Back Rent Kills East Village Mom-and-Pop Shop Village Fabrics

First it was Grimaldi's Pizzeria in Brooklyn -- nearly three months and $60,000 behind in back rent and city taxes, the famed pie-slingers were facing eviction, despite the lines out the door. But while Grimaldi's owners were able to pay for their slack, the same can't be said for Village Fabrics, a well-known mom-and-pop fabric store on First Avenue and East 11th Street that's falling into the same fate with inevitable closure at the end of the month.

The store supplied fabrics and other sewing knick-knacks to local fashion and design students and East Village craft enthusiasts who dubbed it one of the best fabric stores outside the garment district. Alyvia Mann, 29, says that when she was a student at the School of Visual Arts on 23rd Street, she would turn to Village Fabrics for her materials. "They were always helpful, and they always had everything," she says.

Now smaller items like zippers and iron-on letters are selling for a dollar, while yards of fabric that normally cost $10-a-yard are selling for $2-a-yard during the store's final liquidation sale.

In June, Pamac Realty filed suit against Kurban Ali Kokan, the store's owner, after Kokan did not pay $27,400 in back rent. The Kokan family claimed that the store had water damage that was never properly repaired. The suit ended on August 9, when a judge ruled that Kokan must pay the back rent with interest and vacate the building. Pamac's attorney created a stipulation that reduced the amount to $20,000.

But that's still too much money, says Kokan's wife, Cemile, who is currently working at the store with their son, Sadik. (The Kokan's rent was $4,400 each month for the past five years, during which business slowed down, her husband fell ill, and medical bills needed to be paid.)

Then Pamac Realty posted a For Rent sign above the storefront. "He came one day and he said, 'Pay or ship out' -- those were his words," Cemile says. "I'm not blaming him, but some of things he does are unfair. He's not a bad landlord, but he's fed up with me, too. I guess 18 to 20 years doesn't count."

Cemile, 65, wipes tears from her eyes as she sells a few yards of brown vinyl to a customer. "I'm sorry," she says. "It's just that there's been no peace in my house for a while," she tells the customer. "We are getting older now -- my husband is 80. We still have a mortgage to pay. What are we going to do after this?"

"I just want folks to know that the whole neighborhood is going to crap," Sadik, 33, says. "I mean [my parents] are senior citizens, you know? We're just tired of being honest and loyal, when apparent greed is all that matters. This just shows you what is happening to our community now."

Pasquale Coppolechia, the president of Pamac Realty, says that the tenants were never a problem, when they were paying the rent. He says the Kokans were at least eight months behind in rent and that after their 10-year lease expired, they went on a one-year lease and eventually a month-to-month one. "We offered an installment plan as well," he says. "I know they were going through some 'apparent' difficulties and that they were clearly struggling, but even these negotiations just took up time."

Coppolechia says that there are already businesses interested in the First Avenue location. "We've been collecting several requests from the broker -- pardon my French, but they were like flies on shit." Pamac says they don't generally give a 10-year-lease to start-ups, but they made an exception for Village Fabrics: "Normally, for new start-ups, we do not go beyond a five-year lease and then we hem and haw over a 10-year lease if the company is viable."

Sadik says their family-run business will fall just like the empty storefronts he sees around the East Village. "Once we're gone, where are you going to go? It's not like a Duane Reade or a CVS is going to have what you need. We're the only place in the community where you could get your needles, elastic, threads, and all those little things," he says.

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