Costume Shop 'Too Sexual' for Hasidic Landlord Denied Lease, Owner Says

By Meredith Hoffman on July 16, 2013 8:13am 

BUSHWICK — A woman hoping to open a costume shop in a popular art space was denied a lease after paying thousands of dollars after the Hasidic landlords decided her store was "too sexual" and "violating their religious beliefs," she claimed.

Claudia Rothchild, the founder of latex clothes and lingerie company Klawtex, said she paid a security deposit plus three months' rent to the owners of the Shops at the Loom after they promised her the space for a costume shop.

But when the time finally came to sign the lease, the owners suddenly backed out, Rothchild said.

"The broker called me and said, 'There seems to be a concern with one of the three owners that your store, and you, are too sexual for the space,'" Rothchild said of her phone call last week from Myspace Realty, the night before she was scheduled to sign the lease. "They believe it's violating their religious beliefs...We were the victims of discrimination."

Rothchild — who said she got back her three months' rent but has yet to receive her security deposit of $1,900 — added that she had already been approved for the space when she showed her plan to the manager of the building, Laura Vivoni of Bushburg Properties, which represents the owners FPTK LLC.

"We had an in-person meeting...I showed a physical example of things we make, our catalogue, and images published in magazines from Vogue to Interview Magazine," said Rothchild, noting that the more "sexual" items Klawtex sells would not be featured at the Loom shop. "The intent at the Loom was not to open a Klawtex shop but more of a full costume shop...like a high-end Halloween shop."

Rothchild said she also showed her full variety of items to Vivoni, including the most provocative men's latex line.

"The most sexual is the gay men's line. It's probably the thing that set them off," Rothchild speculated. "But at that meeting they accepted us and said, 'You're in, you're a great fit.'"

Rothchild said she was particularly caught off guard when the landlords rescinded their offer.

"If they have this fundamentalist religious criteria for their space, they have to make that selection criteria known before in writing," she explained.

FPTK LLC did not respond to repeated calls requesting comment, and Vivoni did not return calls and emails requesting comment. The broker from Myspace Realty also declined to comment.

To other tenants in the space, the landlords' decision also came as a complete surprise, since the Loom is known for its diverse array of "countercultural" businesses — from tattoo studios with "cult parties" to a skate and silkscreen shop.

"I wrote the management to tell them I'm shocked and saddened," said Chantal Savaresse, the owner of the Loom's Tomahawk Salon, which serves many burlesque performers and "alternative fetish models" and even "has a stripper stage in the shop."

"I'm a heavily tattooed woman, and most people here are heavily tattooed," Savaresse said. "They've never shown me any discrimination...It saddens me they'd target their discrimination against one person."

Rothchild said the landlords claimed her store might offend the neighboring Orthodox Jewish Chabad of Bushwick by "violating their religious beliefs."

But Chabad's leader Rabbi Menachem Heller said he never spoke to the landlords about Klawtex, and that he never provided feedback in their decisions.

"My thoughts don't matter," he said when asked whether he'd want Klawtex to enter the building. "The [landlords] never discriminate on who they bring in...There are all types of people in the building."

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