Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Les Desirs PLUS

Last week, I reported on the impending demise of Les Desirs Patisserie in Chelsea. Last night, their plight made the news on NY1, which you can watch here, and flyers have turned up all over the neighborhood asking you to stop in and sign the petition, which has so far gathered about 700 signatures.

But it's not just Les Desirs that's in danger in vanishing. It appears that the entire strip of businesses on this block is being flipped.

On the corner of 25th, the Marathon Bank branch closed in late September. Next to the bank, a Jackson Hewitt tax prep office has closed.

Next in line, there's a bodega called Lotto Center. Inside, it's the usual lottery tickets, bags of plantain chips, and dishwashing liquid. In the back, there's a makeshift cafe table where a small group of older men gather. They sit talking. Maybe this is their Les Desirs?

Last week, a woman in the bakery told me that the store's neighbor, upscale tapas restaurant Txikito, will be expanding and taking over the bodega.

Txikito, like the rumored incoming Sullivan Street Bakery, represents the new tone of this business strip. It's known for its big prices on small plates, from the quail eggs to the octopus carpaccio. Reviewers on Menupages note: "Our bill ended up being over $100 per person" and "the prices were outrageous and it almost seemed as if the management was trying to test how HIGH they could take their prices up."

The neighbors who frequent this business strip today cannot afford Txikito, just as they can't afford to eat at Co., on the 24th Street corner, just as the panini at Sullivan Street will be beyond their meager means.

At this rate of loss, I won't be surprised when the Cleaners & Tailor next to Les Desirs vanishes, too. Maybe it will be replaced by a wine bar. Or something equally vital to the people who actually live on the block.


EV Grieve said...

This is my fault. Just the other day I was saying this neighborhood could really use a place with deelish items like quail eggs and octopus carpaccio on the menu.


Soon, all the unique characters will be driven out, the neighborhood left to the moneyed masses ... here and everywhere around the city.

Not that I'm all doomsday-y or anything.

Anonymous said...

glad to hear there's some action generating around the bakery - I hope their voices will be heard - BN

esquared™ said...

They're vanishing because they didn't serve enough, or concentrate in selling, cupcakes and fro-yos.

Anonymous said...

This is absolutely ridiculous. The story behind the upgrade of this strip mall is that the coop/landlord was unable to realize higher rents for years because local laws forced them to generate at least 80% of their income from the residents' common charges. Now that the law has changed the landlord can charge market rents, generating additional income for the residents which will either (i) increase the level of service at their building or (ii) allow for a reduction in monthly common charges. If common charges go down, perhaps Les Desirs' patrons will have enough extra spending money to buy an (overpriced) pizza at Co. or pick up some (delicious) baked goods from Sullivan St. bakery. Regardless, this isn't a clear-cut win/lose and should not be presented as such.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

I guess I'm a little confused because the people who seem to be 'losing' these businesses are residents of Penn South and they are essentially the landlords, so they're making money by renting to higher-paying businesses. PS also sells electricity to tenants of this strip from their power plant on 25th St, so they're not as down and out as it may seem (I used to live there).

L'Emmerdeur said...

The NY1 report came on just as I started reading this post.

Rebecca Spitz really ended up tearing the landlord a new one, merely by virtue of the facts.

Why wouldn't the landlord offer market rate to the existing tenant first?

Here's my guess. The landlord is represented by some stiletto-heeled Carrie Bradshaw wannabe monster who wants to see Les Desirs replaced by Sullivan Street Bakery, regardless of economics. She probably also desires to see all the old people there turned into Soylent Green and fed to the poor starving children in Africa (she came up with this with the help of her boyfriend, who has an MBA).

I predict this strip will be replaced by octopus-carpaccio-peddling idiots soon, and will be Fo'Rent not long after that.

Mark said...

dear anonymous #2:

"If common charges go down..."

I have to laugh.

As if that will EVER happen.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Penn South resident and supportive of keeping Les Desirs right where it is. Essentially, the co-op is kicking out a business that serves its own residents. This is precisely the irony. A board of directors (elected co-op members) ultimately votes on which leases to renew, and yes, they are supposed to represent the residents' interests in theory, but in practice they don't always, which is why there is an effort to fight for this place. Anyone who's lived here for a number of years can tell you everything the management office does is shrouded in mystery. And yes, many of us don't trust our own management. Hope this helps clarify.

