Neighbors Rally Around Beloved Tailor Who is Losing Her Shop

By Carol Tannenhauser

Loyal customers are mobilizing to help a local tailor whose lease is not being renewed after 14 years at 200 West 89th Street, between Amsterdam and Broadway.

The landlord says he needs the basement space that Kim’s Custom Tailor currently occupies, in order to rent the retail space above and adjacent to it, which has been vacant since Papa John’s closed in January 2017.

“The basement space of the former Papa John’s is very limited,” explained Jason Glick, vice president of Mautner-Glick Corporation, which manages the building. It was sold to Glick’s clients last summer. “We plan to add a stairwell between the ground floor and basement of the building, which will dramatically improve the vacant space for a future tenant and provide more options for possible tenants.”

Kim’s only options are to relocate or retire.

“When my lease was almost finished, the old building owner said, ‘You get lease from new building owner,’” she explained, in an interview in her subterranean shop. As she spoke, she sewed. “I asked new landlord and he said, ‘No, this place we’re not renting.’ One of my customers is a lawyer. He called new owner and got it extended to the end of February.”

That gives Kim three months to find a space in the neighborhood that is the size she needs, at a rent she can afford.

“I’m looking for an empty store on Broadway or Amsterdam,” she said. “$5,000 is my maximum, and I need at least 500 square feet, because we do dry cleaning, too. Rent here is very low, because is basement: $2,600. If you go to Amsterdam Avenue, $7,500; Broadway over $10,000. If I can’t get it cheaper, I’m closing.”

“It will be a real loss if Kim can’t find any space on the UWS because rent has become too high for a regular store owner,” emailed Cora Velasco, one of several customers supporting Kim. “She provides not only wonderful professional services that are expertly completed, but her store is the epitome of a ‘friendly neighborhood’ shop. She is always willing to do what she can to help a friend which many of her clients become. No job is too big or too small for her. She treats each piece of work just as she does each client—fairly and with care.”

This is the second time in 20 years that Kim has lost her lease and had to move. She had a shop on Amsterdam for six years, but her lease there was not renewed in 2004. “I put up a sign, ‘I’m closing soon,’” she recalled, “and one of my customers came to me and said, ‘Oh! There’s an empty store in this basement.’”

Today’s customers are taking a more targeted approach. They’re reaching out to brokers and hoping to convince Kim to use one, though she fears it’s too expensive.

“I see a sign, I call myself, right away,” she said. “I looked from 96th to 70th, they don’t have. I don’t want to retire. What would I do? I want to work!” Kim’s is open six days a week, from seven to seven. She has one employee who picks up and delivers. “I love the Upper West Side,” she added. Now 62, she has lived in a small apartment above her shop for many years. (She is not in danger of losing it.) “The neighborhood is beautiful and safe and I love my customers very much.”

Another of them, Janet Levy, shared the following story:

“I once had a dress that needed a last minute alteration before leaving for an out-of-town wedding and she took the garment knowing she had to tend to it immediately. And without my asking, later that evening, she delivered it to my home knowing that I would be rushing to pick it up in the morning. Just one example of her personal attention to all of her clientele. She is so hardworking and special.”

Kim came to America from South Korea 30 years ago, after divorcing at the age of 32. She had no children. For awhile, she lived with her sister in New Jersey, then with roommates in Queens. “I didn’t speak English and I didn’t have any skills, so I got a job in a sewing factory on Eighth Avenue,” she said. “They teach me, because at that time it was hard to find workers. I learned the machine and after that, I entered manufacturing, so I see all the cutting and draping. I worked a long time there.” At night, she studied English and attended the Fashion Institute of Technology. “Then, the manufacturer’s business started going down, so I got an alteration shop.

“I saw an advertisement that the guy was selling the shop so I bought it,” she continued. “I was so happy. He sell the store very cheap, $20,000, for the equipment. I saved enough working 10 years in the factories. It was named Kim’s. I’m not a Kim. My name is Joong Choi. I wanted to keep the customers, that’s why I don’t change the name.”

As we spoke, she continued to sew.

“What are you working on,” I asked.

“I just put in a new zipper.”

“I’m having so much trouble with my coat,” I complained. “All the buttons are loose.”

“Give it to me,” she said.

“But I have to wear it home…”

“I can do right now.”

And she did.

Thanks to Katie Levine for bringing Joong Choi’s dilemma to our attention — and for leading the search for a new location for Kim’s Custom Tailor. “We know so many other Upper West Siders who are trying to help her,” Levine emailed. “We thought if we could share her story on the Rag, it may help her to somehow keep her business and livelihood operational.”

Read all of our Small Business Focus stories here.

COLUMNS, NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 34 comments | permalink
    1. Bruce E. Bernstein says:

      thank you Carol Tannenhauser for making the relentless attack on small businesses on the UWS and throughout Manhattan so real, so personal, so touching.

      Yes, that is what it is, an economic attack, against both these businesses, their owners, their workers, and their customers.

      People like Joong Choi need legislative protection. It is in the interests of the city to do so.

      • Sherman says:

        Hi Bruce

        As always you’re very generous with everyone’s money but your own.

