UPPER WEST SIDE — Siding with neighbors who say a new candy store and cafe is "too garish" for the Upper West Side, the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday criticized Sugar & Plumm Purveyors of Yumm for its "cutesie" facade design.
At a public hearing on Sugar & Plumm's plans for a new sweet shop and restaurant on Amsterdam Avenue and West 78th Street, LPC members told architects to "tone down" the store's playful look.
Sugar & Plumm, which is set to open this spring in five empty storefronts, wants to install four 3-foot high multi-colored light fixtures, six striped awnings and signage with the store's name in "halo-lit" letters. The cafe's menu would be handwritten daily on two faux antique mirrors mounted on either side of the store's entrance.
Neighbors have slammed the store for its "tacky aesthetic," which they say is more appropriate for a suburban mall than for the Upper West Side. Sugar & Plumm opened its first location in the Bergen Town Center mall in Paramus, N.J. earlier this year and plans another store in downtown Brooklyn.
At Tuesday's hearing, LPC commissioners told Sugar & Plumm's architect the store seemed more interested in advertising its brand than blending in with the 82-year-old building it's moving into. Sugar & Plumm's architecture firm is the high-profile Rockwell Group, which designed A Voce restaurant in the Time Warner Center, the Trump Soho hotel and the Dubai location of the famed Nobu Japanese restaurant.
LPC Vice Chair Pablo Vengoechea said architects failed to consider the building as a whole when they designed Sugar & Plumm's new store. He called the multi-colored lights "cutesie" and said they appeared to be "tacked on" to the building.
"The whole thing needs to be toned down," Vengoechea said. "They're not looking at the building. [The proposed design] could be anywhere in New York City or anwhere in the United States."
Commissioner Elizabeth Ryan advised Sugar & Plumm to try to a lower-profile look. "The coolest places in New York City have no signs at all," Ryan said. "By over-signing, you're showing you're afraid they won't find you."
One commissioner said Sugar & Plumm's facade looked "tarted up," while another compared it to a Valentine's Day card.
Sugar & Plumm representatives were not available for comment Tuesday afternoon.
David Schatsky, a local resident who's led the charge against the candy store, said he was pleased with the LPC's recommendations. "I really feel like the commission was on board," Schatsky said. "They told them to tone it down and to come back with something that respected the dignity of the building."
Schatsky, his 14-year-old son Ronen, and two other local residents testified against Sugar & Plumm's plans at the LPC hearing. Schatsky criticized Sugar & Plumm because it's moving into spaces once occupied by small neighborhood businesses, but the LPC doesn't have jurisdiction over how buildings are used.
Tuesday's hearing was on whether the LPC should grant a "certificate of appropriateness" to Sugar & Plumm, which the commission would issue if it felt the store's design blended in with the historic character of the block. No vote was taken on Tuesday.
Sugar & Plumm will revise its plans, then return to the LPC, commission spokeswoman Elisabeth de Bourbon said.
The store's plans received support from an unexpected source: the preservation group Landmark West!, which is dedicated to protecting the Upper West Side's historic buildings. Intern Kate Gilmore read testimony at Tuesday's hearing praising Sugar & Plumm for its "cheerful and inviting" storefront, which she said would revive street life on the long-dormant commercial block without disrupting its residential elements.
"Were such a substantial shop proposed for a residential side street, we would certainly raise a red flag of caution," Gilmore read. "The store may well become a destination for more than just the immediate community, just like Zabar's and Fairway or Magnolia Bakery. But that is not inherently negative."