New York City

Main Street Retail: Now Tangoing The Truth With Kramer

David Kramer’s Main Street Retail Tango hit the stage again this week. The scene was a RIOC committee meeting, and Kramer repeated his familiar footwork. The audience tapped along.

By David Stone

Roosevelt Island News

Introducing…

Go back a decade. It’s he first time I saw David Kramer do the Main Street Retail Tango, and it’s at a town hall in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd.

Hudson Related had recently taken over Main Street retail in a deal with RIOC. He told the Wall Street Journal he’d “shock and awe” Roosevelt Island, and here he was, set to launch.

Can’t speak for anyone else, but my biggest shock came when he introduced Gristedes as Main Street’s “anchor store.”

Owner John A. Catsimatidis sat at the table with him, sort of amused by Kramer’s antics.

Catsimatidis was no more impressed than an audience of about a hundred residents, but Gristedes’s boss was in good form.

David Kramer Main Street Retail, anchor store -- Gristedes
First time David Kramer performed the Main Street Retail tango, it featured Gristedes as the “anchor store.” That sour note’s been cut.

He dissed Whole Foods as “Whole Paycheck,” and said he wasn’t going bankrupt to satisfy customers. He cited the plights of several competitors, all now gone.

RIOC caught some scorn for poor maintenance around the exterior, negligence reflecting badly on his market.

Nonetheless, he promised a thorough store upgrade. He came through on that, but Gristedes never was a true anchor store. An anchor store draws traffic nearby stores benefit from. Gristedes was never that popular or close to any other businesses.

David Kramer’s First Shot at the Main Street Retail Tango

Kramer’s a deft, accomplished businessman, but he was out of his element on this dance floor. His tango lacked pizzazz.

Shock and awe was a no show, but there was promise.

Actually, there were multiple promises.

Without offering anything clear enough on which you might hang your hat, Kramer implied that six — if memory serves — new leases neared the Main Street Retail finish line.

That’s right. Six new businesses to replace those rickety messes he evicted, leaving empty spaces all along both sides of Main.

He didn’t want to upset his leasing office, he said, by giving specifics.

And the, when six new businesses never appeared, he hadn’t mislead anyone, had he?

(Remember when he mocked the hardware store because it didn’t land any supply contracts with local residential managers? How’s the new hardware store doing with that?)

October, 2019, and a new rendition delighting RIOC’s drifty, sleepy board…

Anyway, his dodge worked — we hadn’t seen it before — and he trotted out a refreshed version in October 2019, ten years later, for the entertainment of RIOC’s board of enablers directors.

Among his claims for the year, a lease signing for the long empty stationery store was a fait accompli. He didn’t want to mention the new tenant yet, and of course, the ever compliant RIOC board bought it.

There was precedent. They accepted Eleanor’s Wine Bar and Onda Mexican Restaurant in previous drive-by versions of Kramer truth, and just to be fair, they also looked away when businesses failed under the load of exorbitant rents.

Optimism wins, and RIOC loves off loading retail on Hudson Related. They love it so much, they don’t mind getting tangoed anymore.

Suspending disbelief

That moment before the board and a packed audience was surreal, and I waited for a single “What?”

But no, not from this board.

Kramer said just 1 1/2 spaces remained for leasing out on Main Street.

Blink.

And he called Urgent Care’s space the 1/2. The doctors got stuck behind when Urgent Care failed and broke its lease, and that in Kramer-speak counts. But it doesn’t really.

The offices they ditched in Rivercross remain vacant.

And years of empty storefronts tell a different story.

Highlights from David Kramer’s Main Street Retail Tango

It wasn’t all fancy footwork. Under Kramer’s guidance, Hudson Related formed a team that now works with our small businesses, teaching skills that attract customers.

Whatever you think of a pancake eating contest as a draw, the effort matters, and the only question is why they waited a decade to get on it.

Main Street Sweets might’ve benefited, and so might’ve BubbleCool. Both failed in spite of strenuous efforts. The hardware and stationery stores deserved help after years of suffering RIOC’s neglect, and some residents still resent Hudson Related’s eviction of the thrift store.

But hey, his team got up a pancake eating contest!

The Sanctuary steps in for the second encore

With choreographed flourish, Kramer finished off, introducing Frank “Turtle” Raffaele.

He touted Coffeed’s New Leaf restaurant in Tryon Park, skipping over the fact that Raffaele’s inexplicably no longer “involved in” the company he founded. No longer involved, that is, with Coffeed or New Leaf.

He might’ve mentioned that and, maybe, explained that there was no reason for concern over a founder’s quiet departure from a business he started.

Later, we learned, he was kicked out of the very business he started, accused in lawsuits of unsavory practices, but it’s not as if it would’ve been enough to wake up RIOC.

That took a magical step, a sleight of hand that didn’t get caught.

There was also a disturbing reference to the Turtle’s easy relationship with city officials, which may explain why an apparent lack or building permits slipped by.

One deft step remained.

Historian Judith Berdy asked Kramer to make sure future food places don’t open without Health Department inspections.

Neither the Hot Pot restaurant nor Jupioca* show Health Department ratings, and Jupioca has never been inspected. Chongqing Hot Pot, that week, scored a second 22 score, equivalent to a B rating, same as they received in July.

Kramer unleashed a fancy step, saying he appreciated residents letting him know about violations. And accepted zero responsibility for letting them happen in the first place.

*As of October, a year later, according to the DOH website, Jupioca still has not been inspected.

Not bad, but not all that great either, considering Kramer’s had a decade to wear out the audience.

Without a blip of concern from the ultra passive RIOC Board, not so much as a question, Kramer wrapped up the Main Street Retail Tango just in time to nail down the RI Monument/Icon/Sign in the Tram Plaza.

Unlike their passive acquiescence of everything Kramer had to pitch, when it came to Berdy’s complaints about the sign, RIOC president Susan Rosenthal and board member David Kraut availed themselves of the opportunity to toss some snark her way.

The contrast had interesting implications about who’s in charge around here.

Hint: It ain’t us.

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