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New York's mom-and-pop stores fight for survival
They were the neighborhood staples, places where you could get your favorite album or book, some hardware and even a shoe shine, but changing times and rising Big Apple costs forced them to bid adieu.
J&R Music and Computer World and Rizzoli Bookstore are the most recent additions to a long list -- and more are on the way. Longtime Manhattan store owners amNewYork spoke to say they fear there just isn't any room left for mom-and-pops.
"I like to shop in stores where I know the people. That's how I grew up. Now I don't know anyone on the block, it's all corporations," said Joe Rocco, whose family has been running Jim's Shoe Repair on East 59th Street for more than 80 years.
Layla Law-Gisiko, the chair of the landmarks committee for Community Board 5, organized a rally last Friday outside Rizzoli on West 57th Street as a last-gasp show of support for the store. She said development is to blame for the closures -- not changing tastes in the neighborhood.
"With Rizzoli, it's a great place and right size but then they are not welcomed by these developers who want big retailers," she said.
Jeremiah Moss, the creator of the blog Vanishing New York, said the de Blasio administration should step in and find a way to preserve these stores.
"This is something that de Blasio has to get on. The Bloomberg years destroyed the fabric of the city and de Blasio has to work hard to stop the hemorrhaging," he said.
Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for the mayor, said the administration will work to preserve longtime stores and venues.
"We are committed to providing the supports they need and alleviating some of the obstacles they face, so businesses of all types and sizes can grow and thrive here," he said of business owners.
Rolando Pujol, who runs city history blog The Retrologist and is a former amNewYork editor, said the trend has increased over the last five years.
"People pay a premium to live in New York because of the interesting funky shops and the weird little places to grab a bite. But every time you lose that, it begins to erase the value that New York has," he said.
STORES THAT HAVE RECENTLY CLOSED
J & R MUSIC WORLD, 1 Park Row; opened in 1971, closed April 9
The famed electronics, music and video store abruptly shut its doors last Wednesday. The owners promised to revamp its brand in the same space right near City Hall but didn't give specifics.
"In order to facilitate this exciting new initiative, the buildings that J & R occupies have to be totally re-imagined and redeveloped," the company said in a statement.
Although Moss said the store had a smaller following that other recently closed venues, like Roseland Ballroom, he received "close to 500 emails" from his readers mourning the sudden closure.
RIZZOLI BOOKSTORE, 31 W. 57th St., opened 1985, closed April 11 (new location to be determined)
Dozens of the bookstore's supporters rallied during its final day Friday. The store's owners fought to stay in the building, which is slated to be demolished for new developments, but after the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission couldn't accept the store's request to designate the site a landmark, it was forced to close.
"Certainly [the board has] seen big pressure from developers to close down and tear down businesses for larger towers," Law-Gisiko said.
She said there's a big push to get the city to work with developers so they can let the old stores stay when new buildings are constructed.
"The city has an opportunity to create zoning that will allow small businesses to thrive and exist," she said.
VERCESI HARDWARE, 152 E. 23rd St. Dates of operation: 1912 to Nov. 2013
Vercesi Hardware opened as a family-owned sheet music store in 1912, and it eventually evolved into a 7,000-square-foot hardware and housewares store. It carried everything from vacuums and light bulbs to street carts and cast iron skillets.
Even after an employee took over the store in 2009 and rebranded it as "23rd Street Hardware," the space was still known as Vercesi Hardware by the neighborhood. In November, the store shut down to make way for a condo building.
SLATED TO CLOSE
NEMATI COLLECTION, 1059 3rd Ave # 3
While the rug and tapestry store has been in its Upper East Side location since 1996, the business has been in operation for more than 50 years by the same family. Because of rent hikes, the store will close on May 15 and the space will be demolished.
Its owner, Parviz Nemati, said he gave his customers the best rugs from around the world and some knowledge and history of the craft.
"Each of our carpets, which we acquire from Europe, Asia and the U.S. . . . has a unique story, as well as unique details of artistic merit and world class craftsmanship," said Nemati, who has written books about the rug industry.
BUSINESSES IN LIMBO:
SHAKESPEARE AND CO., 716 Broadway; opened in 1987
The bookstore's lease is up and a rental listing went up last week. The store's owners wouldn't comment about its future but the realty agent told the New York Observer that the store will remain open until the owner finds a new tenant.
Moss said Shakespeare's pending closure is part of a nationwide trend for bookstores large and small.
"People are turning away from real books and then you have rents that are $40,000 or $50,000 a month. It's not doable to stay open," he said.
Although there are other locations in the city, fans of the Village store, which has been open in its current location since 1987, said there will be a void in the neighborhood when it's gone.
"This place is a cultural classic. What can you say?" asked Dennis Parlato, 67.
PEARL PAINT, 303 Canal Street; opened in 1933
The six-level, 11,850-square-foot space was recently listed for sale or rental. Calls to the corporate office were not returned and workers at the famous art store couldn't comment about its future.
Moss said Pearl Paint's situation is once again about rent and proposed creating a business rent control law that would give longtime stores a chance to keep costs down.
"If it really was important for the community, they would vouch for it," he said.
JIM'S SHOE REPAIR, 50 E. 59th St; opened 1932.
The famous shoe repair place is fighting to stay alive after a neighboring Duane Reade put in a request to expand its store. Duane Reade owns the lease to the commercial storefront space where Jim's has been operating since 1932. Joe Rocco, a third-generation owner, said the store tried to get the Landmarks commission to keep the business open but was denied.
In a statement, LPC chair Robert B. Tierney said that although Jim's Shoe Repair contributed "to the vibrancy and cultural fabric of the city," the agency can't regulate occupancy and "the store interiors did not meet the criteria for official designation."
Rocco said he refuses to raise prices to meet the new rent guidelines, but is nervous about the business's future.
"We take care of everybody," he said.
— With Bianca Fortis and Shawn McCreesh