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Fabric Stores Close as Garment District Landlords Hunger for Restaurants

By Maya Rajamani | September 15, 2016 4:04pm
 Three fabric stores on West 39th Street will close by the end of the year, their owners said.
Garment District Closings
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GARMENT DISTRICT — A trio of longtime fabric stores on West 39th Street will close by the end of the year — and a fourth will leave its longtime storefront — as Garment District landlords set their sights on higher-paying nightlife tenants, owners and real estate experts said. 

Paron Fabrics at 257 W. 39th St., which has been in business since 1940, will close this Sunday, owner Mark Glenn, said this week.

Its next-door neighbor, H.M. Fabrics — which has been around since the 1960s — and Better Choice Fabrics Inc., at 260 W. 39th St., will close by the end of the year, their owners confirmed.

“Nobody wants fabric industries, garment industries, anymore,” H.M. Fabrics owner King, who declined to give his last name, said Monday. “Everything has to be a restaurant or food.”

Around five years ago, his building’s landlord informed King that his lease would not be renewed, he said.

Like King, the owner of Better Choice Fabrics Inc., which has been in business for 16 years, said his landlord didn’t give him the option to renew his lease, which ends three months.

“He’s saying, 'Just leave,'” said the owner, who declined to give his name.

The landlord, who could not be reached for comment, intends to rent the space out to a coffee shop, he added.

Glenn, 65, meanwhile, said Paron Fabrics fell behind on its rent — he pays around $18,000 per month — and couldn’t negotiate extra time to come up with the money.

His rent had recently been rising by around 3 percent every year, and his landlord, Berdar Equities, kept tacking on additional fees, Glenn said.

Berdar Equities did not respond to a request for comment on the closing.

Glenn’s father took over the company in 1982, and Glenn himself has been running the store since his father passed away in 2011, he said.

“It’s corrupt,” he said. “There’s no rent control, no rent guidelines.”

At Royal Fabrics at 214 W. 39th St., just down the block from Glenn’s store, a CBC Advisors “Store for Lease” sign hangs in the storefront window. 

The owner, who declined to give his name, said he decided to move his business to a space down the block after his landlord asked for double the rent.

The landlord intends to replace the store — which has been in the Garment District for seven decades, and at that location for around two decades — with a bar or a restaurant, he added.

CBC Advisors is also leasing a space next door that was formerly occupied by a store called Zahra Fabrics, according to signs on the storefront.

The CBC Advisors broker dealing with the two spaces did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Despite the Garment District’s name, wholesale fabric stores are “definitely not an amenity” for landlords, Cushman & Wakefield senior director Alan Napack said.

“Landlords would prefer to have a restaurant,” he explained. “There’s still plenty of [fabric stores] there, but I think in certain cases — especially if the landlord just acquired the building — I don’t think he’s buying it with the intent of keeping a fabric store there.”

Long-running fabric stores are likely paying below-market rents, and a landlord could reasonably expect to get “at least double” the rent from a restaurant tenant, Napack said.

“When the lease comes up, at the end of the day, they try to get as much money as they can,” he added.

Several longtime fabric store owners on West 39th Street, between Seventh and Eighth avenues  — which is still home to nearly 20 such stores, including the ones set to close — told DNAinfo sales have been steadily declining.

“There’s no business,” said Shaima Sidiqi, who has operated Lenox Textile Corp. at 244 W. 39th St. for more than three decades. “Not just me — everybody.”

Jonathan Boyarsky, whose family has run Beckstein Men’s Fabrics since 1919, said walk-in and online sales have been slow, but his custom clothing business has kept the store busy.

He noted that garment stores can no longer rely solely on selling fabrics.

“Some people aren’t reinventing themselves,” said Boyarsky, who still has nearly 10 years left on his lease at 257 W. 39th St. “They’re waiting for people to walk in.”

Mood Fabrics on West 37th Street, which became a designer destination after regularly appearing on reality show "Project Runway," offers in-store classes, Boyarsky said, noting that store as an exception.

Anthony Lilore, a founding member of advocacy group Save the Garment Center, agreed that fabric stores and other Garment District businesses must evolve if they want to survive.

“I don’t mean to be cold about it, because I’m a strong advocate of the Garment Center, but if you don’t like change, New York isn’t really the place for you to be,” he said, noting he's been watching the district shrink since the 1980s.

“It’s a market-driven economy, and if the market and the suppliers for the market don’t change with the market, it’s easy to understand that it could go away,” Lilore added.

At the end of the day, Napack said, “economics prevail.”

“I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight,” he said. “But within the next 10 years, the landscape’s going to be a lot different.”