LOWER EAST SIDE — Local designer Robert Lopez has successfully battled national brands for infringing on his trademark of the words "Lower East Side" — but the one fight he couldn't win was against the neighborhood's hot real estate market.
Lopez, whose LES Clothing Co. has been making T-shirts and caps emblazoned with “Lower East Side” and “LES” since 1999, was recently forced to shutter his 43 Clinton St. shop because of a $2,000 rent hike, he said.
“The reality of the situation is that the Lower East Side is prime real estate and the rents are a little crazy,” said Lopez, a lifelong neighborhood resident who grew up in the LaGuardia Houses.
Lopez trademarked "Lower East Side" in 2007 and since then has sued retailers including J. Crew, Aéropostale, Urban Outfitters and Macy’s for using the words on clothing without his permission. He settled in most of the cases and said he "prevailed," but could not talk about the settlements in detail.
Lopez initially sold apparel out of the neighborhood's barbershops and through word of mouth, and then in 2011 he opened the store on Clinton Street. Lopez was paying about $4,100 per month for his storefront, he said.
But when he tried to renew the lease this spring, his landlord, St. Clarks Properties LLC, wanted to boost the monthly rent by about $2,000, Lopez said.
“We thought that was a little steep,” he said.
St. Clarks Properties did not immediately return a call for comment.
Lopez shut down LES Clothing Co. on May 31 and moved the merchandise into his office at 425 Grand St. The company has a showroom there, but it is only open by appointment.
LES Clothing Co. still sells its apparel online and also ships items to a handful of shops in Brooklyn, The Bronx, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Lopez hopes to find another retail space on the Lower East Side soon, ideally no more than a few blocks from his original Clinton Street location. He said he is willing to compromise on square footage as long as he can stay in the neighborhood.
“I don’t mind that as long as we have some retail presence in the Lower East Side,” Lopez said.
Those looking to purchase LES Clothing Co. merchandise can visit the company's website or call Lopez at 917-868-1698 to schedule an appointment to visit the showroom.