Sol Moscot is the darling of celebrities and fashion models, but last night a committee of Community Board 3 was not exactly star-struck. Dr. Harvey Moscot, who runs the world-famous eyewear company, and his son, Zack, representing the fifth generation, made their pitch to establish “Sol Moscot Way” on a Lower East Side street corner. It did not go very well.
Last year, Moscot moved from the north to the south side of Delancey Street, after the building it had called home home nearly 78 years was sold. Having settled in at 106 Orchard St., the Moscot family is preparing to celebrate the brand’s 100th birthday next year. As part of that celebration, they’re hoping the community board (and ultimately the City Council) will agree to co-name the southeast corner of Orchard and Delancey streets in honor of Harvey’s grandfather, Sol Moscot, who established the fledgling firm’s first retail store on the LES in 1925.
During an appearance before CB3’s transportation committee, Dr. Moscot said his family has been thinking about the symbolism of the anniversary and about what the store means to the community. While many other iconic businesses have left the neighborhood, he noted, Moscot made the decision to stay, to place a “stake in the ground for, we hope, generations to come.” As proof of the company’s dedication to the community, he mentioned the Moscot MobilEeyes Foundation, which provides free eye care at the LES Boys’ Club.. Moscot called Sol a “quintessential immigrant,” who transferred his values to future generations. And he pointed out that fifth generation family run businesses are incredibly rare.
But committee members expressed several problems with the proposal. While all of the businesses on the block support the co-naming, only 40-some residents have signed a petition (there are around 160 apartments on Orchard between Delancey and Broome streets). Community board policy requires 75% support from residents on the block and adjacent blocks. The guidelines also state that “honorees should have demonstrated an extraordinary and consistent voluntary commitment and dedication to the community.” Members of the panel said there is no provision for honoring for-profit businesses. They also asserted that the applicants failed to articulate why Sol Moscot’s good deeds (such as providing free care to the needy) were exceptional. There was also concern about the likelihood that Moscot would use the co-naming in marketing materials. For many years, the company has played up its Lower East Side roots in selling its vintage frames. The LES location, no doubt, gives Moscot a certain cachet.
Moscot had a couple of defenders. In the audience last night was longtime local property owner Mark Miller, who argued that it’s “impossible to separate an individual (owner) from a business.” Miller helped the company make the move to a new location and has been a driving force behind the co-naming initiative. Tim Laughlin, executive director of the LES Business Improvement District, said his organization has been receiving phone calls from other historic neighborhood businesses who voiced their support for the proposal.
The Moscot application comes on the heels of a controversial street naming campaign for Beastie Boys Square. That application is due to be reheard by the committee next month. David Crane, who chairs the committee, said the guidelines are meant to be rigorous. He noted that 11 street co-namings have been approved since 2006. He encouraged the Moscot team to take a look at some of the successful applications. A good model, Crane suggested, is Sara Curry Way on St. Mark’s Place, which honors a towering figure in the community who “dedicated her life to providing childcare to the working parents of the Lower East Side.” Committee members agreed that the applicants would need to build a robust case detailing Sol Moscot’s civic contributions if they have any hope of winning CB3’s support. They said it’s important to confine the argument to Sol himself, rather than focusing on the present-day business.
The Moscot team agreed to withdraw their application. They’ll now have to decide whether to return to the committee at a later date.