Claudio the Barber's Eviction from East Harlem Delayed

By Jeff Mays on July 13, 2011 7:06am 

Claudio the Barber cuts a client's hair in his East Harlem storefront on Tuesday.
Claudio the Barber cuts a client's hair in his East Harlem storefront on Tuesday.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays
The building was  one of 19 structures recently recommended for individual landmark status in a potential East Harlem historic district. Sports Illustrated once conducted a photo shoot there and Jennifer Lopez filmed a music video inside the shop.
The building was one of 19 structures recently recommended for individual landmark status in a potential East Harlem historic district. Sports Illustrated once conducted a photo shoot there and Jennifer Lopez filmed a music video inside the shop.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

HARLEM — Claudio the Barber, who was facing eviction from the East Harlem storefront he has occupied for 60 years, has reached an agreement with the landlord until the end of the year.

But the future of the 80-year-old's well known business is still up in the air.

Claudio Caponigro has agreed to pay rent of $1,375 per month for the space at East 116th Street, more than double the $650 per month he was paying but less than the $1,650 the landlord believes is market rate.

"I'm going to stay, but we are still going to fight," Caponigro said Tuesday as he prepared to cut a client's hair. "It's not right. This 15 foot by 15 foot space should not cost more than $600 or $700."

Local elected officials, including Rep. Charles Rangel, Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez and East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, have rallied to Caponigro's defense, saying that his is a neighborhood institution that should be allowed to stay. Caponigro's business is one of the last holdovers from a time when East Harlem was a refuge for Italian immigrants.

The building was recently recommended as one of 19 structures deserving of individual landmark status in a potential East Harlem historic district. Sports Illustrated once conducted a photo shoot there, and Jennifer Lopez filmed a music video inside the shop.

Claudio cuts the hair of Harlem Rep. Charles Rangel who is one of a group of local politicians who have come out to support him.
Claudio cuts the hair of Harlem Rep. Charles Rangel who is one of a group of local politicians who have come out to support him.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays
Caponigro's case is also an example of the pressures small business owners face to survice in the city, the local politicians said. Mark-Viverito said rent control should be explored for commercial spaces.

Yat Man, an attorney for landlord Hong Lin, said his client agreed to the lower rent because he understands Caponigro's importance to the community. But his client's stance will change when the time comes for lease renewal.

"At the end of the year, if he does not agree to the amount that we asked for originally, we have the right to ask him to leave," Man said.

"We are giving him a chance. Maybe if he wants to raise his price a bit that will help but we are looking for market rent."

Because his business is located in a poor neighborhood, Caponigro said he refuses to increase his prices from the $10 he currently charges for a haircut and the $7 he charges for a straight razor shave.
"I'm not going to go up. This is a poor neighborhood and I take care of the poor people," Caponigro said, noting how the community continued to utilize his shop even as it shifted from Italian to Latino.
With no plans for retirement, Caponigro said he plans to fight.
"It's not right what they want to do. I have the best people with me and I'm going to fight until the end," he said.

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