Mike Zamansky said...

I'm a Penn South resident and I'm not a fan of Les Desirs. I'd much rather have a Sullivan Street Bakery (which is not a mega chain nor do I find their prices outrageous).

Over the years, I've tried to like Les Desirs but found there service poor and their product mediocre at best.

In terms of the dispute, Penn South sent a notice to cooperators which can be found here: http://chelsea.clickyourblock.com/bb/showthread.php?t=1628

It presents the other side of the story. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

In any event, some Penn South residents like the bakery, I'd bet (based on the consistant but small crowd in the bakery) that many more don't use it much if at all, yet by accepting less than market rate, we're subsidising it.

The same people who complain about the price of goods in the neighborhood complain about our maintenance fees which are affected by the rents we charge.

I generally hate to see old establishments go disappear, but this bakery has only been around for 10-15 years (the space was occupied by another bakery when I moved in) and looks to be replaced by another NY local institution.

Kind of like the butcher shop on ninth ave in the low 20's. I found the old one dirty and wouldn't patronize it. The new one, an outpost of an established NY butcher is clean and friendly and I go all the time.

Anonymous said...

I never frequent Les Desirs, but I recognize its value and for the reasons stated in the article. Penn South's management operates like an arm of the old Westies gang that ruled this area of Manhattan. The whole inception of Company was a curiosity that needs investigation. How could any store, no matter how popular (and Co. is popular), afford to stay closed for over a year before it's opening?

One issue the article fails to address is the excuse offered by Penn South's "management" for removing Les Desirs. They mostly claim the need to raise the rent, but why doesn't Sullivan Street Bakery assume the lease of the Marathon Bank and let Les Desirs remain until some other business comes along to take on a more expensive lease.

Lastly, Penn South is secretive about which commercial tenant pays what which suggests something funny about who gets what.

Penn South used to be concerned for its tenants but now is operating more like muscle for an outside operation.

Anonymous said...

I've lived in the neighborhood for all of my fifty years and have seen businesses come and go. It is always funny to see people complain about the closing of a neighborhood business that they probably never supported. Stop the complaining and become a landlord. Most of you would freak and throw out the mom and pop stores for a more lucrative
tenant so that YOU would not lose money.

Big B said...

Yes, EV Grieve, I was just thinking about how much unique character is brought to our neighborhood by a Marathon Bank, a Jackson Hewitt, a bodega, and a mediocre bakery. Very unique, there are hardly any of those around! To be replaced by something as mundane and common as a Basque Country restaurant, specialty pizza from Naples, and a great homegrown NYC bakery. The outrage!

I love how people seem to think that change is very un-New York. This city has been dynamic for centuries. I don't want to see landmarks torn down either, but we are hardly talking about landmarks. And the Penn South residents aren't the only people in the neighborhood, even if this strip is on their front step. Sure, I have only been in the neighborhood for 8 years, and I am part of the wave of people that you might see as "ruining your neighborhood" (by driving up rents and driving out the trash...) but my demographic needs restaurants. This has always been the story in NYC.

I am glad the Penn South letter has come out so we can see what the other side of the story is. I no longer have any sympathy for Les Desirs. Commenter "z" is right on the money. And, I totally agree about the butcher a few blocks south - a dirty, disgusting "neighborhood institution" was replaced by a classy and clean Bronx institution with a better product.

the anonymous poster comparing Penn South to the Westies obviously has no knowledge of either real estate or opening restaurants. Delays like the ones Co. had are very very common, and often the reason why under-capitalized restaurants go under. Luckily, this venture was backed by big money. Thank god for that, since Co. has some of the best pizza in Manhattan.

Finally, just an FYI - I have been to Txikito four times, and it has never cost $100+ per person. Before drinks, it is about $40 per person, maaaaybe $50 tops. Kudos to Txikito for being named one of the Top Newcomers in yesterday's new Zagats 2010.