On February 17, beloved East Side cobbler’s den Jim’s Shoe Repair was celebrating with colorful helium balloons and a banner that read “Here to stay!”
The 84-year-old shop has already scored legions of celebrity and civilian fans alike, from Kim Cattrall to Ed Sullivan. Now, after two years of negotiations, it’s notched a victory for Old New York by striking a deal with landlord SL Green to avoid eviction and halt a planned expansion of a neighboring Duane Reade.
On the February 6, this fourth-generation family-owned business signed a lease to stay in its current home on 50 East 59th Street for nine more years. But that legal agreement was a long time coming. In 2012, the business’s current owner, Joseph Rocco, learned that when his lease was over in September 2014, SL Green, a realty company, planned to give the twelve square feet of storefront to the Duane Reade next door, allowing the pharmacy to expand.
“We wanted to stay, but the way things are going, all the traditional stores are getting evicted,” says the 56-year-old Rocco, whose grandfather started the business between Madison and Park avenues in 1932. “I was thinking that would be our fate.”
That fate was altered when William Brewer, a longtime customer and attorney at advocacy law firm Bickel & Brewer, came in for his regular shoeshine. He was dismayed to learn that the business would likely be closing. “I was devastated. I thought, ‘That can’t be right,’ ” he said, leaning back in a camel-colored jacket and showing off his pinstriped suit as he received a celebratory shoeshine. “And we said, ‘Perhaps we can get involved.’ ”
In the summer of 2013, a team of lawyers took on the Roccos’ case for no charge. They applied for the store to be considered a landmark, and when they had their case dismissed “arbitrarily,” they filed a lawsuit against the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. They started a petition drive with more than 2,000 signatures imploring SL Green and Duane Reade to let Jim’s stay. And at the last minute — after the landlord had even filed a November request in court to evict the shoe store — the team learned that Duane Reade would be handing the lease over to Jim’s.
“The day before Thanksgiving, we got the email that said, ‘You can stay,’ ” says Brewer. “I’m glad I was working late that night.”
After a series of back-and-forth negotiations, store reps and their landlord signed the agreement early in February. That’s good news for Joseph Rocco’s son Andrew, 25, who has been planning to carry on the family business since he was a kid: “Five, six, seven years old, I’d sit in the cashier’s lap and ring up [shoe] shines all day.
“It’s pretty cool. You never hear about the little guy winning with stuff like this,” he says. “I’m excited to keep it going.”
The Voice called Duane Reade and SL Green but did not receive a reply.