray, called to tell her that her month-to-month lease would end on Sept. 1 due to construction. “The same day,” said Mr. Davis, “demolition started downstairs without any notice to us and without any precautions although Tony Morali, the architect, had promised repeatedly that he would first put in a dust barrier and soundproofing.”

After dust began coming up from the first floor, Paulaner project representatives sent a cleaning service. But that was nothing compared to the carpet of brown powder that rose up July 25.

According to Rudolf Tauscher, an operator of the beer hall, that incident occurred during pre-construction safety checks, after ceiling panels were removed to reveal an “unsafe condition”: cracked wooden planks and beams. “We were trying to establish what needed to be corrected when dust went upward and when a hostile tenant informed the DOB,” he said. Read more…

Adios, La Isla: Cuchifrito Spot Shutters on 14th Street

la islaMelvin Felix

A late-night standby for cheap, heaping helpings of Latin grub has closed its doors in the face of a rent hike, according to an employee.

La Isla, on 14th Street, stopped serving cuchifritos, empanadas, rotisserie chicken and other Caribbean staples this week, and will officially give up its space between Avenues A and B on Monday. Yesterday, it was empty but for a refrigerator, a steam table and a small plant by the front window, which an employee said had been there since La Isla opened a almost decade ago.

The employee, who wished to remain anonymous, said the restaurant’s management had decided not to renew the ten-year lease at 542 East 14th Street because its landlord had asked for an additional $3,000 per month, plus additional property tax payments; the one-two punch would’ve meant paying almost $15,000 per month instead of the previous $8,000. Read more…

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.  Read more…

Making It | Igor Iskiyev of Igor’s Clean Cuts

For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. Here’s one of them: Igor’s Clean Cuts.

Igor Iskiyev, Imanuel (Manny) Ibragimov of Igor's Clean CutsShira Levine Igor Iskiyev tends to a customer while Imanuel (Manny) Ibragimov looks on.

Five years ago Igor Iskiyev left his gig cutting hair at Neighborhood Barber on East Ninth Street and became commissar of his own chop shop at 20 First Avenue. The Azerbaijan native had dabbled with hair-cutting back home after serving as an anti-aircraft gunman. Igor’s reputation for detail and perfection precedes him: good Yelp reviews, affordable prices ($15 for a haircut, $15 for a shave) and, let’s face it, the occasional offer of a beer have been key to his success. The Local recently spoke with Mr. Iskiyev and his right-hand man, Imanuel (Manny) Ibragimov about Mr. Iskiyev’s decision to go solo and his distaste for small talk.


How is business?


Igor: Right now it is slow, but not very bad. It was not good in 2008. Customers didn’t come as much. Some moved because they couldn’t afford to stay. We didn’t see many of our old customers for a while. Read more…

Making It | Linda Scifo-Young of Foot Gear Plus and Village Kids

P1030888Shira Levine

For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. Here are two of them: Village Kids and Foot Gear Plus.

While in high school, Tony Scifo worked part-time for a shoe guy. In 1980, at the tender age of 19, he bought Foot Gear, the shoe shop across the street at 131 First Avenue. Two and a half years ago, he and his big sister Linda Scifo-Young opened Village Kids, selling children’s kicks just a block away at 117 First Avenue. Ms. Scifo-Young used to work in corporate real estate, so she wasn’t scared of going into business during a financial crisis. “As a real estate broker, I knew that the only time I could get a decent lease for the second store was when the market was bad,” she said. The Local spoke to her at Village Kids about whether her gamble paid off.


What influences your business the most?


The funny thing is that in actuality we’re in the weather business. If the weather cooperates, we’re good. If it’s cold when it’s supposed to be cold, then we have a good season. If it’s hot when it’s supposed to be hot, then we have a good season. If any of those things don’t work, you have no season. This year was hard with how the weather cooperated. Read more…

Making It | Rita Bobry of Downtown Yarns

For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. Here’s one of them: Downtown Yarns.

