Vacant Avenue A Storefronts Adopt 'No Restaurants' Policy

By Serena Solomon on June 25, 2012 6:55am 

EAST VILLAGE —  A strip of vacant storefronts on Avenue A is among a number of area buildings that have adopted an informal no-restaurant policy, DNAinfo.com New York has learned.

"Store for Rent. No Restaurants. Food Okay," read red and white signs posted in three of the four empty windows on the ground floor of 66 Avenue A, between East 4th and East 5th streets.

Reps from 72A Realty Associates, which owns the properties, said "we have our reasons" for exluding restaurants. The woman who answered the phone declined to discuss the matter further. 

But the building is not the only one on Avenue A that has chosen to forfeit the potential high-rent income from bars and restaurants in favor of skipping the headache of higher insurance premiums brought on by the additional fire risk brought by cooking equipment.

Other reasons building owners are steering clear of restaurants is the trouble of modifying the building for food preparation and dealing with proper food disposal to cope with vermin and pests, locals say.

And, of course, restaurants attract crowds. 

141 E. 3rd St. and 172 E. 4th St. — which are side by side on Avenue A with 66 Avenue A — are also a restaurant-free zone, according to Susan Stetzer, district manager of Community Board 3.

"Their issue is not about making money," said Stetzer, who is familiar with the buildings. "It is about balancing the money needs with quality of life."

At 141 E. 3rd St., a co-op with an art deco foyer, Avenue A ground-level storefronts consist of clean, tidy and odorless tenants — an organic furniture business, a longtime eyewear store and a yarn shop.

"The idea is to keep the corner relatively quiet," said Frank Rothman, the building's president. He grew up in the neighborhood and, while he enjoys the nearby restaurants as a patron, the building has no desire to add to Avenue A's nightly chaos.

"It was already an unwritten law when I came on board,” said Rothman, on the building's policy not to rent to restaurants. The defense attorney has been on building's co-op board for about four years.

The co-op at 172 E. 4th Street were hoping for a clean tenant, such as bank. Eight years ago a restaurant moved out and this Sovereign Bank moved in.
The co-op at 172 E. 4th Street were hoping for a clean tenant, such as bank. Eight years ago a restaurant moved out and this Sovereign Bank moved in.
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DNAinfo/Serena Solomon

The 17,000 square foot corner space in 172 E. 4th St. could be worth up to $25,000 each month if the co-op agreed to take in a restaurant, said Henry Reininger, the building's treasurer and longtime accountant who doubles as a real estate broker.

Instead a Sovereign Bank occupies it for $12,000 a month.

"A bank is the cleanest operation," said Reininger, who owns a few apartments at 172 but lives in another nearby co-op.

Eight years ago, a restaurant occupied the space, attracting cockroaches and unsightly air vents that spewed kitchen odors. The establishment also occupied the basement space, according to Reininger.

The issue is fire risk when it comes to restaurant tenants and the increased premiums they attract from insurance companies, according to Reininger.

"We are lucky we are in a fireproof building," he said, pointing to the steel frames of the art deco building he considers "one of the finest on the Lower East Side."

If other buildings, such as a tenement with wooden frames, took on a restaurant the increase in insurance premium would be even more hefty, said Reininger. 

A business owner who occupies a storefront in 66 Avenue A, and who did not want to give his name, said the landlord did not want restaurants because of additional vents required and increased insurance premiums.

As for the "Food Okay" line, the man said food already prepared was acceptable to the landlord because no cooking equipment was required.

“The stores have been vacant for years,” he added.

As for Rothman at 172, he suspects one of the co-op's storefront tenants might be on the way out. If the shop leaves, he at least knows what won't be moving in.

"The avenue has more than its fair share of bars and restaurants," he said.

Henry Reininger, the co-op treasurer at 172 E. 4th Street said the building had hoped for a clean storefront tenant, which it got eight years ago. A bank now occupies the corner storefront.
Henry Reininger, the co-op treasurer at 172 E. 4th Street said the building had hoped for a clean storefront tenant, which it got eight years ago. A bank now occupies the corner storefront.
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DNAinfo/Serena Solomon

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