Volume 73, Number 38 | January 21 - 27, 2004

Eighth St. too rough for lingerie shop, owner says

By Melanie Wallis

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

Linda Martinez, a sales associate at Lee Baumann

Lee Baumann, the specialized lingerie and dancewear shop at 49 E. Eighth St., is due to close after 50 years in business. Merchandise is being sold at slashed prices to diminish stock before the final closing date at the end of the month.

The store, which survived largely on its good reputation for outstanding customer service, offered an array of specialized services such as fittings, special orders and alterations.

“There is no one reason why we are closing,” said Heller Berman, 49, owner of the shop for the past 20 years. “It’s a combination of a number of factors, such as increasing overheads, such as sales taxes and real estate taxes, combined with peoples’ shopping habits changing.

“People don’t need to go to specialized outlets anymore,” Berman continued. “General clothes shops now have a line of lingerie where people buy off the rack and the competition is high with discounted retailers such as Century 21 and Daffy’s.”

The other main reason for the closure was the change on the street that Berman says she has witnessed.

“The area is more rough,” she said. “I am tired of having to police my shop everyday to stop shoplifters.”

She also contended that foot traffic on Eighth St. has been reduced since work was done to widen the sidewalks two years ago, during which people found other routes to walk.

Berman’s father, Ralph Berman, bought the store 50 years ago when it was a small dress shop, located next to the former Art Cinema, now N.Y.U.’s Cantor Film Center. He ran it as a sportswear shop, selling bathing suits and casual wear, his main customers being N.Y.U. students and local office workers. In the 1960s, he added lingerie.

The store’s name was never changed because it is bad luck to do so, Heller Berman said.

“It’s always been confusing — Baumann, Berman. You don’t change a name, it’s verboten,” she said.

But business has dropped off since when her father ran the store. Berman said the area used to have more office buildings and that N.Y.U. students no longer shop on the street.

Eighth St. today is “all stores selling club clothes. I’m the only store selling clothes catering to the neighborhood,” Berman said. “Back in the old days, you used to have a diversity of stores on the street. I think that’s unfortunate. The landlords just don’t get it.”

Honi Klein, executive director of the Village Alliance business improvement district, disputed the fact that business would have been affected by the work that was done to widen the sidewalks, saying that it was carried out on short areas in front of three to four stores at a time, over two periods of three and a half months in 2001 and 2002.

Klein’s opinion of the area is positive, having conducted a survey rating how people feel about certain conditions within the area, safety being one of them. According to the survey, out of the 150 people asked, 75 percent felt safe during the day and a similar number felt safe during the night, she said.


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