Volume 74, Number 41 | February 16 - 22, 2005

Christopher St. merchants foresee more closures

By Aman Singh

Christopher Street Books, a bookstore that catered to the Downtown gay community, closed last month. Richard White closed his jewelry shop R.J. White Jewelry Store after a good 50 years in August last year. Li-Lac Chocolates closed down in the first week of January this year.

What all these stores share in common besides the fact that they all went out of business within months of each other is their location: Christopher St., a strip that has always been a popular shopping location for New York University and Greenwich Villagers, especially the gay community.

Merchants on the street all cite high rents as a reason for the closings. But some also say that the street is losing popularity, and is no longer drawing crowds of shoppers. While there are currently only a few vacant storefronts, merchants on the street are anticipating more vacancies.

Pat Peretta has managed Hudson Street Papers, just off Christopher St. at 357 Bleecker St., for 10 years. But he feels his tenure will be ending soon. He gave his shop one more year. “Escalating rents are jacking the rents up and that’s driving all the small stores out of business here,” he said. “The trend has been there for the past year and will continue till all these big stores don’t drive us small stores out completely.”

A man who gave his name as Elon, who lives between Bedford and Christopher Sts. and helps out at Joe’s CDs West at 96 Christopher St., had a different view. He felt that the closures were because of the lack of popularity the street was suffering. “It has become a little bit trashy here, the people prefer coming out in the nights and on weekends,” he said. “The popularity of the street as a shopping place has really declined. I think more than the rent, it is this that is forcing well-established shops to close down,” he said.

David Wong, manager of McNulty’s Tea and Coffee Company at 109 Christopher St., disagreed that a decline in the street’s fortunes is the reason for the recent closures. “The shops that have closed down had specific clientele, because they had been here for a long time,” Wong said. “I believe it has more to do with increasing rents than lack of popularity. For us, thankfully, this is also not a factor, since we are well established here.”

One of the workers at Pet’s Kitchen at 116 Christopher St., who declined to give his name, saying he was a new employee, didn’t think much of the few stores going out of business, since Pet’s Kitchen is doing well.

“As long as they make $150 a day, they’re able to pay the rent and high rent is what is forcing these small shops to close down,” he said. “But this shop is doing fine.”

Another factor worrying the street’s merchants is the Port Authority’s plan to add another PATH station exit on the street. Some merchants feel the PATH station’s presence is what has caused the street’s change. “That is why a majority of the crowd here is restricted to nightclubs and people who just want to hang out,” said Elon. “No one wants to come here anymore.”

Wong also expressed concern about the Port Authority’s decision, claiming it would hurt the street by just attracting more people “who don’t stop to shop and are only there because of their commute.”

While Christopher St. merchants definitely are concerned, they see their situation as part of what is happening on a larger scale around the city, with brand names pushing out smaller shops

While merchants are watching closely whether the Port Authority moves ahead with its plans, most are beginning searches for alternative locations and lower rents. Where they will find these is a question none of them want to confront.

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