Family-owned shop Jim's Shoe Repair has been a Midtown and Upper East Side staple for 74 years, but it could have just over two months of life left on 59th Street between Madison and Fifth... unless the judge who heard its case today rules in its favor. A little background first: Jim's landlordbig developer SL Greenis giving the institution the heave-ho to allow an already-big neighboring Duane Reade to add an extra aisle. Jim's has hired lawyers, started petitions, and applied to get a landmark designation in order to stop it, but the Landmarks Preservation Commission deemed them unworthy of a full hearing. So Jim's owners sued.
Today, Jim's, represented by Michael Smith and Alexander Preller of the firm Bickel & Brewer, went before a Supreme Court judge. Landmarks Preservation Commission's protocol is that staff will research a site in question, and then issue an advisory report to the LPC chairperson, then Robert Tierney, who will decide whether or not the case will be heard before the full commission. A letter from the LPC dated October 4, 2013 stated that the shoe repair shop's public areas do not "have significant architectural features to meet the criteria for designation" and that the private area (the old-school back of the shop where the repair work is done) is not even eligible.
Lawyers representing the city said procedure was followed, and that there is a four month statute of limitation for appeal. The court action was initiated in April of this year. Smith claimed that the LPC violated state law and commission procedure when it denied them a hearing. He said that the law "requires the Landmarks Preservation Commission to act in an open manner" and that since there were no minutes provided to his client, the statute of limitation doesn't apply. Judge Paul Wooten asked the city counsel if she had a document that mentioned the chair by name in the decision and none could be provided. Smith said outside the courtroom that "delegated authority" should not be allowed to insulate the commission from being transparent in its decision making.
Wooten will take the parties' arguments under consideration and issue a ruling. But if he doesn't rule before September 30, it may all be moot. That's the date that Jim's lease is up. Jim's manager Joseph Rocco, Jr., whose grandfather founded the shop in 1932 (back then it was across the street), said, "We would not want to leave that neighborhood." They are looking at other locations in the area, but he said rents are quite high. If they do relocate, they're confident their devoted shoe-repair customers will follow. But their current location also gives them a brisk shoe-shine business, for business types, and they're not sure that would follow, too.
—Evan Bindelglass is a local freelance journalist, photographer, cinephile, and foodie. You can e-mail him, follow him on Twitter @evabin, or check out his personal blog.
· Jim's Shoe Repair [Official]
· Jim's Shoe Repair coverage [Curbed]