At the desk of: David Firestein
The retail king on his foray as a West Indies restaurateur, biking through Cuba and his affection for Cleveland
UPDATED, 2:52 p.m., Dec. 22: Next time you order a grande-half-caf-soy-vanilla latte, say a quiet thanks to David Firestein. The managing partner of the Shopping Center Group brought the city’s first Starbucks to the Upper West Side more than 20 years ago, and he’s placed more than 200 Manhattan locations for the chain since. Firestein founded the New York branch of retail brokerage Northwest Atlantic Real Estate Services 22 years ago and served as its principal until Atlanta-based Shopping Center Group bought the firm in 2012. The retail whiz, 63, started out in 1981, working for Steven Roth at Vornado Realty Trust’s first office in Garfield, New Jersey, as “the lowest man on the [totem] pole.” He was recently named chair of the program committee for the New York National Conference, to be held at the Javits Center in December. He has four children, ages 16 to 32, two each from his first and second marriages. He and his wife of 19 years, Sally, split their time between their home in Pound Ridge, New York, and a pied-à-terre on the Upper West Side.
SBUX vanity plate
Firestein’s office is chock full of Starbucks memorabilia, some dating as far back as 1994, when he brokered the chain’s first New York deal, at 87th Street and Broadway. (Fun fact: his drink of choice is the recently introduced Flat White. He gets a “grande” in the morning and a “tall” in the afternoon.) Firestein’s car bears this vanity plate. During his commute, he often gets random honks or waves from coffee fans, who toast him with their Starbucks cups.
Firestein’s windowsill holds two pictures from a 2013 trip to Cuba he took with a group of eight friends, including a college buddy and some other real estate industry professionals. He did some serious training for the excursion, which involved biking across the island. Firestein has taken multiple trips with the same crew, but biking Cuba was the most “physically exhausting.”
When Firestein was a student at Westchester’s Mamaroneck High School in 1968, he had the opportunity to play with his all-time tennis hero, Arthur Ashe. Firestein played in high school and in college. Today, he is a member of the Pound Ridge Tennis Club, where he participates in friendly tournaments. He gets his training in at the private court by his house and plays with his sons. In July, Firestein completed an important item on his bucket list: He went to Wimbledon and saw Serena Williams pl ay.
AMC 42nd Street
Firestein was one of the main brokers on the deal to secure AMC’s roughly 100,000-square-foot lease, working with the property owner, Forest City Ratner Companies. He worked directly with MaryAnne Gilmartin, who has since become president and CEO of Forest City. “She did most of that deal,” Firestein said. “I knew she was going places.” Now the country’s highest-grossing multiplex, it opened in April 2000.
Home run ball
Firestein’s mother Shirley, who is turning 90 this fall, caught this ball during a Yankee game on Aug. 13, 2011, Firestein’s birthday. She caught a dinger hit by Curtis Granderson during the fifth inning and gave the ball to her son after the game. (Firestein never caught a ball himself.) The ball is preserved in a clear plastic box, next to a picture of his mother holding it.
Whole Foods Cart
A miniature shopping cart filled with tiny Whole Foods products rests on the corner of Firestein’s desk. The item commemorates the 2005 opening of the supermarket’s Union Square location, the third in the city. Firestein’s team is now working with the supermarket chain to find space to devote solely to its house brand, 365 Everyday Value. Those stores will have a smaller footprint, Firestein said, and cater to a different demographic.
This leather Spalding baseball glove, once owned by an elderly neighbor in Pound Ridge, is close to 100 years old. The woman used the mitt as a young girl in the 1920s. When she died, her daughter gave it to Firestein, a baseball fan and Baltimore native who has learned to love the Yankees.
Vintage airline playing cards
While browsing through an antique shop in the Hudson Valley in the 1990s, Firestein came across a pack of playing cards from the defunct Eastern Airlines, a discovery that sparked a collector’s bug. He keeps eight decks from bygone carriers in his office and has four more at home. He looks to add to his stash by visiting yard sales and antique shops.
“Cleveland is my Paris”
Firestein earned his bachelor’s degree at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio in 1972. One of his daughters got him this sign as a gift for Father’s Day this year. While the text is tongue-in-cheek, Firestein has a special place in his heart for the town.