As the headquarters of the Brighton Neighborhood Association, Pat Singer’s colorful, tchocke-laden storefront has served as the relief center for embattled Brighton Beach tenants for 34 years. But after damages from flooding, a landlord dispute and year-after-year of budget slashes, the non-profit is vacating the space for more humble accommodations.
The BNA team has already moved much of the 1121 Brighton Beach Avenue storefront’s contents to their new location at 1002 Brighton Beach Avenue, inside the Chase Manhattan Bank, where they’ll share an office with the Brighton Beach Business Improvement District. The transfer will be completed by October 15, Singer told Sheepshead Bites.
“It’ll be a tight fit, but we’re going to make it,” Singer said. “I’m sad because it’s 34 years in this one location, and you grow tied to it. But first you cry and then you laugh.”
Singer added that she and other tenants in the building – bought in July 2010 by Alex Levin – are not moving by choice, but are being forced to vacate. Just as the BNA’s office flooded in May, a neighboring manicurist was flooded last week. And just like in May, Singer is pointing the finger at the landlord, who is looking to convert the one-story building by adding three floors, with use slated for a medical facility. The manicurist will have to move out, Singer said.
But that’s not the case for Chopstick House next door. The Chinese restaurant has four years left on its lease, after occupying the location for 21 years. It was affected by the same flood as the BNA, and though owner Michael Lin has tussled with the landlords, who he admitted want him out, he’s digging in, though he doesn’t blame the floods on the new owner.
(Alex Levin denied that he had any involvement in the floods when we interviewed him in May. He was not contacted for this article.)
All in all, Singer said the landlord has the right to develop the building, and even ask the tenants to leave (the BNA has a month-to-month agreement). But she believes he’s bullying around the small business owners, which he might get away with because the owners of the restaurant and the manicurist struggle with English.
“He should do the right thing and say to the guy next door, ‘I’ll give you X amount of dollars and help relocate you.’ But as far as I know he hasn’t done that,” Singer said. “They both have a language problem and I hope they don’t get taken advantage of. They both need a lawyer to protect their rights.”
Meanwhile, the new location at Chase Bank isn’t really new at all. It’s the organization’s original location from 1973, Singer said. They’ve maintained it all these years – many of which were shared with the Brighton BID – as a satellite office for tenants to come and solve their problems.
The storefront, though, was the organization’s headquarters. Its walls gilded with old photos, and desks covered with gift-shop grist, served as a memorial to Singer’s eccentric personality and as a community staple. But after the May flood destroyed the memorabilia alongside equipment, and budget cuts forced the organization to reduce staff and cut hours, the BNA is packing it in and consolidating with its satellite office.
“I can’t afford a storefront anymore, not with Albany and the city cutting budgets,” Singer said. “With this recession, you know how it is. It’s hard.”