Owner of Flatiron store Fishs Eddy talks shop in nonfiction graphic novel

Julie Gaines chronicles her store’s ups and downs in Minding the Store, which was illustrated by her son, Ben Lenovitz. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Anyone considering opening a small business in New York City, or who simply enjoys frequenting them, may want to check out a new graphic novel on the subject, written by the owner of quirky Flatiron home goods store Fishs Eddy.

Julie Gaines, who opened the shop with her then boyfriend, later husband, Dave Lenovitz, 32 years ago, has written the book, published by Workman (a division of Algonquin) and titled Minding the Store with illustration by her son Ben Lenovitz.

Released on November 29, it’s now available at her store on Broadway (along with other book retailers) for $22, and tells the history of the business through its ups and down from the shuttering of American manufactures that made its dishware to, in recent years, growing competition from online retailers. It was the latter problem that prompted Gaines to hire a CEO to help counter dwindling sales, only to end up feeling even more stressed and eventually undermined by his corporate drill sergeant approach to running a store.

“He actually bullied us,” said Gaines. “That’s what this book is about. He terrorized us.”

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Friends and foes debate SBJSA

Supporters of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act rally prior to a long-awaited City Council hearing. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Monday, the City Council chamber was packed with small business advocates, real estate professionals and others with an interest in the first step taken to move the now 32-year-old Small Business Jobs Survival Act in nearly a decade.

At a lengthy hearing, those in support of the bill, aimed at getting businesses an automatic 10-year lease renewal, through mediation and binding arbitration if necessary, carried signs that said things like “Pass Intact SBJSA Now” and “Evict REBNY.” Those against it wore blue caps that read, “Vote no commercial rent control.”

The hearing followed a rally in support of the SBJSA led by David Eisenbach, a Columbia professor who heads a group called the Friends of the SBJSA.

Eisenbach compared the fight for the bill’s passage to “a battle for the soul of New York. Will it be a New York of chains or a New York of Chinatown? It’s David against Goliath.”

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Opinion: Request for study on SBJSA

The following is an open letter to Public Advocate Letitia James from Sung Soo Kim, founder of The Small Business Congress. The letter has been edited for length.   

Honorable Public Advocate James:

Recently, Councilman Ydanis Rodriquez as prime sponsor reintroduced the Small Business Jobs Survival Act. This bill has the same language, word for word, as the one you proudly sponsored and championed at times in 2009, 2010 and 2014 as Public Advocate. It’s the same bill that you touted over the year’s at citywide events as the best solution to stop the closing of our small businesses and end their crisis and address the “Malling of Main Street.”

The new speaker of the Council, Corey Johnson, has pledged a public hearing on the bill, as well as finding a real solution to end the crisis. While small business advocates applaud this commitment, we are cautiously guarded in hoping our city’s small businesses finally, after eight long years, receive evenhanded and just treatment at City Hall.

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Tailor who owned shop for over 50 years dies

Gino DiGirolamo at his 14th Street shop in 2014 (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Friday, March 30, the man known to many as “Gino the tailor,” Gino DiGirolamo, died at the age of 82. The owner of Royal Tailor, which was located in the East Village for 52 years, had suffered a heart attack a month ago that he never recovered from. His son Vito, 51, said his father, after having the heart attack on an L train platform, was taken to Beth Israel, where he stayed for ongoing treatment. He was visited regularly by friends and Vito, but the elder DiGirolamo never regained consciousness.

In an interview with Town & Village three years ago, DiGirolamo, then working out of an East 14th Street shop across from Stuyvesant Town, spoke of his intention to retire after getting socked with a hefty rent increase. He’d been in that space for a few years, after moving from the original shop on Avenue A. However, his livelihood was later saved when he found a nearby affordable space on East 11th Street.

As he had before, DiGirolamo worked long and hard, around 80 hours a week, commuting to the shop from his home in Ozone Park, Queens.

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SBJSA advocates fear Council will vote to weaken legislation

Mar8 Future Bank of America

Four storefronts on 23rd Street at the corner of Fifth Avenue will soon become a Bank of America. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

The Small Business Congress, which has been pushing hard for the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, is on the offensive, preparing for possible mutations of the bill in the City Council that the SBC fears would render it useless.

Steve Barrison, an attorney and the executive vice president of the SBC, is saying despite new Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s assertions that he wants to see the long-blocked legislation get a hearing, the Devil will be in the details of what Barrison expects will become “a REBNY bill.”

In an email earlier this week, the Small Business Congress founder Sung Soo Kim stated that he is seeking exactly 26 volunteers to convince the Council members who do not support the bill to change their minds.

It may not be easy, though, since technically the SBJSA is dead, Barrison said. This is because the prime sponsor had been Annabel Palma of the Bronx who was term-limited on December 31, 2017.

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