Rita Bobry of Downtown YarnsShira Levine

Before she started teaching people to knit, Rita Bobry owned a flower shop, but ultimately she found that the business was no bed of roses. “You have to deliver flowers. There are so many deadlines. There is a lot of stress and pressure,” she said. She sold the store and spent some time working for somebody else, until she decided she wanted to be her own boss again, partly to spend time with her new puppy, Frankie. The knitting enthusiast discovered a vacant space at 45 Avenue A and opened Downtown Yarns at 45 Avenue A. Eleven years later, she says she made the right choice, especially since her landlord still keeps her 300-square-foot space affordable.


I’ve walked down this block and never realized you were here. Given the possibility of others overlooking your charming little yarn shop, how do you think you’ve been able to make it all these years?


We have a fair rent. We don’t have to struggle to meet our rent. I keep my expenses low so I can pay the rent and I can actually save money. Read more…

Rockit Scientist Records Packs Up Its Crates

Joe BarbosaSuzanne Rozdeba Joe Barbosa had been selling records outside of the store.

Earlier today, John Kioussis hauled a turntable and a few remaining crates of records out of an empty, darkened storefront at 33 St. Marks Place. Before locking up the narrow nook that has housed Rockit Scientist Records since 2003, he said he had closed in part because of squabbles with one of his landlords.

Mr. Kioussis let forth a litany of complaints about Amnon Kehati, a co-owner of the building (which is for sale) and of Mark Burger next-door: he had set up tables in front of his store without asking, made unreasonable complaints about garbage bags being left out, and accused the record store of attracting rats.

“The reason we have rats in the building, according to the landlord, is because I have records downstairs and rats are attracted to records,” Mr. Kioussis said as he cleared out his shop. “I wonder what scientist would tell you that Bob Dylan and Sex Pistols records attract rats as opposed to bags of tomatoes and onions all over the floor.” Read more…

Living Theatre Makes Last Ditch Effort for Survival

Lucky Ant

Last Thursday, Brad Burgess was able to stop city marshals from evicting The Living Theatre after gathering $10,400 for back rent. But in 12 days the theater, known for its avant garde productions admired by the likes of Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino, faces yet another deadline. If The Living Theatre cannot raise $24,000 by May 14 it will have to move out. Its founder, Judith Malina, will likely face eviction from her apartment above the theater shortly thereafter.

To meet the goal, the theater has set up a call for donations that went live yesterday through a local crowd-funding site, Lucky Ant. The $24,000 would go towards arrears, as well as the money to pay a consultant who would formulate a plan to put the theater back in the black.

“We are down to the wire,” said Mr. Burgess, the 27-year-old actor who is caring for Ms. Malina and helping run the theater. Read more…

Good News for Renters

Curtains - Lower East Side - New York City

A pair of items offer a rare bit of good news for those who rent. First, a change in policy in the New York State Unified Court System will eliminate easy access to so-called tenant blacklists, The Village Voice reports. Landlords have been able to buy the lists of people who participated in housing court cases from a third party as a way to weed out troublesome tenants. Now, plaintiffs and defendants in court cases will remain in the public record, but the lists of names in bulk will no longer be available for purchase online. Concern over the blacklists is real: it even came up in the comments of our coverage of the landlord-tenant fight brewing on East Third Street. In other news, the Post reports that the annual rent increase for rent-stabilized apartments will likely be the smallest its been since 2002.

Making It | Grace Sull of Avenue A Laundry King

For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. Here’s one of them: Avenue A Laundry King.

P1030381Shira Levine

When Grace Sull, or, Eun Sook Han as she’s known to her Korean friends, had the first of her two daughters, she and her husband, a computer programmer, realized one income wasn’t enough. So she quit her job as a secretary at a travel agency and opened Avenue A Laundry King at 97 Avenue A. Twenty-one years later, she still loves what she does.

