MIDTOWN EAST — The owner of a tiny 83-year-old shoe repair business in Midtown fought his landlord and won.
Joe Rocco, the third-generation owner of Jim’s Shoe Repair at 50 E. 59th St., was sure he'd be forced to close the shop for good when his landlord told him in September 2012 that the space had been leased to Duane Reade so the pharmacy could expand from next door.
“We didn’t know what to do,” said Rocco, 57. “Then one day my son was talking to a customer at the shine stand, who happened to be a lawyer, and he asked if he could take our case, pro bono.”
That customer, William Brewer, helped Jim’s Shoe Repair fight the eviction in court and put together a petition with thousands of signatures from loyal customers — all in hopes of convincing Duane Reade and SL Green, the landlord, to back down.
SL Green and Duane Reade recently settled the case, and the management company signed a new nine-year lease with Rocco earlier this month, Brewer said.
“Everybody kind of came together in the end,” Rocco said. “I guess they realized we are a staple to the community, and got on board.”
Brewer — a partner of The Bickel & Brewer Storefront, a community service affiliate of the Bickel & Brewer law firm, and a longtime customer of Jim’s Shoe Repair — said he was happy to help.
“Jim’s is a business that embodies the American Dream,” Brewer said. “The victory today is for all those who value family-owned businesses in the country. They represent a time when the fabric of our communities were tied to family values.”
SL Green and Duane Reade did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The store held a celebration for the victory on Tuesday afternoon, and many longtime customers came to offer congratulations.
“I’m thrilled that Jim’s is going to continue on,” said Midtown resident Sandra Albert, who’s been a customer of Jim’s for 20 years. “They have the best service. They always remember who you are, and you can really have some shoe talk with them. I love this place.”
Rocco's grandfather opened Jim's Shoe Repair in 1932, and the shop has offered the same shoe and leather repairs and shoe shines in the decades since then. The business will eventually be taken over by Rocco's 25-year-old son Andrew.
In recognition of Rocco's longtime service to the community, Assemblyman Dan Quart presented Rocco with a certificate of recognition in August 2013.
Rocco said he hopes his story inspires other small businesses that face similar challenges.
“Stay positive and keep fighting,” Rocco said. “That’s all you can do. And hope that a superhero like Brewer comes along to the rescue. It was really his interest that made this all happen.”