How Small Enterprise Homeowners Are Snagging Dream Spots In New York : NPR

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Eli Sussman stands in front of the new location of his Mediterranean restaurant Samesa in Rockefeller Center in New York City. Camille Petersen / Courtesy of Camille Petersen Hide caption

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Camille Petersen / Courtesy of Camille Petersen

Eli Sussman stands in front of the new location of his Mediterranean restaurant Samesa in Rockefeller Center in New York City.

Camille Petersen / Courtesy of Camille Petersen

Eli Sussman never thought he could open a restaurant at 30 Rock – the heart of Manhattan and the location of the Tina Fey sitcom of the same name.

But he did it.

His Mediterranean fast-casual restaurant, Samesa, opened at Rockefeller Center in March. Previously, Samesa was located on a residential side street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

“It’s about as day and night as possible,” says Sussman.

Until now, getting a seat in Midtown has been too expensive and competitive – Sussman would usually bid against large chains.

According to real estate services company CBRE, new leases and lease renewals in New York have fallen nearly 60% since the beginning of the pandemic, opening new locations.

Samesa’s Brooklyn location closed in September due to the pandemic. Sussman was looking for new spaces with lots of pedestrian traffic and office workers looking for a quick lunch.

For a quick, casual restaurant like Samesa, Midtown is the ultimate dream place, he says.

New York City, former COVID-19 epicenter, will fully reopen on July 1st

And with New York City taking big strides toward reopening, and with many COVID-19 capacity constraints and restrictions lifted as of May 19, some business owners are taking advantage of a less choppy real estate market to preserve their dream space.

Sussman pays more rent at Rockefeller Center than he does in Brooklyn, but expects more customers.

It’s a significant bet. Rockefeller Center is still quiet and small business owners like Sussman need clerks and tourists to come back soon.

“The number of people who will walk past Samesa is so much exponentially greater than my previous location. So I’m playing a pretty long game here,” says Sussman.

In Manhattan’s trendy Meatpacking District, Jesse Dong also relies on the city to relax. He owns the clothing retailer Two Minds. The store opened a few weeks ago.

Dong lost his retail job during the pandemic and started thinking about opening his own business. He rode his bike and saw an available storefront on his dream street. It’s cobbled and close to luxury shops like Hermes and cultural attractions like the Whitney Museum.

“We knew we had to move quickly or it would slip through our fingers,” he says.

Dong says it felt like he was going up against tenants with bigger names and more resources while waiting to bid on the site – so he signed a lease.

He says that puts him in a good position after many of the COVID-19 restrictions were lifted in New York City.

Jesse Dong opened clothing retailer Two Minds in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District a few weeks ago. He regards it as his dream space. Camille Petersen / Courtesy of Camille Petersen Hide caption

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Camille Petersen / Courtesy of Camille Petersen

Jesse Dong opened clothing retailer Two Minds in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District a few weeks ago. He regards it as his dream space.

Camille Petersen / Courtesy of Camille Petersen

Mike Slattery, assistant director of research at CBRE, warns renters to expect a huge lease deal. It’s still Manhattan.

He says this is the time for renters to make decisions about new rooms. Over the past six months, the number of renters viewing rooms has increased by 22% – and that number continues to rise.

“The influx of tenants back into the market has actually started to spark bidding wars,” says Slattery.

All of these small business owners will hope for the same thing: a return to what used to be, with people on a shopping spree or on their way to a towering Christmas tree.

“We’re open,” says Dong of his clothing store. “And there seems to be a return to normal.”