“It’s a very good business making people’s clothes clean, because we also clean their mind,” she told The Local. “I have no special skills, but I like doing laundry. It calms me; I like keeping things clean and organized for people. I like all these young people who come in, especially all the good-looking beautiful people, the handsome men and the beautiful models.” We asked the laundry queen to come clean about how she’s managed to make it all these years. Read more…

Second Life for Life Cafe

The cafe is closed, but at least there will be an online refuge for “Rent” fanatics. Owner Kathy Kirkpatrick announced yesterday on Life Cafe’s Facebook page that she is nearing a “soft launch” for, a digital version of the tomes full of the signatures of “Rent” fanatics who made a pilgrimage to the restaurant where the musical was written. “An estimated 10,000 ‘Rent’ and Life Cafe fans left messages in these books. We will eventually have all the pages scanned and available to read on the site,” Ms. Kirkpatrick wrote.

The Day | Lakeside Remembered, and 20 Other Morning Reads

UntitledPhillip Kalantzis-Cope

Good morning, East Village.

The Times looks back on what made Lakeside Lounge so special (“once, while Joey and Dee Dee Ramone played, audience members watched the police raid a nearby crack house and line suspects up against the picture window beside the stage”) and gives a clue as to why it’s closing at the end of the month: “[Owner Eric] Ambel said rent and expenses had more than quadrupled since the mid-1990s, forcing him and Mr. Marshall to face the prospect of deviating from the formula that had served Lakeside, its musicians and its patrons so well.” According to WNYC, the rent was $9,000 a month.

Flaming Pablum uses the closing of Lakeside as an excuse to look back on five other bygone dive bars, including Alcatraz on St. Marks Place, an “endearingly seedy joint that catered to acolytes of all things loud, boozy and rude.”

With the average rent in Manhattan at $3,418 a month and the vacancy rent at just 1 percent despite the lagging economy, The Times lays down some real talk: “For those who find buying a home in New York City is not an option — whether because of bad credit, tougher lending standards or lack of a down payment — the choices are limited and often unappealing.” If you are buying, the Daily News points out that there are still deals to be found in the Lower East Side. Read more…

Making It | Paul Brickman of H. Brickman & Sons

P1030373Shira Levine From left, Jason Brickman, his father, Paul Brickman, and in the backgroudn the store manager, Ruben.

For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. Here’s one of them: H. Brickman & Sons.

Want to stay in business for seventy-nine years in the East Village? H. Brickman & Sons at 55 First Avenue owe their success to two valuable business decisions that Great Grandpa Hyman Brickman made in 1933 when he opened the first location of the hardware store. First, be your own landlord. Second, keep it in the family. Now, the store has employed four generations of Brickmans, and has two other locations at 125 West Third Street and 312 First Avenue near 18th Street. Making It spoke to Brickman’s third generation owner, Paul, about keeping things familial and when it’s time to pass the torch.


How was it decided that this would be a family business?


My grandfather ran it for three decades and then he had my father take it over in the 1960s. Business was too good to let it go. When my father retired about 17 years ago it was my turn. My cousin’s husband and I took it over. Now I’m grooming my son and my cousin’s son who will be the fourth generation to take over. Read more…

Tenants Being Booted from Third Street Buildings Prepare to Dig In

tenantsLaura Edwins

Less than a year ago, David Moster, a Ph.D. candidate at N.Y.U., paid a $5,625 broker fee to move into his apartment at 50 East Third Street. “It was a huge hassle moving last summer,” he recalled. Now he’s getting ready to deal with the headache again. Earlier this month, his landlord, Abart Holdings, sent him a letter informing that the building would be sold within a few months and that his lease would not be renewed.

Mr. Moster and his two roommates, who pay $3,000 per month for their three-bedroom unit, are among an estimated 17 residents of the building and of two neighboring ones at 54 and 58 East Third Street who were given 60 days to find a new place to live. Yesterday, many of those tenants met to discuss their options. Read more…

The Day | Legal Observer Sues NYPD for Arrest on East 13th

Last day at Kate's JointSuzanne Rozdeba

Good morning, East Village.

The Local snapped the above shot a day before longstanding vegetarian spot Kate’s Joint was seized by its landlord yesterday, presumably due to the back rent it owed.

Gothamist reports that a National Lawyers Guild observer is suing the NYPD for wrongfully arresting him on Second Avenue between East 12th and 13th Streets during an Occupy Wall Street march back in the early hours of New Year’s Day.

