Beloved Tailor Closes Shop As Others Nearby Fight to Hang on: ‘Shop Small!’

Eddie Ugras and son during his move-out last weekend. Photo: Paul Jeromack.

By Joy Bergmann

For 40 years, custom tailor Eddie Ugras helped Upper West Siders take it in and let it out – shortening, shaping, fitting and retrofitting wardrobes to meet their most exacting specifications. Customers called him a “master surgeon”, a “rock star”, a “hero” capable of working miracles on a tuxedo just hours before a wedding.

But this past weekend, Ugras, 74, packed up his tape measure and left his 290 square foot shop on the third floor of 125 West 72nd Street for good.

“I decided not to renew my lease,” he tells WSR. “I decided to let it go.” Urgas says his rent was $2,500 a month, plus approximately $3,000 a year to cover his portion of annual increases to the building’s real estate taxes – as is typical with commercial leases.

Ugras isn’t calling this next phase a retirement – yet – but he is taking a break and figuring things out from his New Jersey home. “I don’t know how I feel about this situation,” he says. “Some of my kids say I should retire. Others say if I retire I will get old. I’m energetic and act younger than I am.”

News of the closure took some customers by surprise.

“I was stunned. Eddie’s such a fixture in the neighborhood. I’ve used him since I moved up here in 1984,” says Paul Jeromack. “It just kills me that such an important service is gone. There are no tailors that I know of that are just tailors, not dry cleaners who do alterations.”

Ugras says the building’s landlords – the Hiller family – are “good people” who were kind and collaborative. However, making the rent was a challenge. “If they’d have given me a better deal, I might’ve stayed another couple years,” he says. “That’s life in New York City.”

Other tenants in the building are similarly concerned about rising costs and the viability of running an UWS retail operation in the digital age.

Ugras’s former building hosts multiple small businesses including Stationery & Toy.

“Amazon is killing us,” says Donna Schofield who has owned and operated Stationery & Toy World since 1986. Back then there were no online competitors and her rent was around $5,500 a month. Now it is $20,000 a month. Schofield also pays thousands more annually to cover a percentage of the annual increase in property taxes charged to the landlord by the City.

To make the business work, Schofield says she’s cut corners including changing her insurance provider, working more hours herself and buying more merchandise directly from producers.

While some residents may like the convenience of ordering toys, office supplies and groceries from online giants, Schofield asks them to consider the shortsightedness of that strategy. She says local shops offer immediate access to goods and services — access that might disappear without local support. “Where will you go when you need something right away?”

She adds that it pays to browse shops like hers to compare prices. “Amazon’s not always cheaper.” But it seems not enough people are stopping in to find that out, let alone experience what personal service can be like.

During our conversation, Schofield simultaneously attended to myriad customers’ needs. A man traveling to England asked about a power adapter; she grabbed one from a high shelf and wished him a good trip. A nanny purchased a Playmobil set for a boy under her care; Schofield pointed out they’d just received a new horse-themed set, had she spotted it as well? A woman needed olive envelopes; Schofield had just the right shade of green.

New Yorker writer Jeffrey Toobin called the store one of his favorites during a recent WSR interview, “Whatever you’re looking for, they always have.”

Schofield’s eyes swelled with tears when asked about the future of Stationery & Toy and her three full-time employees. “I think I can hold my own. But I don’t know for how long.” Her message to Upper West Siders? “Shop small, shop local. It’s really important for the neighborhood.”

Donna Schofield has operated her 72nd Street shop since 1986

Paul Jeromack says losing Eddie Ugras was bad enough. “I love the fact that Stationery & Toy is still there. God, I don’t want anything to happen to them.”

The building’s landlord, Jeff Hiller, says he shares that sentiment. “We want every tenant to stay. We always try to work something out to keep them. We’re tremendously reasonable.”

Jason Hiller, Jeff’s son and the man running day-to-day operations, added, “We’ve had great relationships. We never look to squeeze people.”

Reasonable people can disagree about what’s reasonable. But it’s clear that the financial risks faced by small businesspeople are considerable and climbing.

Eddie Ugras seems content to have left those concerns behind. The immigrant from Istanbul is proud of what he built from his tiny shop.

