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.”