Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Prime Burger Blight

Back in 2012, the great and wonderful Prime Burger was forced to close after 47 years in business  (74 if you count its days as Hamburg Heaven). At the time, co-owner Michael DiMiceli explained to Eater, "The building's been sold. We had an agreement with the new owners to stay here longer, but those agreements fell through. They decided that they don't want us here as tenants anymore."

Over two years later, the space at 5 E. 51st Street is still empty.

We see this all the time. A landlord pushes out a long-time tenant, and then leaves the space empty, creating blight while they wait for the right luxury chain to pay the exorbitant rent.

In this case, that monthly rent is $52,083...and thirty-three cents.

Against my better judgment, I peeked inside. All that gorgeous 1960s-era decor, the wood-panelled walls, the booths with the swinging tables, the conical chandeliers, that delightful time capsule--completely gutted. For nearly three years it's just sitting there, busted and rotten, not making burgers, not making egg creams, not making New Yorkers happy.

And how does the new owner imagine the future for this space? Same way they all do, a bland vision of nothingness, zombie consumers walking past, arms loaded with oversized handbags and shopping bags. Another pathetic rendering of what New York has become.

In London, as an incentive to keep shops in use, tax relief was taken away from businesses that keep properties empty for longer than 6 months. What are we doing here?

Prime Burger
Prime Burger to Reopen?
PB Egg Cream


John K said...

I almost fainted when I did the math on the annual rent for this space: $625,000! How is it possible for any business that isn't a chain or rolling in the dough to afford nearly 3/4 of $1 million per year in rent? There's gouging and then there's this.

I guess what'll happen is that a high-end business catering to the billionaires/multimillionaires who're filling up all those new towers, or another chain than afford taking a loss, will be able to afford this spot. But seriously: $625,000/year. Not your mom's and pop's New York.

James said...

It was an evil moment when I approached the Prime Burger one day and sensed something amiss. Workers were sitting on her stoop. Sure enough - death! It was too much of a holdout, I guess, too civilized in its way. I used to go there for breakfast every other morning or so, where I'd be greeted by the same smiling waiter, at the counter. We're seeing a variation on urban-renewalism, this time based only on money. Agony for those who care in any way.

Anonymous said...

Would be interested in knowing exactly who the "landlord" is. I mean the real landlord. I often think that these places that lie dormant for years are owned by shell landlords who are fronts for more global entities. Money is no object for them, they get a tax write-off even while it's empty, and they wait…..wait and wait, until they can grab the lease of the business next door, drive out that tenant, and on and on until they are in a position to buy the whole block. Or they already own the block and they're simply waiting for each individual lease to run out. Then they do the big tear-down and
the behemoth hotel or condo goes up.

The financial press says that real estate in NYC is considered a prime hidey-hole for foreign oligarch's money. Buildings here are called "cash boxes in the sky". They have no local connection to our communities at all. Blight-schmight.

John K—I think the unrealistically high $625,000 might actually be the way to claim a huge amount as a tax write-off. The higher the (claimed) rent, the more money they can write off——hell, it's cheaper to not rent it than to rent it.

Anonymous said...

For me it was pepe Verde in the west village. You could get a plate of pasta and red wine (in a plastic cup) for under 20 bucks. Now it sits shuttered and unused for months.

Anonymous said...

FYI - The Prime (An American Grille) was opened by the DeMiceli's after they closed the NYC location in Hastings-on Hudson and they specialize in burgers.

David Goldsmith said...

To anonymous who wondered who the landlord was:
The owner is listed as 5 East 51 llc which traces to the same office as Noam Management in Brooklyn.

laura r. said...

so again here is the question: where do people eat? next: why didnt landlord give a yearly lease w/4 months notice to move. renewable. maybe the tax break is better than the lower rent?

Anonymous said...

The Prime Burger was the best hamburger and fries in the city. The buns were even good. The decor was awesomely unique and classy in its own way. The waiters were old school. The photo of the now vacant space is horrifying.

Anonymous said...

i was 13 in 1994 when my father took me to new york for the first time. it was the middle of summer and the streets were crowded, noisy, smelly and much more dangerous than today. i loved it at first sight.

i remember one afternoon stopping in here for a late lunch after walking all the way from alphabet city uptown in the muggy heat. i'll never forget how serene it was inside compared to the hustle and din outside, how friendly the counter person was compared to the low-lives and thugs that would stand on corners harassing passers-by.

i remember realizing there are small oases in the city like this one, like bookstores, like record stores that you use strategically to help temper the harshness of it all, to catch your breath, to regain your fortitude in a place where you're always on guard but also absorbing everything constantly.

i moved here the day i finished high school. now almost all those places from that summer 21 years ago are gone and i never have to be on guard. the streets seem silent in comparison. and there's so much less to absorb, it seems.

Riffchorusriff said...

Jeremiah, this would be a great subject to investigate. Seems like there's been too many storefront vacancies for too long all over the five boroughs. We're way past the financial meltdown of 2008, but I feel like I'm counting about the same amount we had then. What do you think?

Screaming Queens Entertainment said...

Rescued Estates was a fun vintage shop on 2nd Ave and 3rd. They shut down... I'm pretty sure over a rent increase... and it sat empty for over a decade. There is something seriously wrong with a financial structure that lets vacancy benefit property owners.

Libby Wilshire said...

I was under the impression that the owners of PB also owned the building...and, honestly, if someone offers you an absurd amount of money for your building, they have a right to sell it. But it is a shame if the new owners originally agreed to allow PB to stay and then changed their minds...

Although $625k in rent is's not as bad as I would have thought. The little card shop in my building on Bway in the upper 80s left when the lease was purported to be $29k/mo....and it wasn't even a quarter the size of PB.