“To do a good business on the third floor, you have to be a good tailor,” he says. “99.9% of my customers, they love me a lot.” Some regulars burst into tears when they learned he was leaving. “People say, ‘How can you move? How can you move?’ It happens.”

During his career, he worked six days a week, sometimes 18 hours a day, but says it was worth it. “I raised four children from that business. And guess what? All four of them: Doctors. Three MDs and one PhD.”

Ugras hasn’t decided if he’ll do private consultations or even open another shop after he takes a breather. The Hiller family says they would welcome him back to their properties any time. So perhaps we haven’t seen the last of him.

“I love the Upper West Side,” Urgas laughs. “My favorite place in the world!”

NEWS, OPEN/CLOSED | 57 comments | permalink
    1. Liam Mac says:

      It’s easy for landlords to raise rents. If they don’t receive what they are asking, they use the vacancy as a tax write-off. They know a corporate box store or drug store will eventually move in. It really is a shame.

      • Sherman says:

        I’m a CPA and what you’re saying makes zero sense and you should stop ranting ignorant nonsense.

        That said, it’s sad to see a small business close or struggle but the world changes. A business that might have thrived thirty years ago might struggle today.

        • Cato says:

          — “you should stop ranting ignorant nonsense.”

          You may disagree with the poster, you may even believe the poster is wrong. But the posted comment, even if incorrect, was not at all “ranting”.

          And would you prefer if the poster wrote about *well informed* nonsense?

        • T says:

          Please then lend us your CPA experience and explain why rents are skyrocketing, decimating our neighborhoods !

          • Woody says:

            CPAs are not economic or social scientists who explain results. They just report results.

            Haven’t we already beaten this dead horse enough? Landlords have no societal obligation to rent their property according to anyone’s interests but their own long-term investment perspective. When they fall on hard times because the RE market tanks (like it did years ago) will you step in and help them out? I’ll answer for you: NO. If you think it’s so easy and simple to own property, try it yourself. Seriously, some of you act like we live in some small town in Nebraska.

          • Sherman says:

            @ T

            It’s all a big conspiracy !

            Sherm

      • Woody says:

        A vacancy does not generate a tax write-off.

        • Bronx Boy says:

          It lowers income. The tax bill does go down, but it’s not a write-off.

          Agree with the praise below for Stationery and Toys, I never order online for that kind of stuff.

      • B flat says:

        Hi Liam, I don’t think the situation is quite that simple, there are other factors in play, lowering rent can affect the building’s value or loan terms. I’m not articulate about this stuff at all, but this article is very thoughtful and informative.
        https://citylimits.org/2017/12/05/diagnosing-nycs-vacant-storefront-problem/

    2. Small businesses in our community struggle against chains, retail Internet and rents, including lease renewals. On the other hand, faulty zoning practices threaten to change everything in spite of us on 3 simultaneous fronts (AMNH, 200 Amsterdam and West 66th Street’s ABC campus). Choose your battle(s). Speak out, join up, vote, persist.

    3. John says:

      There’s another very expensive tailor on West 74th

    4. Deborah says:

      Donna is terrific. They always have a wonderful collection of pens. Say NO to Amazon and the big box stores to preserve the character of our neighborhood and our city.

    5. Patricia Gilman says:

      I am sad about Stationary and Toy but glad they are still there. I have always found what I needed.

    6. Chris says:

      So sorry I never knew about Eddie before. Please announce it if he returns!
      I love West Side Rag!

    7. Sue says:

      OMG! I LOVE Eddie! He is one of the kindest, gentlest, funniest souls.

      I wish him all the best in whatever’s next.

      Hard to believe the kids are grown. I remember them as toddlers.. So long Eddie. You will be missed!!!

      Susan ABC

    8. arne says:

      It is all so disturbing. I cannot keep track of the comings and goings of the stores, both here and the UES. I see people in my building getting toilet paper sent in from AMAZON. What are they thinking? The same holds true for pet supplies. You have one cat or dog, how much are you going to save by not shopping locally? Of course, the whole idea is to not interact with people. I think the money is less of an issue.

      • UWSHebrew says:

        the less I’m on line at a market buying things, the better. nevermind having to carry groceries home. i am one of those “amazon toilet paper” deliveries, and it’s wonderful.

