LES Butcher Faces 29% Rent Increase; Chin Intervenes

Yesterday author Karen Seiger reported on her blog, the Markets of New York, that Essex Street Market butcher Jeffrey Ruhalter was in trouble. According to a press release she received from his publicist, Jeffrey was “running out of options” because his  “landlord (was) requesting an $8000 renewal fee on the first of March along with a rent increase of 29 percent.”

“Although what Jeffrey needs is an investor or someone to buy the store,” the release added,  “what he may really need in the future is a job.” For a couple of years now, he’s been holding out hope that a reality tv show and/or a book offer would come through. In December, the New York Times reported Jeffrey thought about shutting down last year but eventually “got his groove back.”

This morning, we contacted Jeffrey’s landlord, the NYC Economic Development Corp., to get more information. Spokesperson Julie Wood emailed us the following statement:

We’re tremendously excited that we’ve been able to open the market seven days a week, giving tenants an opportunity to raise more revenue. However, in this difficult fiscal environment, the City has to look carefully at every expense, and unfortunately we cannot afford the level of subsidy that we have given to tenants in the past. We would be happy to work with any tenant who wants to reduce their rent, so that we can retain the excellent vendors that make Essex Street such a great neighborhood resource and destination.

Sources tell us all public market tenants whose leases are up for renewal are facing the same percentage increase (29%). Jeffrey is not being charged a renewal fee, but is required to put down a larger security deposit. He must pay an extra $849 to bring the total security to $8000.  Jeffrey’s new rent would be around $46/per square foot.

We stopped by the market a couple of times today. Jeffrey did not come in to work, but we hope to speak with him tomorrow. There are, of course, at least two ways to look at the situation.   Even with the rent increase, Jeffrey would be paying about half what tenants in market rate spaces on the Lower East Side are being charged these days.While the city subsidies have been reduced, they’re still significant.

On the other hand, most of the small businesses in the Essex Street Market could have never been started and, given their narrow profit margins, would not survive if forced to pay market rate rents.  As Jeffrey (a fourth generation LES butcher) points out, he’s done a lot for the community. He held a free “Recession Dinner,” feeding more than 100 people. And (again from the press release):

Jeffrey has had to raise his prices a little bit but he’s reached the neighborhood limit. “Raising my prices anymore is like telling the community I can’t feed you anymore.” Jeffrey’s could not have made it this far without the multi-generations of customers that have supported the store for over 75 years as well as the new influx of customers coming into the store to have a real butcher feed them.

Tonight, Jeffrey picked up some important support — from City Councilmember Margaret Chin. We just received this statement from her office:

“I am outraged to learn that the EDC, New York City’s agency charged with economic development, is slamming small businesses in the Essex Street Market with a 29% rent increase. What is truly unbelievable is that this Mayor would raise the rents on small local businesses while refusing to ask the top earners to pay their fair share with an income tax surcharge. While we must balance this year’s budget in a fiscally responsible manner, we cannot do so on the backs of small business, the middle class, and working families. I demand that the EDC reduce these rent increases, even down to those which might be charged at luxury commercial developments. No responsible landlord should hand their tenants double-digit rent increases in this fiscal climate, least of all our great City.”

6 comments to LES Butcher Faces 29% Rent Increase; Chin Intervenes

  • Sheila Michaels

    Jeffrey’s has been there since there was a market: since LaGuardia brought the vendors indoors.
    Now that Jeffrey’s has made the market a destination, that brought in vendors like Roni-Sue & Anne Saxelby & Shopsin & Porto Rico Coffee, the EDC wants to drive him out? This butcher shop hung on in business when most of the stalls were empty, when everyone else was driven out: when you couldn’t catch a cab on the Lower East Side & people were afraid to be on the streets in the daytime. This is a guy whose father, Alan, used to give me liver & kidneys “for my pets”, because he fed people in the neighborhood.
    If the city has to look carefully for money, they should look under the cushions of the sofas in the Financial Center, they shouldn’t be taking away the soup meat of people who actually work & worry every day about how they can live.

  • Bowerygals.com

    Margaret Chin has it right. I would add:

    Those “market-rate” storefronts cater to the wealthy. That is one “market”. Lower income families have a wholely different “market”. A NYC agency giving a 29% increase to local small businesses that serve lower income families is yet another action that would further dismantle this community.

