They are picking them off higher on the vine
by George Capsis
Oh, wow. I got a call from Peruvian born, Nelly Godfrey, who lost her restaurant on the corner of Christopher and Bedford in a years’ long struggle with our very own king of evil landlords, Steve Croman. By the way, Croman has just emerged from his slap on the wrist (a nine months prison sentence, in the Tombs) and celebrated with a holiday in Greece, arranged by his wife as a welcome home gift, just before they moved into their massive double mansion just off Central Park.
Nelly informed me that “the bakery on Christopher and Bleecker has closed.” I had to do a mental double-take to arrive at the realization that the bakery that had closed was the newish, expensively built, Maison Kayser—oh wow!
I mean, you are used to hearing of yet another fashion boutique closing, but a nice, French bakery with great bread, warm out of the oven—oh wow, what happened?
Maison Kayser is a big, big chain in France, started by a French Alsatian family (hence the German name), but the store on Christopher was part of a mini-franchise here in New York. They still have stores left, one in Brooklyn and one in Tribeca. When they opened, I met with one of the co-owners who came out of Pain Quotidian.
Oh my, it was so perfectly French. French novelist, Marc Levy, invited me to breakfast with a French film actor (whose face I knew but whose name I forget), and I learned a real French breakfast is a warm baguette, sliced long, and spread with butter and jam.
But why did they close? I walked over, and sure enough, there was a sign thanking customers for their loyalty but no explanation. Next door, in the Smoke Shop, the Indian born owner offered that he walked next door for a cup of coffee to find the employees in shock—they had just been notified that that the shop would be closed the next day, and they were out of a job.
“Why did they close?” I asked, and my informant believed the rent had gone to $70,000 a year (that is a wow-wow if correct).
I mean, we are used to the Bleecker Street turn over, but a bakery with all that expensive equipment and ovens, a little perfect reproduction of a bit of France. Sure, it was expensive, especially to a boy who grew up in the depression when coffee was a nickel and a hot bagel with a schmear was 10 cents but it was so very, very French.
I walked over to the scent boutique across from Kayser to see if I could learn anymore and the very verbal manager launched into a diatribe on how the rich were crushing the rest of us and how she had to move to a 60 minute commute so her son could get a safer, better school.
Yes, well, are we just experiencing normal inflation with wages going up with prices? Or, is this something different? And are those who can afford to buy a $10 million dollar condo, in the luxury condo building that Rudin built, to replace our St. Vincent’s hospital, taking over?It used to be you would see signs advertising a $5.00 lunch then a $10.00 and now it is $20, but all of this in such a short time (I paid $15 for a beer on West 4th).
I got a call from a shaky, ancient voice saying, “I have lived in my same apartment for 60 years and now my landlord is trying to get me out.”
“Let me guess,” I offered. “You’re paying $330 dollars a month.”
“No. $390,” was the quick correction and his apartment, refurbished, would rent for thousands.
“Help the small businessman,” is now echoed by our own Corey Johnson, Speaker for the City Council. They want to pass a law that gives a store tenant a one year cushion after they get hit with a killer new lease so they can negotiate down or look for a cheaper solution.
(The city forgets they keep heaping up taxes on real estate, the only true wealth in the city, and landlords pass on taxes to the tenants as a clause in the lease. I mean, the city has to accept its part of being a greedy landlord.)
A realist might say that this will become a city for the rich as rent regulated apartments disappear into the steel jaws of greedy realtors who know how and can afford to work the system.
At this point, in what appears to be an editorial, I should be offering my solution, but the growing appearance in this city of individuals with massive wealth—I mean, even the Russian oligarchs and Chinese graft politicians are buying apartments with a view of Central Park which probably means that it will become the home of the world’s rich and super rich, and in time, the the guy who bought the $10 million dollar Rudin condo will complain that a loaf of bread in Cittarella has gone up to $20—he is now the new poor.