SMALL BUSINESS FOCUS: MANI MARKETPLACE

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By Carol Tannenhauser

Imagine the Upper West Side with no corner delis or neighborhood grocery stores. “It’s only a matter of time,” says Taso Mastakouris. “If nothing changes, small businesses like ours will be gone in 10, 15 years, max.”

Mastakouris is the owner, with his brother Taki, of the 25-year-old Mani Marketplace, on 94th street and Columbus Avenue.

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Taso Mastakouris.

Some of the reasons for his prediction are familiar: “rents, greed, and the cost of doing business in the city.” But Mastakouris also believes the younger generation of shoppers is “different” from the older, “less loyal” to local stores. “They’re Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods shoppers,“ he says. “That’s the trend. So, if a couple of more open up, and, let’s say, Wal-mart comes into the picture, small stores cannot survive.”

Mastakouris is well-positioned to find out. Mani Marketplace is located three blocks south of the Whole Foods that opened on 97th and Columbus in 2009, and one block north of the Trader Joe’s that is expected to open on 93rd and Columbus.

“I don’t know what it is, but those two like to chase each other,” Mastakouris says. “Trader Joe’s is owned by a German family. Whole Foods is a Wall Street company. If they lose money on one location, it doesn’t really matter to them. They’ve got enough to survive for 100 years. A small business doesn’t. Whole Foods took 10 to 15% of my business. Trader Joe’s has got to take more. That’s the way it works. It’s a free economy.”

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When WSR sought suggestions for favorite local businesses to profile in our small-business series, Mani Marketplace appeared several times. Meg G wrote, “I have lived in the neighborhood for over 20 years and have shopped at the wonderful Mani Market for that long. Whole Foods did not run Mani out of business and neither will Trader Joe’s.” “Amazing produce,” wrote Darwin. “…with great prices. And it’s a NEIGHBORHOOD place, the kind where everyone knows your kids & your dogs.”

“My customers are very loyal,” Mastakouris says. “That’s why I’m still here. And I have a decent landlord.” Mani Marketplace is located in a Mitchell-Lama building, but the commercial space is unregulated. “He could raise it a million dollars a day, but he’s fair. He’s not greedy. There’s a line from greediness and not fair, to doing the right thing. He doesn’t give anything away, but he’s fair. In other words, he wants you to succeed.”

And then, there’s the “amazing produce.”

“We buy from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, from the Amish farmers,” Mastakouris says. “No one else in the area carries their quality of produce. It’s five hours away. I have a buyer who goes there and brings me back – like, today, I’m getting fresh cauliflower, broccoli, all the pumpkins, tomatoes, Concord grapes.” Many of the farmers are the same ones his parents bought from for their grocery store in Astoria, Queens, where the brothers grew up, after immigrating from the town of Mani in Greece.

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Mastakouris keeps coming back to the themes of fairness and loyalty. “We are very fair,” he says, “a dollar or two less than D’Agostino and Whole Foods. My broccoli is $2.95; Whole Foods, $3.99. I go in there and think, ‘How can people shop here? The prices!’ The quality’s okay, but people get blinded by specials and they get them on everything else. The way I run my store, everything’s fair price. I don’t put specials. I’m not going to charge you three dollars more on an item just to give you the broccoli on special. That’s how this store works.”

“I don’t expect people to support a store that doesn’t do the right thing in terms of quality and prices,” Mastakouris concludes. “That I understand. But if a store does the right thing for the neighborhood, it should be supported as much as possible. Shop local. There is no other way.”

Photos by Carol Tannenhauser.

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West Side Rag is profiling small businesses, which are disappearing from the neighborhood at an alarming rate. Readers have sent in dozens of suggestions and we’ll be taking a look at several of them over the next few months.

If you have suggestions for other businesses we should profile, please email us.

Cash register photo by Franck Blais.

COLUMNS, FOOD | 54 comments | permalink
    1. UWSHebrew says:

      Best fruit in the area, quality and price wise. Deli counter has good breaded chicken cutlets and breaded cauliflower, price wise very good as well. Taki IS NICE. Only negative thing I’ve purchased was the “fresh orange juice”, which was anything but, so since then I just don’t buy that.