A real estate broker tells The Voice that you can still get a deal in the East Village. “You could get a small, two-bedroom apartment [in a walk-up], with a kitchen you could cook in for $3,000 a month,” she says. “I’m not saying the rooms are going to be the size of Texas, but I think that’s a bargain. And you have fantastic restaurants.”
Read more…

Making It | Neil Mendeloff of Plantworks

For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. Here’s one of them: Plantworks.

plantworksShira Levine

It ain’t easy being green. Neil Mendeloff, a onetime Parks Department employee, and his wife Verna, a terrarium and bonsai specialist, opened Plantworks on Mercer Street some 38 years ago; it moved to Waverly Place two years later and eventually put down roots at 28 East Fourth Street, where for the past 28 years it has helped beautify many a Manhattan home, university, restaurant, government building and hotel. But now, Mr. Mendeloff says, his rent may double. Unless his landlord extends an olive branch, his lush wonderland of Florida palm trees, Japanese maples, and Oregon pines could end up buried six feet under. We asked him how he’s managed to make it this far.


You have a lot of space in the heart of some high-traffic blocks. What are you working with size- and price-wise?


I’ve got about 3,600 square feet here and started out paying about $2,800 a month. We’ve been up to about $15,000 a month recently. There have been slight reductions during recessionary times though. I also have the yard next door and have a separate landlord for that which is an additional cost. It’s an additional $6,000 a month. Read more…

And Now Life Cafe’s Bar Has Been Dismantled

life2Daniel Maurer

Life Cafe’s bar was still standing last week when The Local reported that one of the shuttered cafe’s two landlords had given up trying to come to terms with the other. If the lingering fixture gave you hope that there might be an eleventh-hour rapprochement in time for outdoor brunching season (which, apparently, is already upon us), you can set it aside.

A peek into the space last night revealed that although the summer specials are still pitifully up on the chalkboard, the wooden bar decorated with covers of Life magazine has now been dismantled. Rentheads, if you’re looking for souvenirs, this might be the time to keep your eye on the sidewalk.

Oh, and speaking of brunch, Grub Street reports that the Beagle is now serving it. Pancakes with foie-gras maple syrup, anyone?

Amid Hope for Revival, Rent Is Life Cafe’s Undoing

IMG_2761Daniel Maurer Construction work on the building today.

As recently as yesterday, Kathy Kirkpatrick was holding out hope that Life Cafe would be resurrected in spite of the “For Rent” sign in the window of her iconic restaurant and a simmering dispute between her two landlords (yes, she has two).

“I’m still waiting to see how it plays out,” Ms. Kirkpatrick said. “Things are getting resolved, things are developing — though meanwhile, I wait.”

But today the dispute boiled over and Bob Perl, one of her landlords, said Life Cafe was dead — he could no longer bear trying to negotiate with Abraham Noy, the other landlord.

“I can’t get it done,” Mr. Perl said. “I’m done with Noy – these guys are just impossible.” Read more…

Polonia Closes After 28 Years; Owner Cites ‘End of the Era of Small Businesses’

Polonia RestaurantAnthony Ptak

After 28 years in the East Village, the owners of Polonia have closed shop after their landlord said she would more than triple their rent.

“I came here from Poland, my husband and I raised our children, and ran this business. We worked hard. I did everything I could,” Renata Jurczyk, who owns Polonia with her husband Jozef, said in Polish. “The landlords are killing small businesses in this neighborhood with the rent.”

The family had a small, informal gathering at Polonia last night with longtime customers. “After all these years, Polonia was important to the East Village,” said Ms. Jurczyk, 51. “When I told customers who have been coming here a long time that we’re closing, they started crying. They were Poles and non-Poles, and it was their second home.”

Ms. Jurczyk and her son Paul, 23, said they closed on Christmas Eve after the landlord, Ludmilla Lozowy, said she would raise their rent from $3,500 to $12,000 per month starting February 2012. “I tried to do something, but the landlord said we pay too little,” said Ms. Jurczyk. Read more…