Monday, April 25, 2016

Lee's Art Shop

VANISHING

After 65 years in business, Lee's Art Shop on West 57th Street is closing sometime in the next four to six weeks.


from Lee's Art Shop

The building was purchased in 2013 by real estate investor Joseph Safdieh of Safka Holdings, after which he proceeded to sue the owners, David Steinberg and Jill Isaacs, according to The Real Deal, "for refusing to further extend the due diligence period on the property despite several outstanding issues relating to its certificate of occupancy."

That deal fell through--and Thor's Joe Sitt got in on the action. Safka then sued Thor.

Through all the fighting over the property, Lee's stayed open.


photo: NY Times

Steinberg and Isaacs are the children of Gilbert Steinberg, who died in 2008. With his wife, Ruth, Steinberg bought the original store in 1951 and moved it to this building in 1975. They purchased the building 20 years later.

"The building would likely be transformed into a high-end retail box," industry pros told The Real Deal three years ago. The distinctive structure was built in 1897 and is known as the Society House of the American Society of Civil Engineers. It was once home to a Schrafft’s restaurant. And it is landmarked.

Lee's is beloved across the city. "It never fails," wrote the Times in 2012. "You go into Lee’s Art Shop, half a block from Carnegie Hall, as a customer — usually for something prosaic like a couple of Pilot Razor Points from their amazing 215-slot pen rack — and leave wishing you were an artist."

The shop is currently having a major liquidation sale, with deals up to 75% off.




20 comments:

aspicco said...

Damn damn damn... nearest real art store is what? NY Central @ 2 Third Ave in the East Village? Pearl Paint was bad enough.

Unknown said...

The loss of Posman's at Grand Central, and now Lee's, has broken my heart.

authentic NYer said...

Just another greedy developer destroying the fabric of what made this city so unique and great. Shame on them!! What a damn shame! I've been shopping at Lees since I was in high school. It was always a great place to go in to browse and on the way out pick up s couple of cool pens.
I'm so upset that this had happened.
Shame on the developers and owners.
Sad sad sad.

authentic NYer said...

I'm with you

Roseann said...

Geez-

eddie knasiak said...

One of my first jobs in NYC was here. I met so many wonderful people. And met so many wonderful customers. The Lee's customers were always the best. I worked in the picture frame department and fondly remember the late great Lisa Kirk and Dorothy Loudon, among so many other celebs. I may have lost touch with all of my co workers, as it was 30 years ago, but I have never forgotten them.

Sojournoftheslippah said...

This is all super fucked up. 2016 blows so far.

Peter said...

This is horrible, and it practically puts the nail on the coffin that is 57th Street, in the days when it was dominated by art galleries.

When I came to the City in the mid-1980's I studied, for a while, at the venerable Art Students League. I had come across a posthumously published diary by the Ashcan artist John Sloan (1871-1951) who, like Robert Henri and others in his circle, taught at the League in the first decades of the 20th century. As an art student, I got to know Lee's Art Supply across the street, and came there regularly. After an evening class, my friends and I repaired to P.J. Carney's, around the corner on 7th Avenue, which - Thank God - is still there.

In those days, 57th Street was filled with older mid-rise buildings that did not block out views of Central Park. These buildings housed dentist offices, grand old apartment buildings like the Osborne, Carnegie Hall as a place for artists and musicians, Steinway's building, the Art Students League, and a few others. While the Osborne, Carnegie Hall and the Art Students League remain (the last one, however, will have the Nordstrom Tower cantilevering over it), 57th Street is no longer a pleasant cross-town avenue which celebrates the arts. Now, increasingly, it is becoming Billionaire's Row, a deadened street full of apartments owned by the super-rich who rarely ever visit New York, just park their money here in their real estate.

There are only so many losses that New York can stand. This is truly Lingchi, death by a thousand cuts. There will come a time when New York enters another great recession, and capital will flee the city. Unfortunately, this will occur after a tipping point has passed and so much of New York's pre-1990's character has been lost such that, one day, cultural anthropologists from Europe will attempt to recreate the lost city in holographic form.

Ooana Trien said...

You can't call this greed in one direction. They own the building and chose to sell after the passing of the elders in the family. It's heartbreaking but not so simple

Ooana Trien said...

It's awful to see it go, I am their neighbor. But to blame the developer is to simple. They chose to sell and owned the building.

authentic NYer said...

The developer/owner could have kept a few floors for Lees to stay in business.
But of course that would be to much of a right thing to do. Heaven forbid!

Raymond Saint-Pierre said...

I feel that there was no choice left. The legal fees alone can bankrupt a business easily. And trying to maintain that specialized a retail operation in the midst of this ongoing oligarchy buyout would have been fruitless and perhaps even more destructive to the present owners?

Alex said...

As an art student, it's sad to see any art store closing down. I do have to say though that Lee's has always been tremendously overpriced compared to every other store, and the customer service is the worst I've ever experienced at an art store in NYC. Best of luck to them and I'll be checking the sales.

jp whitenova said...

terrible Ai Friedman is the only true art supply store left

aspicco said...

NY Central at 62 3rd Ave

Former employee said...

Wonderful to read how the closing of Lee's is saddening to all of you who bought a pen once. 70 families depended on Lee's for their livelihood. Not a word about them. You whiners are as the same as the developers and oligarchs only interested in how this effects you.

authentic NYer said...

Former employee-I wrote in an earlier post how I felt the developer could have left a couple of floors for the store to continue on.

olympiasepiriot said...

First time in weeks I've had a chance to read this blog and there is so much bad news.

This is amazing. That store is huge, with tons of employees, selling on-line as well, shipping everywhere, still has drafting supplies -- which are still useful. Every time I'm in there, it is busy, no matter the hour or season.

Hell.

I can't believe the owners of Lees owned the building and then sold it AND didn't think this was going to be the result.

Damn.

Jane A. Gordon said...

Although I live in the neighborhood, I was sadly surprised today to walk by and learn that Lee's is closing. It's a stable in the neighborhood. I do stop by for supplies and always enjoy wandering through the store. The store has almost nothing left, and the remaining staff seem shocked. No one was able to tell me why the building was sold. One wonders if the owners were losing money and this was inevitable, or if they just decided to sell for the windfall. If it's the latter, it makes me wonder about all the people who work at Lee's, and if they were well cared for in the closing. So many questions. Does anyone know the back story here?

Amy Harding said...

I was in several times in my 2 yrs living in nyc and I always saw MANY people browsing, but not a ton of people actually buying. Perhaps high prices, who knows. Anyway, very sad day indeed.