        • TPfromAmazon says:

          Agreed. Shopping for groceries and supplies is not how I want to spend my free time so the convenience and cost effectiveness of Amazon is too good to pass up. I can’t make financial/lifestyle choices in this dog eat dog society based solely on keeping local vendors in business. I’ve got my own sanity and pocketbook to manage! Its a brave new world out there.

          • dannyboy says:

            “Brave New World is a dystopian novel written in 1931 by English author Aldous Huxley, and published in 1932.” Wikipedia

            So many of the Comments written on West Side Rag just assume a declining future and the writer plans the future from there.

            I find that incomprehensible, given that WSR is a neighborhood blog for the UWS. Many of the commenters here lived here when there were problems in the neighborhood that needed attention. Those problems were solved with vision, not resignation.

            Why all the cynicism now?

      • Susan says:

        I totally understand the need to shop locally and support it. But I, for one, thank goodness that I can get pet supplies delivered. I had 3 cats until recently and two of them have a condition that causes them to drink copious amounts of water. That means I go through 4-5 20-lb boxes of litter each week. I used to struggle with hauling cat litter the 3 blocks from Associated, plus all their food. I understand shopping locally and do for everything else (including toilet paper!). But delivery has been a God-send because I’m in my seventies.

      • EricaC says:

        I’m with you on the toilet paper. On the pet food, I can’t carry it – I tried ordering from the neighborhood pet shop, but I kept finding they would be out of what I needed. I’ve compromised on ordering from Fresh Direct, which is a neighborhood store, after all.

      • Genius boy UWS says:

        I can understand your frustration regards to the pet foods but when a local retailer does not listen to you on the kind of pet food your feeding your dog or cat and do not stock the product where else can you go?
        Plus times are changing it’s a whole new generation, “pushbutton buying”. Easier and faster and you get what looking for and you get it next day at your door step at no charge and five/ten dollars cheaper than the local store. Why can’t the local store do this? Most likely it’s the overhead and the choice their supplier could supply them with. Yes, we do need to come up with a solution to keep our local stores open but times are changing. Maybe local stores should start thinking what the customers needs are….Only the essentials and not just another drycleaner or deli or coffee shop. Think about it…What people want today ??? How about a better laundry mat and cleaner, technology friendly? And not just a bodega with old stale food that no one buys that sits on the shelves and waste a way that people don’t wanna even look at! These type of storage go look at Zabar’s for a example. I see the best turn around here on the west side coming our way is a bakery out of Chelsea called “Billy‘s Bakery” and you can bet your life they’ll be lines around the corner when they open in November. We don’t need another pizza joint or a bar or some weird restaurant that’s serves weird foods…. we need better technology high end supermarkets. We need clean creative stores that people want to go to…and maybe we have too many stores…more than what we really need. It could be that some of the stores from yesteryear are on the way out and no longer needed in todays world. The store owner who are going to open up a store should do their homework. Come see what that neighborhood needs are. Go into other neighborhoods and other boroughs and look for long lines would be a first step and be CREATIVE!
        The greedy landlords Mus understand this as well…

        Think about it!!
        What people want and not what a store owner wants.
        BE CREATIVE…WHAT TODAYS CUSTOMER WANT

    9. Adam says:

      This story holds true for all self owned & small businesses everywhere. While computers have helped advance so much in the world, it has also hurt in so many ways. Like shopping with big companies online. It’s hurt the newspaper & magazine industry, and so many other facets. I myself live on my computer, as most of us do, so it’s hard to not fall prey to being a part of it as well. I was talking to a friend last week who has owned a bar since the mid 80’s. It used to be a thriving business, as a bar was the place where people went to meet others. He explained that the business is not what it used to be by any means. That with phone aps like Grinder, people would rather look for companions/hookups there instead of spending the time, effort & money to go out to a bar or club to do it the old fashioned way. When we now walk down busy avenues like Columbus, Amsterdam & Broadway & see more then 1 store vacant between each city block, know that a chunk of that reason is how in some way, the Internet has been the cause for that. Not protesting computers, as I stated, I live on mine. I guess it’s just the nature of the beast & as time goes on & new technology continues to grow, this problem will only get worse

    10. Joseph Nawy says:

      Eddie is a gem. His demeanor has always been friendly and welcoming and his work has been perfect. He seemed to know what was needed before I did and major alterations he handled with ease and no fanfare. He is the best. Things change and I hope Eddie finds this next chapter in his life just as rewarding whatever her chooses. He deserves it.

