Monday, February 24, 2014

Jim's Shoe Repair

On East 59th Street since 1932, Jim's Shoe Repair is a fourth-generation business. But that's where their long and celebrated history comes to an end. Jim's is being pushed out.

I talked to Joe Rocco, whose grandfather Vito (called Jimmy) opened the shop 82 years ago. Before S.L. Green bought 625 Madison Avenue in 2004, it had been owned by the Ginsberg family for many years. This September, the Roccos' current 10-year lease will come to an end.

"My father went up to ask for an extension," Joe said. "S.L. Green told him no. They already made a deal with Walgreens. They didn't even tell us."

Walgreens plans to expand their giant Duane Reade next door into the cobbler's modest 12-foot-wide space. The Duane Reade already takes up 5,500 square feet, running through the entire block from 58th to 59th Streets. Why do they need 12 more feet of frontage?

The Duane Reade got a 15-year lease extension in 2008. At the time, an executive at Green said, "We're delighted that Duane Reade will continue its long-term tenancy with us." They should be delighted to have Jim's, a venerable New York City institution.

The shop still looks the way it did decades ago.

It has antique wooden "while-u-wait" booths, and people still sit inside, waiting for their shoes to be fixed. "Kids come in and think it's a choo-choo train," said Joe, but these are comfortable privacy booths, dating back to a time when people were modest about their stocking feet.

The original 1930s cash register is here, too, a gorgeous heirloom.

The shop enjoys a steady flow of faithful customers, including many well-heeled celebrities, movers, and shakers.

Just last year, Assemblyman Dan Quart presented the senior Mr. Rocco with a proclamation in honor of his family's long-time service. It states, “The longevity of this small business is a testament to the quality of its work and broad customer base."

In 1990, at a tough time for the city, Andy Rooney called Jim's a reason to love New York. "Let them knock New York," he wrote. "They don't know Jim's."

Maybe S.L. Green and the people at Walgreens don't know Jim's either. Maybe if they knew, they wouldn't push them out. 

Today, everyone who goes to Jim's signs the petition at the counter, under the banner that reads, "Help Us Preserve the Character of NYC." They've got over 2,000 signatures so far, collected in the hopes of holding on to even a fraction of the storefront, just so they can keep on fixing and shining shoes.

"People are heartbroken," said Joe Rocco of his customers. "They're ready to cry when they see we only have eight months left."

A group of lawyers are helping out. "This business is part of the heritage of this neighborhood," said William A. Brewer III, partner at Bickel & Brewer Storefront and counsel to Jim's. "Naturally, we are exploring all of our options--to ensure that this valuable part of our community is not lost.” Brewer continued, "We are grateful for the outpouring of community support, as people rally to defend a business that typifies the American Dream."

Joe's 24-year-old son works in the shop now, extending his great-grandfather's legacy into the fourth generation, a rarity in the city today.

The oldest business on the block, Jim's is a precious piece of New York's history, a holdout from a time when the streets were full of mom-and-pop businesses, when everybody knew everybody, and each neighborhood had a sense of place. At 625 Madison, they're surrounded by chain stores and global luxury brands.

"What's happening to the city is horrible," said Joe. "There's no character in the neighborhoods anymore. We're losing the history of the city. These places are like a time capsule. If you lose it all, who's going to remember?"

Post Script: In 2004, S.L. Green bought the building for $231.5 million, or $415/sf. Since then, the value has nearly doubled. In 2013, the ground lease sold to Ashkenazy Acquisition for $400 million, or $710/sf. "Before Ashkenazy pounced," reported the Post, "there was significant interest from major players, including institutions, real-estate investment trusts, sovereign wealth funds and high-net-worth families." The paper speculated that a super-luxury skyscraper could one day grow on the spot.


konyc said...

625 Madison was a sacred address to me growing up. It was the home to Marvel Comics during the so-called Silver Age. Now, Marvel is owned by Disney, and New York is owned by chains like Walgreen's.

laura r. said...

where will people go for their shoes to be fixed? will the mega box stores put in shoe concessions? is thier an online petition?

Anonymous said...


This is still where I take my shoes to be repaired, no matter where I live.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad to be out of NYC. Jim's did excellent work at decent prices.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

WTF, a business like this deserves to be landmarked!

Anonymous said...

A shame but unfortunately not much can be done legally to save Jim's.

maximum bob said...

Whatever happened to DeBlasio's promise to look into helping the newstand owner that the city was
evicting...please follow up on that.
I want to know if he's an empty suit or not...

Jeremiah Moss said...

DeBlasio stepped in and saved the newsstand.

Anonymous said...

I worked in that building for over 10 years and was a regular at Jim's. There was always friendly banter and it was a great place to take a break from the fast pace and get a nice shine for a couple of bucks. I miss it already.

DrBOP said...

Joe's 24 year-old should be hip to the simple tech of SurveyMonkey and get that baby on-line.....

.....and I'm sure DeBlasio would take notice once this hits DNA Info or Gothamist.....referencing this blog, of course. This one has GOT TO BE hard to ignore....DAMMIT!

Anonymous said...

Take a good look at how men dress today and it's clear that people on the LES do not seem to care about fine leather shoes let alone repairing them. Especially these NYU Dorm people which seem to be the only presence on the LES/EV these days.

Anonymous said...

@ Anon @ 8:14 -- This business is on East 59th Street. Even catering to anyone who needs new lifts or soles in a neighborhood with more suits and being packed all the time doesn't guarantee that the landlord will let you stay. Can't blame NYU for this one.

Anonymous said...

Terrible loss. Had my wedding shoes dyed here and hoped to have my daughter's done here, too.

American Anglo-Catholic said...

I have been going to Jim's for decades to have my shoes shined. Now living in London, I bring a bag of shoes back to 59th Street & Madison Avenue to have my shoes properly shined and mended when necessary. I don't trust any other shoesmith except those at Jim's. Antonio has cared for my shoes for years. There is no substitute in London, especially since Harrod's shut the shoe shine stand in the Gentlemen's cloak room in the basement and I don't trust the chaps in Burlington Arcade with my benchmade shoes. Another vanishing bit of New York. I mourn and so do my shoes....

laura r. said...

anon 8:14 am, i thought the EV was overrun by young lawyers & businessmen. i assume they wear fine leather shoes. look@ all the expensive boutiques. thats besides the point. a historical landmark is being destroyed.

Unknown said...

Boycott Duane Reade/Walgreens.
Go somewhere else. If no one went
into the Mad Ave store management
might (?) get the picture. Most
people, sadly, will not do this.
Convenience trumps honor.