    2. Gracie B. says:

      I love shopping at Mani’s! I will admit that I go to Trader Joe’s for staples such as canned beans, rice, etc., but Mani’s is where I go for the produce, bread and rolls, and milk. They have a great selection, it’s always fresh, and always a good price. Plus, the staff is so friendly and will explain what something is or how to cook it, as well as let you taste something if you’re unsure. It is so nice to have a market like Mani’s in the neighborhood and I love the farmstand-style outdoor area.They have great hours, helpful staff, and a wonderful selection of food. Plus, I find their fresh Italian hero sandwiches at the deli counter to be amazing!

    3. KB says:

      The Coffee!! The Jazz!!

    4. Claire says:

      YES YES and YES !!! This is businesses like that that keep a city like this so human. Thanks for featuring them, they so deserve it. And by the way, they also play great music, not that kind of noise that rushes you out !!

    5. Darwin says:

      Everyone in the area should buy from Mani’s first & then go to the big stores for the small number of items Mani’s doesn’t have. You will be amazed at how much variety & quality exists in this small amazing shop. And yes, I am the recommender noted in this story!

    6. UWS_lifer says:

      I live in the 70’s but I walk all the way there to do my shopping.

      I do all of my shoplifting at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s but I always pay at Mani.:)

      Power to the People!!

    7. Jack says:

      Mani’s is a neighborhood treasure. Every dollar spent there is an investment.

    8. KG says:

      I shopped at Mani when I lived on 93rd street for six years. I’m now on 70th and haven’t found a comparable market in the neighborhood. Everyone is so friendly and the prices are fair. I believe the brothers also own or are involved with Mila Cafe just across the street. MIla is open for breakfast and lunch and has the best and most reasonably priced egg sandwiches in the city. And good/strong coffee! I hope both of these businesses are around for years to come.

    9. Joey says:

      Sorry but Mani Marketplace is dirty, he’s not selling organic produce, and he has no money to give back to the community! I’ll stick with Whole Foods!!

      • UWSHebrew says:

        what does “he has no money to give back to the community”? Why does he have to “give money” to our community? He’s not running a charity, he’s running a business. Whole Foods is good in some respects, but overall their prices (especially for hot food), are very high. Also Whole Foods always shoplifting which is a policy I do not like. I’ve seen so much stealing at Whole Foods and they just let it go. BTW 75% of the shoplifting at Whole Foods that I have seen is from white people.

        • Joey says:

          Whole Foods contributes a large amount of money to local community and national organizations to promote sustainable agriculture, etc., etc. (the list is too long to list here- check their website), so I’d rather shop somewhere that gives back to farmers and worthy organizations. The quality of Whole Foods’ products and Whole Foods policies on what foods to sell surpasses all other retailers (for example they don’t sell anything with artificial flavors or colors). When things are on sale (which is almost always), their prices can’t be beat!!

          • UWSHebrew says:

            hey JOEY you sound like a Whole Foods EMPLOYEE. Either that, or you are a rabid “environmentalist”. Either way, your fanatic support of Whole Foods sounds fishy.

          • Christine E says:

            Mani doesn’t need to give back to the farmers. They are buying directly from the farmers! Small local farmers! And much lower carbon footprint than Whole Foods.

      • ann says:

        They certainly do have organic produce and a great deli counter. I love t h e spinach pie, the quiches the salmon. I live on 96th and go there reglarly.

    10. drg says:

      slitely off topic…

      Very interesting that the the large site of the closed Food City is still vacant, years later… right across the street from Mani’s. Good for him, bad for the neighborhood that could use additional retail of any kind.

      I guess the landlord there is waiting for the right city officials to grease the wheels for a large building at that site??

    11. AJ says:

      Mani have wonderful inexpensive mushrooms and quite nice herbs.

    12. UWSrez92 says:

      Love this place! The deli sandwiches are amax5ing. Cheese selection is great also. The produce is top notch. Really enjoy shopping here.

