Richard White at his R.J. White jewelry store on Christopher St. a few weeks before closing for good after 50 years.
Small businesses are finding it harder to survive
By Lincoln Anderson
Whether because of high rent or the high cost of doing business, recent weeks have seen a spate of several decades-old small shops and boutiques in the West and East Village shut their doors.
After 50 years on Christopher St., Richard White closed his small jewelry shop at the end of last month.
I started out in 1954 at $60 a month rent, he said. I was paying $1,600. The landlord wanted to go up to $6,500.
I had a stroke over this, said White, 72, who hand makes all his jewelry. I still have to go for therapy and I have to walk with a cane.
White came to New York from Boston at 18 and stayed. When he opened his shop at 107 Christopher St., the strip had fallen on hard times. Christopher St. was all boarded-up storefronts, he recalled.
Without some sort of commercial rent control or government assistance, small businesses just cant make it anymore, he said. I think the mayor should do something for small businesses, he said.
There are also rumors that Li-Lac chocolate store at 120 Christopher St. might be moving after 81 years on the block. Martha Bond, Li-Lacs owner, said she hopes to keep her manufacturing operation at the Christopher St. location for a while, but felt the whole business might have to move.
We had very reasonable rents for a long time, Bond said. These unique Village places are being forced out.
Speaking last month, Steven Croman, who purchased the Christopher St. building containing Li-Lac six years ago, said he hoped the store would remain a tenant.
Wed love to have them stay. We dont want them to leave, he said. Theyre a great tenant. Theyre an institution.
Croman said he had been going back and forth with Li-Lac in hopes of working something out. For a tenant like that, were not looking for the top dollar, he said.
White contends that Croman dubbed one of the citys worst landlords by the Village Voice six years ago is also landlord of 107 Christopher St. However, Croman denies hes ever had an ownership interest in the building.
Never have. None whatsoever, Croman said. He did admit both buildings have the same contractor doing work on them.
Another timeworn business in 107 Christopher St., McNultys coffee and teas, there since 1895, is said to have two years left on its lease. White predicts theyll be the next to go.
However, Department of Finance records dont show Croman as 107 Christopher St.s owner. A Finance spokesperson said its hard to uncover a propertys true ownership if shell companies have been set up to obscure it.
According to the Voice, Croman has had running battles with tenant groups in buildings he purchased on Mott and Mulberry Sts. and on 18th St. at First Ave.; four years ago, State Senator Tom Duane was working to create a citywide tenants group of residents of all of Cromans building.
Beyond the problem of soaring rents, both White and Bond complained Christopher St.s quality has dropped, affecting business.
Ive been working with a locked door for the last 10 years, said White. He added that in the months before he closed, someone broke his store window and tried to swipe jewelry.
Said Bond, People dont come to Christopher St., because of all the X-rated shops and tattoo parlors. Its become very sleazy. Theres not that many people that come to the street that have money to spend, she added.
Taking advantage of the going-out-of-business sale at the Lumber Store on Eighth Ave.
Another longtime presence, the Lumber Store, on Eighth Ave. between 13th and 14th Sts., plans to close no later than Sept. 23. There has been either a lumberyard or lumber store at the site since 1848. Owner Saul Chapnick said doing business has become unaffordable.
Its because the mayor is very unfriendly to small business, Chapnick said. With the mayors ticket campaign and insurance costs and the cost of raw goods rent, thats least of my problems.
The opening of a new Home Depot superstore on W. 23rd St. between Fifth and Sixth Aves. last week didnt help matters.
It wasnt because of it, but let me say, when it was announced a year ago, it was kind of the last straw, Chapnick said. Its very obvious the direction the citys taking itself in. Theres just no room for the little guy anymore.
In the East Village, another local mainstay, Eis, which sold refrigerators and stoves on First Ave. between Sixth and Seventh Sts., also has closed. Apparently, it may not have been chic enough for a new breed of appliance shopper.
It was like a dark-looking store and all the neighbors went in, said Anna Sawaryn, a St. Marks Pl. activist. But the new people moving in there wouldnt do it.