Louis Shoe Rebuilders has been in business since 1921, originally located on the site of the Empire State Building before there ever was an Empire State Building. When the new skyscraper opened in 1931, the landlord took Louis in. But they won't be there for much longer.
The 94-year-old shop will be closing at the end of June.
Owner Beatrice Barbieri told me, "We're not having our lease renewed." In addition, "They want $25,000 and nobody can pay that on shoe repair."
The Empire State Building is owned by Empire State Realty Trust, run by the Malkin family, who bought the building from Donald Trump in 2002.
The building is going through changes. Tony Malkin has said he considers it the center of Silicon Alley and a "premier urban campus" for tech companies. Ground-floor windows are papered with "Retail Space Available" signs. Banners wrapped around the scaffolding cheer: "$550 Million in Building Upgrades" and "Creating New Jobs in New York."
But jobs are also being destroyed here, like the one done by cobbler and store manager Julio Galvis for the past 27 years.
"My whole life," said Mr. Galvis. Or so it feels.
"It's sad, but what can you do? The little guys can't survive in Manhattan anymore."
Ms. Barbieri explained how "all the small shops" have been pushed out of the Empire State Building, replaced by chains. There's Starbucks, Bank of America, Chipotle, a forthcoming Build-A-Bear Workshop, and many more. According to rumor, a Mexican restaurant chain is moving in to Louis' space, possibly combined with the empty space next door.
"It's a terrible thing," Ms. Barbieri said. "Landlords only want to be interested in renting to people with a lot of money, who want a whole floor. Big business doesn't want to be bothered with the little guy. We're being wiped out."
Ms. Barbieri's customers are upset about the closure. Many have been getting their shoes shined and fixed here for decades. And with so many shoe repair shops getting pushed out of business by rising rents or denied lease renewals, there are few options left. One man recently walked 18 blocks to Louis, because he couldn't find another cobbler anywhere.
Some of the store's employees are leaving the city, going as far as Ohio to work with shoes. Ms. Barbieri is heartbroken.
"I had two shine people who were worth diamonds!"
The furnishings inside the shop are also gems, including vintage waiting booths with chrome-topped swinging doors. Ms. Barbieri cared for them diligently through the years, and recently refurbished the set.
"Now I have to tear them out and throw them away. Nobody cares. We're all gonna be swallowed up."
Referring to the shop's well-seasoned age, Mr. Galvis said, "We're a landmark."
They should be. But New York City has no protections for mom and pops, no selective rent control for legacy businesses, no Small Business Survival Act, no ordinance to control the spread of chain stores.
"Small businesses kept the city alive," Ms. Barbieri said. And now? "New York is dead."
- Thanks to Alex Vadukul for letting me know about Louis' closure. He wrote a lovely piece about the shop for the New York Times in 2012.
- Please join #SaveNYC to help stop the destruction.
More cobbler shops--mostly lost:
A. Fontana Shoe Repair
Jim's Shoe Repair
Magic Shoe Repair
David's Shoe Repair
Hidden Shoe Repair Shop
Andrade Shoe Repair
Cobblers of Brooklyn