    13. Sue Susman says:

      Mani’s is great not only for the prices and e,cell entry produce (better than at Wholesale Foods) but because theyou are helpful. They know their foods and what’s best for what you want to prepare. I’m in a wheel, and Taki is always ready to get things for me.

    14. JJJ says:

      I love mani mart. I can go in there and buy a week’s worth of food and eat very well. The prices are very reasonable considering the quality.

      I already supplement Mani Mart with Trader Joe’s. I think Mani Mart is a great complement to TJ’s.

    15. Sherman says:

      Since this marketplace is located in a Mitchell-Lama building the owner is actually subsidizing the tenants of this building.

      Since the rents of the tenants can’t be increased the landlord passes his building expenses onto commercial renters in the form of higher rent.

      This is why so many small businesses can’t exist on the UWS.

      I wish Mr Mastakouris luck with his business but instead of attacking landlords as being “greedy” and “unfair” he should understand the basic economics of a regulated and rigged housing system.

      • Jen says:

        Aren’t you always on the side of greedy and criticizing the wronged ones? Always an excuse for greedy behavior. And God forbid, there’s something the city does for the poor. It is “rigged” to you. But when big buck buy the entire neighborhood, create monopoly and charge crazy prices, then it is fair economy to you.

      • B.B. says:

        There is much more to it than that.

        Several years ago the IRS changed rules about how much income a co-op building can earn from leasing commercial space. Prior to this change most co-op buildings were happy with retail tenants who in whole or part provided income that paid the building’s taxes, mortgage, and so on. This has now changed.

        Now that co-ops can earn more from their commercial spaces and not affect their tax status many have raised rents for said spaces. This is one of the reasons you are seeing so many empty ground floor retail and or long time businesses being forced to close. Places that for years had “cheap” rent were and are being hit with huge increases come renewal.

        So many of these small/mom & pop businesses ran on very small margins, as such they cannot afford huge increases in rent, so they close.

        http://cooperator.com/article/new-options-for-co-ops/full#cut

    16. Carol says:

      I love Mani’s. Nobody and I mean NOBODY can beat his amazing bagels every morning. He doesn’t even have time to put them on the shelf. They sell out right from the bags they are delivered in. As for Trader Joe I think it’s just a rumor. The FOR RENT signs still appear in the windows and no work permits have been posted in the windows.

    17. Carol says:

      To Joey I say “Manis does give back to the community. Every year when we have our Block Association Planting we go to Manis for snacks and beverages and he gives us a discount. Plus he delivers them for free. WF and TJ aren’t going to do that.

      • Joey says:

        That’s not what I meant by giving back to the community. Whole Foods gives millions of $ a year to worthy organizations that promote sustainable agriculture, etc. (check their website for more info). They have HUGE initiatives. No other food retailer can come even close to matching this.

    18. Kelli says:

      Such a great profile. Thank you. We live less than 50 steps from Mani Mart and use it like our pantry. Service and products are always great. My 4-year-old searches for the mini cart when we go in. Prices, quality, people … shopping small works for us.

    19. Judy Hbole Suratt says:

      Î’ve lived on 93rd between Columbus and Amsterdam for over forty years,and I would die without Mani Market. Beyond the produce they’ve got the best fish in the neighborhood.

    20. Ju says:

      Ditto this!! Everyone in the area loves the secret of Mani 😉
      How can we spread the word, as opposed to just preaching to the choir?

    21. JimD says:

      One of the things we miss most from our old apartment on 95th and CPW is Mani. It felt like a small town market were they knew all their customers. They even used to keep (and may still do) a credit ledger for some of thier long-time customers where you could pick things up and they would “put it on your tab” and let you pay up at the end of the week/month. Hope they last a loong time!

    22. Nancy stiefel says:

      Thanks for profiling mani’s. You should also know that they are unfailingly kind to people in the neighborhood. They treat everyone with respect. The people they employ are good humored. There’s always laughter.They play good jazz, softly. There’s no place like it.