    11. Ruby Gottlieb says:

      If Eddie is reading this please know or family will miss you very much. Please be sure to let everyone know somehow if you come back to the West side.

    12. Harold says:

      Another nail in the coffin of what was once a great neighborhood.
      I will miss this shop as I still miss the Allstate Cafe, Webers,and countless others.

      • Sue says:

        Just yesterday I said how much I missed Allstate!

        Also miss WestSide market, Lincoln Plaza Cinema, Big Nick’s, Niko’s, Zen Palate etc etc.

        And I’m so sad about the impending closing of Prisewise.

    13. Genius boy UWS says:

      Something has to be done to stop these greedy SOB commercial landlords… some type of regulation for small businesses owners and shops of our local stores must be established and protected by these greedy low life scum bags, commercial landlords must be stopped… Don’t they see it… there are all empty stores up and down the main avenues of the upper West side. Who in the hell do they think who’s going to move in them? I seen this back in the mid 60s when the upper West side was a banded and everybody went to the Eastside now I see it coming back again but the people who live here will not support high price stores yes things have changed and now we buy things online. But before these greedy landlords throw out who they already have renting their establishment they should realize if they get rid of them they have nothing nothing on their dinner plate to show who they replaced there store too and that greedy landlord will be out of business. These greedy landlords better get with the times and the city to! For now you’ll see more empty stores and nothing to replace them with here on the upper West side.

      • Jeff Berger says:

        With respect “Genius Boy”, if you read the article, you might have noticed was the common denominator of high property taxes. You see, there is a consequence of raising taxes. Not everyone can pay them, and if they get to high, businesses will close and people will leave That is why I decided to rent out my condo on W86th street and move to middle Tennessee. Low taxes and low cost of living. Here in Tennessee jobs are being created hand over fist because of the low taxes. See how that works! If you want more jobs and more businesses, cut taxes. You might not have your happy progressive land world where all problems are solved by the government, but you will have more jobs. Then, you might have less problems. See how that works.

        • dannyboy says:

          Jeff,

          Many of us choose to live in NYC because of our city’s strong social values. We don’t resent sharing some of our prosperity with those who need a hand up. That’s how a healthy society works.

          Others, prefer to earn profits in their NYC residence and take them out of state. Here’s who they are:
          “Tennessee made a bid (again) to become the nation’s most socially conservative state by voting on bills regarding school prayer, sex education, climate change and abortion.

          Lots of legislatures devoted lots of time this year to social issues. But perhaps no other state was so transfixed by them as Tennessee.

          Bills introduced in the state this year touched on nearly every hot-button social issue out there: school prayer, public displays of the Ten Commandments, a proposal to publish the names of doctors who provide abortions, a so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill that would have prevented teachers from discussing homosexuality, and the imposition of fines on students who dress in an “indecent manner,” which became known as the saggy pants law.

          Not all those measures became law, but Tennessee bills regarding the teaching of “controversies” surrounding evolution and climate science or barring any discussion of “gateway sex activity” that might be arousing in sex education class provided fodder for TV comedians and out-of-state newspaper editorial writers.”
          http://www.governing.com/topics/education/gov-social-issues-overshadow-tennessee.html

      • B.B. says:

        Did you read the article?

        ““I decided not to renew my lease,” he tells WSR. “I decided to let it go.” Urgas says his rent was $2,500 a month, plus approximately $3,000 a year to cover his portion of annual increases to the building’s real estate taxes – as is typical with commercial leases.”

        How about getting the city to lower taxes on commercial properties? No one talks about that because it is bringing in all the cash mayor and city council are spending like water.

        Being as this may, have said this before and am doing so again; there is a natural limit to sales per square foot for any business.

        Tailors, laundries, and other small businesses are caught between a rock and hard place.

        OTOH you have in many instances a declining market for their goods/services. The other side is competition from online. All this in a city where real estate taxes and costs continue to rise year to year.

