GREENWICH VILLAGE — A longtime Village business owner who last year vowed to DNAinfo New York that his shop was there to stay is shutting down after his new landlord hiked his rent.
Abe Lerner, 62, has owned and operated Avignone Chemists on Sixth Avenue for 30 years, but the building at 281 Sixth Ave. was just sold and the new owner wants to triple his rent, Lerner said Wednesday.
"I've spent half my life here," Lerner said, choking up. "I've known many of these people for 30 years; I've seen a lot of kids grow up. A lot of these people have become friends — they're not just customers, they're friends."
One customer-turned-friend, Sheila Sperber Haas, was so distraught when she learned the store was closing that she wrote a letter to The Villager.
"When I told her, she started to cry," Lerner said. "She's very upset about what's going on in the neighborhood. All these stores on Bleecker Street that are empty because the landlords are asking astronomical rents."
Lerner said he's seen new restaurants or stores come in, only to be pushed out within a year or two because of spiking rents.
Lerner said his entire block of Bleecker Street between Sixth Avenue and Carmine Street is now owned by Force Capital Management, and that his new landlord told Lerner he wants to triple the rent for the 1,700-square-foot space that Avignone has occupied since 1929.
Lerner declined to disclose what he pays for the space, but said Force Capital plans to charge about $60,000 to the next lessee.
"Obviously we can't afford that," Lerner said. "We can't even afford double the rent."
Lerner said he was given notice he must vacate the space by April 30.
A woman who answered a phone number listed for Force Capital Management hung up when asked about Avignone's lease. Voicemails for comment were not returned.
Lerner spoke at length about his customers on Wednesday, apologizing for becoming emotional.
"You can tell I'm very sentimental about this place," he said, talking about how he'll miss seeing the kids he watched grow up return with their own families. "That's something to be said about this store: People will come back with their own kids, that don't live in the neighborhood. They'll be visiting their parents or grandparents, and they'll stop in to show the kids the store.
"The store has become a place where people just come in to say hello, not even to buy anything. They just come in to chat and then go out again. It's been a neighborhood staple since 1929."
Lerner said he plans to open up another shop, ideally in or near the Village.
"I’m just going to look for something else," he said. "I’m not going to open up another store right around here because the rent is just too high. But, you know, I might pop up someplace, maybe in the neighborhood."