        I’m sorry this woman is being pushed out of her space but the space belongs to the landlord and it is ultimately the landlord’s decision what to do with his property.

        Besides, even Ms Kim states that there’s empty space available on other parts of the UWS and she might move her business there.

        Perhaps you should put your sanctimony aside and invest in commercial real estate and lease your property to the business willing to pay you the least in rent.

        Sherm

        • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

          Sherman is using one of his favorite debating tactics: to try to discredit a progressive point of view by casting the person who is advocating for that view as personally hypocritical. In this case, he accuses me of being generous with “everyone else’s money” and also asks, “why don’t i invest in commercial real estate” and lease the space to people like Ms. Choi?

          first of all, Sherman simply distorts the situation. Sherman said:

          “even Ms Kim states that there’s empty space available on other parts of the UWS and she might move her business there.”

          this is a surprise? that there is empty space on the UWS? or that Ms. Choi is looking for new space? that is what the whole article is about.

          but Sherman leaves out a crucial point: that she can’t afford the rates that are being listed.

          “I’m looking for an empty store on Broadway or Amsterdam,” she said. “$5,000 is my maximum, and I need at least 500 square feet, because we do dry cleaning, too. Rent here is very low, because is basement: $2,600. If you go to Amsterdam Avenue, $7,500; Broadway over $10,000. If I can’t get it cheaper, I’m closing.”

          Now, on to Sherman’s other points.

          “spending other people’s money”: i’ve explained what is wrong with this concept before, nevertheless Sherman keeps repeating it. Perhaps some Rag readers are not that interested in economics, so they might fall for this sophistry.

          a factual description is that Ms. Choi is CREATING value through her work, and thus generating revenue through the creation of value. She only gets to keep a small amount of the value she created. the landlord wants to take as large a share as he possibly can; Ms. Choi wants to keep as large a share as she can. That is Economics 101, or even Adam Smith 101.

          So Sherman, in fact, by advocating for complete landlord freedom (read: economic distortion), is in effect spending Ms. Choi’s money.

          As for commercial real estate: of course, as a working man and public employee, i could never afford to buy a commercial building in Manhattan. But it’s also true that many small landlords — both commercial and residential — like having stable, reliable tenants, like Ms Choi, and often charge them lower rents. The Rag has covered many cases like this on the UWS.

      • Michael Hobson says:

        As noted in comments, there are nothing but empty store spaces on the UWS (likely for the same reason and motivation she’s being chased out). Wish her all the best and good luck. Oh yes and Where are our elected clerisy to leverage some representational power we endow to our local pols they are being paid to help with a/o mediate for us, unless they have to attend the next LGTB/Trans balloon parade or Russian election ‘conspiracy’ town meetings, so their time/attention understandably is limited. Right, Helen, Jerry, Chuck, et alli? Or perh the Glicks are financial political campaign contributors, eh? Worse yet. As Kafka opined, ‘there is hope; but not for us.’ Happy Thanksgiving. 😀

    2. fValor says:

      Remember the travel agency above and the alterations shop from the 60-80’s that used to be there

    3. Lin says:

      Another wonderful small business being thrown to the wolves. This is sad and outrageous,

    4. Kathleen says:

      WSR, please follow up with this story so we can know where to find Joong Choi when she finds her new place. Wonderful that you’re helping her with coverage.

    5. Robert Hennessy says:

      There is an empty storefront on 79th Street between Amsterdam and Broadway. I dont know the asking price but it’s certainly worth looking into

    6. Ezra Levine says:

      This is terrific! Thanks for writing this up. Here’s to hoping we can keep this hard working woman in business.

    7. Lis Anderson says:

      So disgusting how hard working people are squeezed out. The alleged “need” is for a tenant that doesn’t yet exist and this space was not needed by the previous tenant….crazy!

    8. Simeon Goldstein says:

      Thank you for sharing this. Hope the community can rally behind Joong Choi and find her palatable rent. She represents everything thats good about New York City and the UWS. Whata hardworking, dedicated, and entrepreneurial woman.

    9. Lis Anderson says:

      It’s a shame that hard working people are being unnecessarily forced out.

    10. Kersten Trachtman says:

      Please share any updates about Joong Choi, and if she is able to find space!

    11. GM says:

      Yes, this is happening all over the UWS we lost a cleaner in a basement on 91st St off Broadway. The landlord told the owner in 5 years she could come back. She told me she was 75yrs old and had been there for over 30 years, it was her livelihood and she had no intention of coming back in 5 year. It is very sad she helped so many in the neighborhood. The place still is empty it has been almost a year???

    12. Michal says:

      I can vouch that her tailoring is fantastic. Hope someone can find her a space.

    13. Peggy Thomson says:

      This is terrible news. We just lost Eddie Ugras tailor on 72nd and Kim was my other go-to person for everything that needed altering or repair. They are both gems. These are the small, independent businesses that made the UWS a thriving community and now greed is forcing them out when we need them the most. Is this how we reward hard work, ingenuity, and reliable and friendly service?