        Mr. Ugras situation is also hampered by the sort of service provided. The man works with his hands and as such there are limits to amount of work that can be done in any given day.

      • James says:

        So your logic is that the greedy landlord is throwing old businesses out so that the shops can sit empty and they get no money at all?

    14. Kevin says:

      WSR – this was a very nice piece and made me stop and want to shop at more of the small stores in the neighborhood. Maybe make this a weekly feature to highlight a neighborhood store/restaurant/deli and tell the story of who they are and how they run their store.

    15. Gretchen says:

      The so-called “retail apocalypse” is happening all over the country. In NYC, according to a recent Crain’s article, there is a 20% retail vacancy rate throughout the city. Gail Brewer took a count on the UWS, and found 188 empty storefronts just on Broadway alone. Overall, the causes are numerous and complicated — yes, they include the obvious — Amazon’s overreach and the rising rents/shorter leases, but there are other factors involved, such as changing shopping habits, millennials who are more invested in experiential purchases, and other factors. Maybe it’s time to re-purpose some of these vacant spaces and look into zoning changes as well.

    16. Big Earl says:

      When I first saw the picture I thought, Wow Bill Gates is just chilling on the street.

      • Genius boy UWS says:

        Haha!
        I know Bill Gates and he would do something like that. I wwill send him a copy of the photo. Unfortunately he will not like the story that goes with it.

    17. Geppetto says:

      Stationery and Toy World is a local treasure. The staff on the floor know their toys, make useful recommendations, and –this seems to be rarer and rarer– actually want to be helpful. And once you’re ready to make your purchase, Donna Schofield at the register always has a bright smile and a happy word.

      • lynn says:

        I always shop here for toys, gift wrap, stationary, and paint supplies. Sometimes they have one of a kind items tucked away on the top shelves and the employees are friendly and helpful about looking for what you need. I wish there was something we could do to help boost sales there as I prefer not to shop online and don’t know what I’d do if I had to go all the way downtown for these things.

      • lynn says:

        Hmm, my first reply in this thread seems to have disappeared so I’ll add this here. I love this store and they’ve always come through for me with hard to find items, whether it’s toys, paint/art supplies, or stationary and party goods. The staff goes out of their way to help and they don’t hesitate to check their stock or reach something off the highest shelf.

        As for the toys, they have an amazing selection for both boys and girls and I prefer to see what I’m buying, rather than getting an Amazon package with a doll or Transformer that’s 1/8 the size of what I expected.

        The staff make you feel like a valued customer. I can name at least 5 ‘small businesses’ in the neighborhood who do NOT go out of their way to help customers, which is why this is important to me. I hope she’ll be around for a long time!

    18. Mark Moore says:

      Albee’s had a crib we wanted at the same price we could have bought it for at one of the big box stores in Jersey or online. But at Albee’s the salesperson was happy to answer all our questions, and then they delivered it and also assembled it for free, then took all the packaging with them on the way out. Shop small indeed.

      • Woody Johnson says:

        “and then they delivered it and also assembled it for free, then took all the packaging with them on the way out.”

        Did you make sure to tip the men who did all that?

    19. Sean says:

      Capitalism mandates that consumers seek out and find the best price available for a product. That’s our system.

    20. So sad to learn this! Eddie, we will miss you.
      We hope your next years are as satisfying for you and your family as your past years have been a boon for us. The best to you from Michael and Ivan. One tiny problem; I have this zipper that needs….

    21. James says:

      I paid $149 for a toy for my Son at Stationary Toy on 72nd Street. It came in a dusty and beat up box from being on the shelf for so long. I wanted an accompanying toy from the same set but they did not have it.

      I went home and Walmart was offering 2-day free shipping for exactly the same toy at $109. Turns out $149 was higher even than the MSRP on the manufacturer’s website. They had every other toy in the collection.

      Shopping small is great, but retail items shouldn’t charged at a 37% premium. That’s basically price gauging me for going to the store in the first place. It’s not like I got to open and play with the toy or any other intangible benefit. The store is small, cramped, dusty, and severely overpriced for everything.

      Small Businesses can thrive in this economy, even with Amazon, by focusing on the customer experience and by trying to bridge gap with the online world. Special events, memberships and discount programs can all help support sales. How is it possible that we have multiple new book sellers in the neighborhood when that industry was first supposed to succumb to Barnes and Noble (which still survives) and second succumbed to Amazon.

