Alex Shmuel, who owns and runs Shantl & Co. Barber Shop, emigrated to the United States from Russia 25 years ago. His business has operated from its location on Lexington Avenue and 82nd Street for the past ten years.
But even with his skill and popularity, Shmuel’s shop has its financial challenges, notably an annual rent hike of three percent. However, moving to a different space is not a viable option for him.
“They’re more expensive than this one,” he said, telling this reporter that his client base is “used to” his current location. “Even one or two blocks away, it doesn’t make sense for us.”
If his situation doesn’t improve, Shmuel may meet the same fate as several other immigrant-run businesses along the Upper East Side. In the past few years, countless immigrant-run businesses in that neighborhood have closed amid a growing economic threat: luxury real estate development.
Recognizing that luxury developers’ work can harm the established community’s well-being, Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright (D-Upper East Side, Yorkville) has prioritized protecting the neighborhood’s established businesses from the excesses that have come from the new real estate.
“Small businesses are an integral part of the fabric of our community,” said Seawright. “We deeply value the many entrepreneurial immigrants who contribute significantly to the luster and character that makes our communities vibrant and interesting. Developers must understand that our hardworking shopkeepers and their employees seek to be treated fairly and with the respect they deserve.”
Elaborating on her efforts to ensure the developers play fair, Seawright cited an October press conference where she urged Extell Development to combat various safety and sanitation hazards at its construction site on First Avenue between 79th and 80th Streets.
“I was pleased that Extell quickly responded and corrected the dangerous conditions,” she recalled.
Whether the developers behind the construction in the neighborhood are behaving more socially responsible than Shmuel and Seawright suggest is unclear. Despite the efforts of an affiliate public relations representative, Extell did not offer a comment.