    Meanwhile, the truly amazing banking industry, after defrauding the public, are given enormous public subsidies and get bonuses for mismanagement and the near collapse of the entire economy.

    And we are encouraged to attack unionized workers for having pensions (pensions made insolvent in Ohio’s case by very Governor who used to work for Lehman Brothers) and for hanging on to collective bargaining as a right.

    It’s only called class warfare when working people try to fight for a decent life.

    Rally to support WI working families:
    Saturday (today)
    City Hall Park
    11 AM

  • JP Bowersock

    It’s about time those of us who see the value of the Essex Street Market to our neighborhood stood up and made it clear to both the EDC and all involved with the SPURA development. Failure to make our voices heard will result in the market being relocated to a so-called superior location. Not only would that change the character of the market (and likely the prices there), but some vendors would be lost in the shuffle. Jeffrey is the anchor of the market, and he is just managing to hang on.

    I fear many of the good people involved in the SPURA decision making process are unaware of the support for the Essex Street Market in its current form among our neighbors. One unique thing about that support is that it transcends socioeconomics: neighbors divided on, say, affordable vs market rate housing share a unified view on preserving the Essex Street Market as it stands. Those who pay $25/lb for gourmet cheese shop under the same roof as families struggling to feed themselves on a tight budget. It’s one thing most of us agree upon.

    Jeffrey told me he fears moving the market would put him out of business. He’s not the only one with that fear. All of us who support Jeffrey and the market have to speak up now, because the wheels are turning on SPURA, and the Essex Street Market as it currently stands is in the cross hairs. There’s a CB3 meeting on Monday night. That would be one place to speak up. All public meetings on SPURA must have support for the market expressed strongly if we want any chance of keeping it at its current location.

    Kudos to Ms Chin for buying Jeffrey some time. Now the rest of us have to stand up for him and the Essex Street Market.

  • After speaking with Jeffrey and his business manager today, I’m convinced their concerns are a lot more immediate. The bottom line: Jeffrey will not be around 4-5 years from now when SPURA is more than just an idea if someone doesn’t step forward to help him in the next few weeks.

  • Adrienne M. Z. Chevrestt

    Came to read reporting of CB#3’s LUZPPH Committee 2.28.11 meeting with EDC, various government officials, and EDC’s newly-minted design consultants—Beyer, Blinder, Belle, re SPURA. Instead, I was viciously knocked upside the head with horrendous news—The Essex Street Market’s historic anchor shopkeeper/community do-gooder, Jeffrey Ruhalter a/k/a Jeffrey’s Meats is closing?! Say what?! At Monday evening’s public session, I spoke forcefully against the outrageous 29% increase EDC is unilaterally foisting upon small businesses in our public market, unaware the gouging rent hike was taking effect immediately, and Jeffrey’s Meats might be in imminent danger. WTH?! Kudos to NYC Councilmember Margaret Chin and her staff for their consistent support. But we must and can do more and now! We must demand these unfettered, unrepentant rogues masquerading as City officials doing the bidding of a mayor serving twilight days in office be reined in IMMEDIATELY, before it’s too late! Government waltzs in, unilaterally taking decision and action without notice, consultation, or concern for the community it’s mandated to serve. Apparently the lessons of ‘urban renewal’—precisely how SPURA came to be tracts of fallow land for nearly half a century in the first place—have fallen on deaf ears! We must mobilize and organize to FIGHT AND SAVE TESM AS IS, with ALL our wonderful ethnically diverse mix of responsive shopkeepers offering uniquely delightful merchandise at every conceivable price point! They’re integral members of our historic LES community and they deserve our support, admiration, and protection! WAKE UP PEOPLE! NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE!

    ADRIENNE M. Z. CHEVRESTT, 30-year LOISAIDA resident, community advocate

  • SnowDave1998

    There was a a time of economic downturn but never was it not pleasant. We use these terms to help describe situations. But, for the residents of Lower Eastside they recall a period when the whole country dealt with a surge in crime caused by
    crack epidemic. For the those in this vicinity of Essex Street it was relatively safe.
    Jefrey has been a fixture at Essex Street Market as where others that eventually were driven out. We should rally for comprehensive changes in City policy regarding
    businesses that have become lifers in neighborhoods. The quality of life is dramatically impacted when there is wholesale slaughter of these Mom&Pop shops.