More on the Future of the Old Schames Building at 3 Essex Street

3-5 Essex Street.

Last month we reported that 3-5 Essex Street had sold for about $6 million, in two separate transactions.  Today we have a few more details about the situation on this development parcel, which consists of the tenement once occupied by M.Schames & Son paint store, and an empty lot.

As you may recall, Schames, one of the neighborhood’s oldest businesses, relocated to 90 Delancey Street a couple of years ago.  Members of the Schames family said they were left with no choice but to leave their historic location at 3 Essex because of the careless demolition of the building that once sat on 5 Essex, the adjacent parcel.  Attempts to shore up the northern wall of the Schames building failed; engineers concluded there was no way to save the tenement, at least parts of which they believe date to the early 1800’s.

Both properties were purchased by “3-5 Essex Partners LLC,” a holding company which intends to take its time in deciding what should be built on the site, located at the end of Essex Street.  It’s bordered by the historic (and currently vacant) Loews Canal Theater and 7 Essex, an upscale condo building that opened in 2003.

In recent weeks, the new owners have replaced the fencing alongside 5 Essex and cleaned up the yard.  They’re thinking about setting up a temporary garden or, perhaps, an art installation while plans are developed for a likely residential project on the site.  Dealing with the Schames building is not going to be nearly as easy.   On the first floor, large wood beams (put into place in the days before the paint store relocated) still jut out from the northern wall.  The upper floors have not been occupied since the 1940’s when a fire swept through 3 Essex, which served as a boarding house.  A walk through the rickety interior is essentially an archaeological exploration.  The new owners will likely document the building in its current state before demolition begins. The iconic “M. Schames & Son” sign hanging above the entrance will be saved.

Brian Schames, who runs the paint store these days, told us recently that he would like to have stayed at 3 Essex indefinitely. While the new store on Delancey Street is probably a better location (more foot traffic and visibility), they’re now renters, rather than owners.  A legal battle involving Schames, the former owner of 5 Essex and their insurance companies is now playing out. The Schames family is hoping for a good result in court.  In the meantime, a small business that has been on the Lower East Side since the 1920’s carries on, and neighbors wait to see what will replace the battered Schames building on lower Essex Street.