      A Small Business owner who wants to survive needs to modernize their concept and compete. Just blaming it on rent… even if it’s truly the #1 driver, is just sour grapes because all the complaining in the world isn’t going to change a thing.

      I’m willing to pay a bit more for immediate needs, but 37%? Sorry Stationary, if you go out of business I will certainly be sad, but I won’t be surprised.

      • B.B. says:

        You are missing the point entirely.

        Walmart and other online *can* charge lower prices because they lack the overhead costs of physical retail.

        You don’t think Ms. Schofield and other small retail don’t know their prices are higher than online competition?

        Even if Stationery & Toy lowered their prices to match online, they likely do or could not move enough merchandise to make their money on volume.

        As for the dust or whatever, well that is another matter. Everything else is what it is; and explains why physical retail not just in NYC but elsewhere is having hard times.

        Finally it is a well known secret that *everything* cost more in NYC (especially Manhattan), than elsewhere. High taxes, labor, utility, and other costs simply make it so.

        For decades New Yorkers put up with conditions on ground because they had few other options. Now they do (online), and again that is why physical retail is having bad times.

        • Mark Moore says:

          Walmart lacks the overhead cost of physical retail?

          • B.B. says:

            Did you read the above?

            Person didn’t go to a local Walmart store (of which there aren’t any in NYC), but online. https://www.walmart.com/

            Leaving all that aside Walmart’s physical stores likely would have things cheaper than Stationery & Toy, or any other small business. That is just how Walmart rolls.

            Am not going to recite chapter and verse as to *why* Walmart prices are so low; that should be common knowledge by now. This and or easily researched.

            Irony is large numbers of NYC residents, retail worker unions, and politicians fought for years to keep Walmart (or any other big box store) from opening. Growth of online retail has made all that moaning rather moot.

            Indeed Walmart may have dodged a huge bullet by *NOT* opening large store in the city. They are doing very well with online sales which carry far less costs/overhead.

    22. Barbra says:

      All of these small businesses going under saddens me to no end, plus the amount of packaging Amazon creates is appalling. This is supposed to be a politically powerful neighborhood, and yet no one is really stepping up to offer some kind of relief. Except for it’s wonderful museums and other culture, the neighborhoods won’t have much to offer. If anyone knows how to contact Eddie Ugras, please contact me. I have a place he might consider, though it’s smaller.

    23. Margaret says:

      Donna! you look WONDERFUL!! Miss you as much as I miss the whole Upper West SIde … ;-(

    24. Jeff says:

      If it’s not a tax write off, then how does it make sense for spaces to remain vacant for years after a restaurant closes due to increased rent? E.g., PDO Hurley’s and Dallas BBQ, both on 72 st.

      • rebuff says:

        That’s an easy and glaringly obvious answer. The buildings are generating a positive cash flow even with the vacant units. Believe me, if they weren’t, those spaces would be rented very quickly at reduced rents. Not that tough to figure out.

    25. Jeff hiller says:

      There was no mention of the fact that we offered to lower the rent to enable him to stay . His son told us months ago that he was retiring. We would be more than happy to have him remain at a reduced rent but , from what his son told us , the rent was not the issue .

      • B.B. says:

        You’re talking to bricks. It is impossible to drown out the mantra that *all* commercial landlords are “EVIL”.

        If or when any business closes it *MUST* be the fault of some “greedy” LL raising rents on a poor defenseless small business owner who has no where to turn for assistance.

    26. B.B. says:

      Forty years ago Eddie Ugras could have picked up a townhouse/brownstone on UWS for nearly nothing. Put his shop in basement/ground floor and lived above.

      Fast forward to today he’d be sitting pretty. Not only owning property that has greatly appreciated in value, but “high rent” wouldn’t have forced him to close his business.

      Notice many of the small businesses that are holding on did the smart thing back in day; they bought the building.

      Zabar’s isn’t going anywhere until or unless the family decides to sell out not just their business, but the property as well.

      • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

        bought abrownstone for “nearly nothing”? maybe “nearly nothing” to you was a lot to a freelance tailor.