Volume 78 / Number 5 - July 2 - July 8, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since

Villager photo by Bonnie Rosenstock

Michael Alter in his Mili Quality Cleaners store on Stuyvesant St.

East Village tailor getting ready to say sew long

By Bonnie Rosenstock

This month, Michael Alter is reaching two milestones. First, July 2 is his 65th birthday, the age of retirement. Second, on June 30, the lease on his tailor shop at 159 Second Ave. at Stuyvesant St. expired. Alter, who has worked out of this location for the last 10 years — he had a dry-cleaning shop on Second Ave. and Fourth St. for 19 years that he sold in 2000 — is ready to pack it in.

“I don’t want to work anymore,” he said. “I don’t want to work for the landlord. I can’t pay with my fingers so much money.”

Alter does all the tailoring work and sends out the dry cleaning and laundry. He’s paying $2,100 a month, plus an additional $1,200 in real estate taxes, on his 350-square-foot space. The landlord, Mark Scharfman, is asking $3,330 per month, and “who knows what the real estate taxes will be?” said Alter. “Bloomberg is killing small businesses.”

Alter emigrated from Russia in 1978. He has been married for 42 years and has grown children who are working, so he doesn’t have to worry about supporting them. He is considering putting in one more month, working through July, and then in the future might work a few days a week for someone else, just to keep busy. But he is ready to go.

“After 30 years, it’s time to retire,” he said. “I live on Staten Island, and coming in to work every day. … And the rent is, of course — it helps me to go out.”

Alter’s shop adjoins the now shuttered vacant space that shoemaker Angelo Fontana had to give up on Feb. 29 because of a steep rent increase from the same landlord. Alter reported that Fontana, who, like him, also lives on Staten Island, comes to visit him almost weekly, and that Fontana finally got that long put-off knee surgery on June 24.

Now that both small spaces will be available, what next?

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