By Roger Paradiso
When I heard this news, I immediately thought of all those trips down Seventh Avenue where the iconic Village Cigars store stood as a welcoming gateway to the Village. And if you took a subway you had two trains taking you right next to the store. Those entrances were almost part of the store. It is on one of the smallest parcels of real estate in Manhattan; there are maybe 500 square feet in a triangular shape that is only one story high.
Included in the parcel is the famous Hess Triangle, which is deeded to Village Cigars. It is a triangular plaque which says, in special subway tile layout: “Property of the Hess Estate Which Has Never Been Dedicated for Public Purposes.” Apparently, in a dispute with the city, Mr. Hess never sold the area where the plaque is embedded in the sidewalk, nor the land under it, many years ago. Mr. Hess was a true Villager.
Village Cigars doesn’t just sell cigars. I haven’t been inside for years, but as I recall, they sell candy, gum, and newspapers. The history of this store goes back to at least 1922 when United Cigars took over the lease.
I tracked down the current manager/owner of Village Cigars, Mr. Singh, in mid-February. He seemed to be a nice man who arrived in the USA from India in 1990. He has been in the West Village since 1993, when he opened Andy’s Deli not too far from his cigar store. In 1998, he took over the lease on Village Cigars and everything was going well until the pandemic hit.
“Everybody is doing very bad in the neighborhood. I used to be open 24 hours, now 12 hours or less. No business.”
Village Cigars is leased from Jon Posner, of Bernard Charles Real Estate, who owns the property attached to this little triangle in Manhattan with the iconic signs that hang like red banners proudly shouting, “Village Cigars.” According to Mr. Singh, the landlord is very nice. He has accommodated Mr. Singh on rent owed due to the lack of business. Singh is now renting month-to-month and has not heard if the landlord has listed the building for sale.
“I have taken out small business loans. I had Payroll Protection Plan for three months. Very difficult to exist with no business.
I spoke to Jon Posner, whose family has owned the building for many years. I asked him if the building is for sale. He said, “Yes, but I haven’t listed it yet.” I asked him how much he would list it for and he said $5.5 million dollars. “Wow,” I said, but Jon, who seems like a nice person, told me why: “It’s going to be bought by someone who loves Village Cigars and its history in the West Village.”
As for the price, Jon says, “New York real estate is high and the taxes are high; everybody knows that.” But he thinks a special buyer will be able to pay it and hopefully keep the signage because the building, while not landmarked, is part of a landmarked and historical area, joining the Stonewall Inn and the Sheridan Square area as part of the landscape of the Village. “I definitely see it not being predominantly a store that sells cigars. But I would like to save the historic signage on the exterior.”
I ask him if he would sell it to a bank or Papaya King. “There is no way I’m selling this to be ATMs or a hot dog place. There is no chance in hell.”
WestView News will be keeping its eyes and ears open to this ongoing news story. It is further proof of the damage that the pandemic has caused to the mom-and-pop shops in the West Village.