Volume 81, Number 21 | October 27 - November 2, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

E. 7th St. merchant fights to hold onto her hat shop

By Khiara Ortiz

Village Scandal continues to fight its seven-year battle against eviction threats that began in 2004 when A. J. Clarke Real Estate took over the building the boutique occupies near the corner of E. Seventh St. and Third Ave.

Month after month, Wendy Barrett, the owner of the hat and accessory store, has received a bill of $116,000 for cumulative property tax and rent dues.

Barrett’s property taxes have increased over the past years because of the larger amounts of commercial income that her landlord and property managers are receiving from New York University’s net leases on buildings along E. Seventh St.

“They’re trying to collect a debt over and over again that’s not due,” she protested.

For the moment, Barrett is simply trying to get a hearing before a judge after an attorney she was working with failed to show up for a motion in court. According to Barrett, the court sent her attorney e-mails and letters to a UPS box he hadn’t used in five months for a hearing on April 26. When Barrett and her attorney arrived at court for a second part of the trial on May 4 and didn’t find her case on the calendar, her attorney claimed he hadn’t received notification of the April motion and “seemed very casual” about a mistake that is threatening her business of 16 years.

Now she’s working with her new attorney, Andrew Molbert, to try to get a second shot at holding onto her store.

“I’m a landmark in the neighborhood. We’re true artisans, a true part of the East Village,” Barrett said proudly. She has also been upset by the number of small shops she’s seen go out of business recently.

“The East Village is being turned into a shopping mall,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking and ridiculous. There will be no more reason to visit New York City anymore.”

Feeling local small businesses have to do something to create some political clout, Barrett said she’s working toward founding what she’s calling the Ethical Management Firm with community leaders in her neighborhood “to try and solve things harmoniously and in a legal way.”

“So many landlords have eviction as their mission. They have become greedy,” Barrett explained. “The city has always been an expensive place to live, but this has never happened before. I’m not against N.Y.U. or anybody else. I just don’t want to see anyone suffering. We have to keep it fair for the small businessperson because nothing in the law protects us.”

A fundraiser in Barrett’s shop is collecting money for potential New York State Supreme Court action if the court decides against giving her case a second chance. Customers will receive a gift certificate for double the cost of merchandise they purchase from Village Scandal.

Barrett fears that if she is evicted, her credit won’t be good enough to sign a lease for another location.

“I don’t want to play the tax game anymore,” she said. “We are a successful business, but the money is being channeled in the wrong direction. ”

Village Scandal has gained publicity from coverage in Forbes and The New York Times, and the boutique will be on the cover of Latino magazine next month. A petition by Barrettt has garnered more than 60,000 signatures, with even more online.

“You’ve got to be ethical, and you’ve got to have a little heart,” she said.

Frances Goldin, 87, has been a huge part of Barrett’s efforts in keeping Village Scandal alive and has also been heavily involved in preserving the St. Mark’s Bookshop, which is trying to get a $5,000 rent reduction from its landlord, The Cooper Union.

“She’s a champion of the neighborhood and works tirelessly,” Barrett said of the veteran activist. She hopes Goldin will serve as president of the Ethical Management Firm.

Goldin moved to the East Village when she was 20 and has been active for almost seven decades in housing issues and community organizing in the neighborhood.

“The problem is we’re going to lose all the shops in the Lower East Side as long as there’s no rent control,” Goldin stated. “If you don’t own the building, the landlords go ape crazy.” She said she’s found herself “up to her eyeballs” fighting to keep the St. Mark’s Bookshop open and finds it an anomaly that an institution of higher learning is trying to get rid of a bookstore.

“I suggest forming an organization and going to [Councilmember] Rosie Mendez, to [Borough President] Scott Stringer, and fighting for commercial rent control,” she added.

“Look at what happened with Wall St.,” said said, praising the Occupy Wall Street movement. “It’s giving me hope for democracy. It happens when people get angry enough to do something.”

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