      • Woody says:

        It’s not a landlord’s responsibility to “reward hard work, ingenuity, and reliable and friendly service.” That is what customers should do by continuing to patronize her business at a new location. I expect that her rent will increase but her loyal customers like you won’t mind paying increased costs for her services. Or do you expect the landlord to subsidize your expenses by reducing the rent?

        • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

          Woody,

          landlords have every right to attempt to extract every penny in rent that they can from Joong Choi and all the other hard-working residential and small commercial tenants on the Upper Wet Side.

          in the same spirit, the tenants have every right to use all the levers of economic and politic power at their disposal to pay only a reasonable amount to the avaricious landlords. that is why we have residential tenant protection, and why it has been so popular over the years, and why the landlords have used everything in their political arsenal to destroy it.

          and now we need some form of commercial tenant protection, to give some rights and protections to hard-working people like Ms. Choi. And this WILL come about, though sadly maybe not fast enough to hep Ms. Choi.

          the landlords and property owners are rich and powerful in NYC. but their interests do not equate to the interests of justice for the majority. Ms. Choi’s interests equate with the interests of justice for the majority. Protecting her and people like her is a just cause.

      • B.B. says:

        To be clear, landlord themselves posted at the time they were willing to work with Eddie Ugras on rent. Mr. Ugras simply wanted by all accounts to retire or whatever, *that* was the driving decision to close his shop apparently.

    14. Michael says:

      When we bought our apt on the UWS in 2004, June (Joong) was the dry cleaner I ultimately chose and have been with her ever since. She has always cast a meticulous eye to all her work. My experience with suit alterations, repairs etc have been exceptional (and Im in the apparel biz). Every person I have recommended to her have in turn praised her needle in thank you calls for the recommendation. I have also been on the receiving end of similar kindnesses as those mentioned above on more than one occasion. She has made great use and success of a basement rental space that would likely have continued to be vacant. Further testament to her resourcefulness. She is not simply square footage. She deserves better. She deserves respect.

      Perhaps if the new owners or management were to know that our neighbors may just ensure that that space never be rented or be successful again they would rethink the logic and expense of their new proposals.
      After all, your commercial leases are dependent on all of us for their successes. WSR readers can be a resourceful lot.

      • dannyboy says:

        Michael, Your comment shines with decency and honor. You are able to appreciate Joong Choi’s fine qualities from her everyday work.

        Yes, yes, yes “she deserves better. She deserves respect.”

        I am hopeful of just that.

    15. Jan kliger says:

      I’ve always thought her name was Kim.. she is an amazing tailor.. can duplicate anything and thinks out of the box. Hopefully they’ll be a place nearby!

    16. Wendy says:

      I always knew her name was Choi, not Kim – glad this article clarified that for others.. This is sad news. I wonder if Helen Rosenthal’s office could help her? After all she is also an Upper West Side resident. The loss of mom and pop retail space is an issue for Helen.

    17. Buddy says:

      People who are concerned about the disappearance of small businesses in the city, and I count myself among them, at this point probably need to ignore those who disagree and instead organize together, or work individually, to pressure the mayor, city council, state legislature, and any other entity responsible for this destructive trend. If anyone knows of a group working in this area, please post it on the Rag for those of us who are concerned and want to take action after all this delay. Thanks.

    18. Michael Hobson says:

      As noted in comments, there are nothing but empty store spaces on the UWS (likely for the same reason and motivation she’s being chased out). Wish her all the best and good luck. Oh yes and Where are our elected clerisy to leverage some representational power we endow to our local pols they are being paid to help with a/o mediate for us, unless they have to attend the next LGTB/Trans balloon parade or Russian election ‘conspiracy’ town meetings, so their time/attention understandably is limited. Right, Helen, Jerry, Chuck, et alli? Or perh the Glicks are financial political campaign contributors, eh? Worse yet. As Kafka opined, ‘there is hope; but not for us.’ Happy Thanksgiving! 😀

    19. B.B. says:

      “You get lease from new building owner,’” she explained, in an interview in her subterranean shop.”

      Introduction to Law 101: Oral agreements aren’t worth the paper they are printed on.

      Oral statements made by previous landlord aren’t binding upon new owner. Renewal terms (if any) should be spelled out in lease.

    20. Ellen Andors says:

      She sounds like a wonderful person who seems to embody the highest level of customer care and service. It would be a shame were she forced to retire before she is ready! I hope she is able to continue with her valuable work, and I will be on the lookout for an available/affordable space for her.

    21. Rachelle Pachtman says:

      She is AMAZING in her skills, very warm and extremely affordable. I really hope we can find another space for her.

    22. Larry says:

      Before the new owner purchased it, this building had been owned by the same family for 100 years. The new owner is now doing a lot of work (ie investing money) to give the disgusting retail space formerly occupied by Papa John’s (which I think we can all agree we don’t need any more corporate pizza chains in the hood) a massive facelift. With this they plan to bring a quality retailer to the block. Unfortunately, sometimes you have to shift other good, long term tenants in order to bring in others who will also be a good fit for the neighborhood. In its current condition the ground floor retail space is awful, and I think we should all be a little more grateful that someone is taking the care to try to clean it up and fill a prime vacancy on a great block.