Most Disgruntled Business Owner in Town (2009)

Nick Sprayregen

New Yorkers are a generally disgruntled bunch. We live in a city where it's impossible to avoid stepping on someone else's toes, and the mere act of breathing can set a neighbor off. But even in this perturbed crowd, no one's irritation approaches that of Nick Sprayregen. The feisty and handsomely rich owner of Tuck-it-Away Self-Storage, a 300,000-square-foot warehouse off 125th Street, has achieved minor fame as the last landlord left in the footprint of Columbia University's West Harlem expansion. As Columbia has moved to fulfill its manifest destiny, taking over 17 acres of land and buying out or relocating hundreds of tenants and property owners over the past four years, Sprayregen refused to budge from his location. When Columbia declared the area officially "blighted" (a ruling that cleared the way for the granting of eminent domain), Sprayregen got his lawyer to produce hundreds of documents—obtained through the Freedom of Information Act—charging that the blight study was a rigged deal between Columbia and the state. For nearly six years, he has been fighting Columbia with every available tool, writing op-eds in the New York Post, hiring a lobbyist, and starting blogs with names like My Land Is Mine. You gotta hand it to the guy: The lawsuits have personally cost him over a million dollars, and it's a fight he may never be able to win. Columbia has hired more lobbyists and has easily outspent him, but the relentless Sprayregen presses on.