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Longtime Gramercy Hardware Store Closing to Make Way for Condos

By Heather Holland | November 11, 2013 8:47am
 23rd Street Hardware, formerly called Vercesi, is closing its doors for good at the end of the month.
23rd Street Hardware to Close
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GRAMERCY — Surapong Pornpitaksuk has worked at Vercesi Hardware for 30 years — first as an employee, then as the owner — but soon he'll be out of a job.

After more than 100 years in business, the neighborhood hardware store at 152 E. 23rd St., near Lexington Avenue, is closing its doors for good at the end of the month, to make way for a new condo building.

“We’ve been in business for a long time," Pornpitaksuk, 57, said at the store on a recent afternoon, "but now we have no choice but to move.”

The building's landlord, the New Jersey-based LKH 23rd LLC, said the hardware store's current building will be torn down and replaced with an 18-story condo tower — and the hardware store won't be allowed to return.

"The tenant is a very nice guy," said Bill Cheng, who represents the landlord. "He paid everything on time...[but] I don't know if I want to put a hardware store there."

After working for the store for years, Pornpitaksuk took it over in 2009 and changed the name to 23rd Street Hardware, but he kept Vercesi's bright yellow signs, uniforms and business cards, and many locals kept using the old name.

“All the letters in 'Vercesi' spell 'service,'” said Pornpitaksuk, a Bayside resident. “We serve people with our hands, not money.

Even with big competitors like Home Depot right down the street at 23rd Street near Sixth Avenue, business has been strong, he said.

“That’s why we have stayed in business so long," Pornpitaksuk said. "Home Depot cannot beat us, because we’re Vercesi, we’re service.”

Until LKH bought the building four years ago, it was owned by the Vercesi family, who also ran the retail space downstairs for nearly a century.

Paul Vercesi initially opened a sheet music store there in 1912, according to the Flatiron BID. Then, he used the space as a radio and television store during the 1930s, and began to offer hardware and housewares beginning 1960, Pornpitaskuk said.

“Paul [Vercesi Jr.] was like my brother,” he said. “That’s why they let me take over the store for them.”

Pornpitaksuk hopes to continue the tradition by finding a new space before he has to close on Nov. 30, but so far he hasn't found one that is affordable.

“Everything is so expensive now,” Pornpitaksuk said. “But if we find a good place, we might open somewhere else.”

The store’s employees, some of whom have worked there for 20 years, will have to find new jobs in the meantime.

Residents said they would miss the 5,000-square-foot shop, which offers lamp repair, wood and glass cutting and key copying in addition to basic supplies.

“This is terrible,” said Evelyn Rodriguez, 60, who lives in Gramercy and has been shopping at the store for decades.

“I’ve been coming here since 1972. My husband used to get all his supplies here, everything from light bulbs to vacuum bags, and if they didn’t have something he needed, they would order specially for him.”