    23. uwsresident says:

      Dear WSR,

      Thank you for this small business focus profile. I live in the neighborhood a couple of blocks away but never really had a need to walk that way (always stopped at Amsterdam & 93rd). Will be making a trip to Mani’s and hope to make it a fixture in my routine.

      Thanks.

    24. Jms says:

      Interesting and IMO accurate observation that younger residents prefer corporate stores Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods to small/local

      Ironic and sad too that although many will say they seek local and authentic, in actuality they are fully immersed in support of the big corporate sector whether Trader Joe or Uber or Chipotle or H&M etc

      Another aspect is that younger residents tend to have been raised in the suburbs, used to chains like Whole Foods or Target

    25. Steen says:

      Best Portuguese rolls in the city. Love their bread and the rolls are the best.

    26. tostonesfix says:

      I thank the grocery gods for Mani every day. Sometimes they don’t have what I need but almost always they do. I wish they could expand. I would do more of my shopping there if they had more to offer. As a place to get ingredients for tonight’s dinner, it can’t be beat. The neighborhood would take a huge step down without Mani.

    27. Mark says:

      I like Mani’s, though I wish like the Korean grocery shops they were open 24/7. It’s true, their produce is great and less expensive the Whole Foods. And Trader Joe’s produce is garbage. The only thing TJ is good for is packaged, prepared foods.

      No one mentioned Mila Cafe across the street. Isn’t their ownership the same? The quality of their food is amazing and the prices are shockingly reasonable.

    28. Joyce Rowe says:

      The Mani brothers are terrific shopkeepers and so fair and friendly. Completely trustworthy about quality and price. They also have wonderful coffee that comes up from the Porto Rican coffee company on Bleeker Street. Everything they sell is first quality. Long may they thrive.

    29. Mary says:

      Thanks for such a great profile. I’ve lived nearby for 20+ years and have shopped at Mani Market several times a week ever since. Taso, Taki and all of their employees are very nice and helpful. Mani Market is the type of small business we need to stay in the neighborhood, which is beginning to look like anywhere USA.

    30. Lola Stanton says:

      It’s a lovely little market.Fresh fruit,unusual cheeses, good deli offerings, friendly staff. What else to ask for???

    31. adami says:

      normally I wouldn’t post just to repeat what everyone else is saying but here I make an exception. We shopped there daily when we lived nearby, and both of our kids grew up, grabbing organic peanut butter and Newman-O’s as they rolled down the narrow aisles in a stroller. A few days after my son was born, i stumbled in looking for groceries and Taki handed me a sixpack of Guinness, on the house. “Good for breastfeeding,” he nodded. But I think he knew I needed it more.

    32. Andrew Coyne says:

      Normally economics dictates that convenience has a price. Taki goes against that grain. He has great stuff at great prices. Secret: fresh roasted turkey…the best!

    33. John C says:

      WSR, I know this is the first in a series but why no mention of SBJSA (Small Business Jobs Survival Act). Which could help to address some of the problems Mani Marketplace faces and others. Although our own Helen Rosenthal is a sponsor of this bill it has been stalled in the city council for two years without she or anyone else moving it along.

    34. TM says:

      Want to echo all the positive comments about Mani above. We have lived in this neighborhood for 3 years and love the neighborhood feel of Mani. At the end of a long day, a smile and a nod helps you realize you are home.

    35. Mark Moore says:

      Whole Foods may have hurt their bottom line but surely the loss of Food City helped it some.

      I just bought a pumpkin there yesterday. The produce outside on the street is good. But the store and just about everything inside is filthy.

    36. Mark Moore says:

      I wish the brothers well and would be sad to see Mani close. I just bought a pumpkin there yesterday for Halloween. However, the store is not clean. It just isn’t.

    37. John Haracopos says:

      I love Mani Marketplace…. I love Trader Joes, I don’t feel that the Mani market is in competition with them. I shop both stores and will continue to. Anybody shopping at Whole Foods doesn’t understand value or quality and probably wouldn’t shop at Mani….