Chelsea Market’s growth spurs closings

By Vanessa Weiman | April 22, 2008 11:57AM

A recent growth spurt at Chelsea Market — a Chelsea institution that
houses an arcade of unusual food shops and restaurants — has been
accompanied by some growing pains.

Recently, two long-time tenants — Frank’s Butcher Shop and Steakhouse
and the Chelsea Wholesale Flower Market — vacated their stores to make
way for potential newcomers, as residential and retail growth in the
surrounding neighborhood affects some of the market’s merchants in
some unexpected — and un-welcomed — ways.

Frank’s and the flower market had some of Chelsea Market’s larger
spaces: the flower shop occupied about 8,300 square feet plus a
basement, while Frank’s occupied about 5,300 square feet plus a
basement. The landlord, Jamestown Management, in a joint venture with
Angelo Gordon/Belvedere Capital/ATC Management, had apparently been in
discussions with the shops to end their leases long before the retail
leasing agent for the property, executive vice president Karen
Bellantoni of Robert K. Futterman, was hired.

One of the market’s merchants, who asked not to be identified, added
that it was unlikely that Frank’s or the flower market would have been
able to remain “if they’d had to pay three times what they’d been
paying for the last 10 years.” Some newer restaurants in the area,
such as Buddakan and Del Posto, might have taken business away from
Frank’s.

“The landlord wanted to re-merchandise the space,” said Bellantoni of
the former flower market, at the entrance to the market at 75 Ninth
Avenue. “We potentially have the ability to do three different spaces
there. It could be three tenants or two, so we’re marketing it as one
space and suggesting divisions.”

Although the market has historically been an enclosed entity with no
windows facing onto the side streets, plans are in the works to redo
not only the facade of the flower market space, but also to expand the
storefront windows around the corner to 15th Street so that the shops
will be visible to passersby.

“Right now there is granite right off 15th Street, and we’ll be
replacing that with glass,” says Bellantoni.

Meanwhile, around the corner on 16th Street where the market’s loading
docks are located, an ongoing construction-related problem has
developed. About six months ago, Dan Biederman, president of the
Chelsea Improvement Company, a privately financed BID that has been
hired by several buildings in the area, noticed what he called a
dangerous situation between 9th and 10th avenues.

He said construction at the Caledonia, a new condominium, blocked the
north lane and narrowed the street, while trucks serving the market’s
wholesalers blocked the street by parking across it.

He asked the police to look into the situation, and they began
ticketing trucks. Although trucks are now parking parallel to the
street, some merchants say that this issue is still hurting their
businesses.

“We’d be in the middle of unloading trucks, and they’d be writing
tickets,” said one merchant.

Anthony Matilla, manager of the market’s Manhattan Fruit Exchange,
said he is involved in a lawsuit against Chelsea Market, but declined
to elaborate on the suit’s details.

“There are 15 or 20 new condos going up in the neighborhood, and
there’s pressure not to have the trucks parked in the street,” says
Matilla. “Last month I had $30,000 in parking tickets. I’ve never had
this problem before.”

Alane Berkowitz, vice president and general manager of Jamestown
Management company, said she knew of the difficulties.

“Having the trucks park parallel has improved the safety of the
street, but some tenants say they’re still getting tickets,” she said.
“We’re trying to work with the BID to improve the situation.”


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