By Nicole Bode
DNAinfo Associate Editor
MIDTOWN EAST – A 79-year-old Holocaust survivor who runs a kosher cafe on Madison Avenue is suing his landlords for discrimination, claiming they illegally prevented him from selling his business while simultaneously depriving him of customers by walling him off with a decorative door.
“My youth, my childhood were taken from me in World War II. My old age, my retirement was stolen from me in the last three years,” said Andrew Spitz, owner of InHouse Nosh, a cafe and newsstand in the lobby of 444 Madison Ave.
"My body is breaking down, financially I am almost wiped out. Yet I keep going, not giving in. Maybe something good will happen in the not-too-distant future. Hope is all I have left,” he added.
Spitz, who endured the horrors of the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz, arrived in New York City in 1950, and in 2001 he opened a thriving deli in the former New York Magazine building at Madison Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets. Upscale clothier Burberry moved into the building last year.
In 2006, Spitz decided to sell his remaining time on his lease at the deli in hopes of regaining his $185,000 in life savings invested in the business and enjoying his retirement years, he said.
But over the next three years, building management from 444 Madison Lessee LLC rejected four potential replacements, using excuses ranging from missing paperwork to the ethnicity of the would-be buyers, the lawsuit claims.
Westbrook Partners, which owns the building and oversees 444 Madison Lessee LLC, denied all the charges in their legal papers earlier this month. Company spokesman Frank Marino said he could not comment on landlord-tenant matters.
Making matters worse, the building’s lobby underwent a massive renovation in 2008, in which a decorative mirrored door identical to the adjacent elevator doors was installed directly in front of the cafe’s entrance.
The building ownership refused to install a sign for InHouse Nosh, leaving tenants completely in the dark about the cafe’s existence, Spitz’ lawyer said.
"Why would the building want to have a food service their own tenants don’t even know about?” lawyer Darryl Vernon said, “There’s only one reason why: they want to drive him out and renege on their responsibilities on the lease."
Some tenants have told Spitz they heard about him purely by accident, and said they were afraid to open the door because they thought it was a janitor’s closet, he said.
Spitz, who travels close to two hours each day from his home in Flushing, Queens, said he struggles to put in full days because of a host of health issues. Now he fears for his future and the dwindling number of days he has left with his wife of 55 years, Ruth.
"I’m reaching out to people to try to bring it to their attention. It’s almost cruel," Spitz said. "They know, (I’m) an old guy. Physically and financially, how long can a person hold out?”