News | Morningside Heights

Columbia looks to fill Card-O-Mat retail space

After stationery store Card-O-Mat folded over winter break, Columbia is looking to fill its shoes with a new retailer to join the Morningside Heights streetscape—much of which the University owns.

Columbia has hired executives from Winick Realty Group to help lease the 1,240-square-foot retail storefront on Broadway between 112th and 113th streets, the firm announced Tuesday. Winick’s clients include national chains such as Starbucks Coffee, Duane Reade, AT&T, and Chipotle.

It’s an interesting move on Columbia’s behalf—Card-O-Mat’s former owner has voiced concerns about the University’s commitment to small businesses in the spaces it owns.

Rosalie Manning, who owned the store since it opened in 1993, said that the University was focused on “their bottom-line” instead of creating a small-business-friendly community.

“The reality is that 20 years ago, that certainly was their focus,” Manning said. “There was a very different management in place, and from my knowledge, in those days, it definitely was their master plan, as they called it, to have a neighborhood for students of small businesses.”

Though some local business owners say Columbia’s support is instrumental to staying afloat, others, including Manning, feel that Columbia should do much more to support mom and pops like Card-O-Mat—especially as economic conditions have worsened for small businesses since around 2008.

Manning said that as the economy worsened, costs for transactions, goods, staff, and insurance became more daunting.

Among Columbia’s small-business tenants, “I think the fervent hope was that, somehow, Columbia would make some accommodation” to lower rents, Manning said. She added that for other local businesses with non-Columbia landlords, “Every single one of those people, during that crisis, made adjustments for their tenants.”

The University’s tenants may have “feared a backlash from Columbia,” she said.

According to the University, creating lively street life is one of its long-term goals. Columbia is currently the landlord for numerous small businesses on Broadway between 111th and 116th—including University Housewares, Book Culture, and Oren’s Daily Roast.

“Columbia has a long-term retail strategy that favors small local businesses to help create a lively, energetic neighborhood that reflects the character of the people who live and work here,” the University said in a statement.

Charles Trimboli, owner of Camille’s on Amsterdam Avenue at 116th Street, said that while the restaurant has a good relationship overall with Columbia as a landlord, Columbia needs to be sure that it recognizes the difficulties small businesses now face—including rising insurance, food and labor costs, and real-estate taxes—and that it keeps its rents somewhat reasonable.

“Things are a lot more difficult for local businesses now,” Trimboli, who has operated Camille’s for around 20 years, said. “Columbia would have to be cognizant of that.”

Though Manning and Trimboli emphasized the need for Columbia to be aware of small businesses’ struggles, several business owners agree that Columbia has encouraged small businesses and that Columbia’s involvement has helped maintain the unique character of Morningside Heights.

Jim Ma, manager of the family-owned Janoff’s Office and Art Supplies on Broadway between 111th and 112th streets, said that on his Columbia-owned block, “any of the store owners, they’re all very happy.”

“Columbia is more than reasonable,” Ma said, adding that most of the unhappy store managers he knows don’t have Columbia as a landlord. “They’re the ones that get driven out and treated pretty unfairly.”

Columbia tenant Cathy Hawkins, co-owner of Liberty House on Broadway at 112th Street, said she felt that Columbia works with smaller businesses to develop a “college atmosphere.”

“I’ve always felt that they really wanted us here,” she said. Liberty House has operated on the Upper West Side since the late 1960s, and opened the Morningside Heights store in 1998.

“So far no trustee has offered to pay our rent,” she joked. “But no, I’ve always really felt that they liked how we enhanced the neighborhood and the service that we provide.”

Hikmat Hasan, part owner and manager of Samad’s Gourmet on Broadway between 111th and 112th streets, which has been in the neighborhood since 1972 but is not owned by Columbia, agreed.

“Private landlords—they’re becoming too greedy and they only care about money,” Hasan said. “Columbia—they care about the community and about the neighborhood, and they need the right people at the right spaces.”

University Housewares manager Bob Fendell also had no complaints about his partnership with Columbia.

“They’re good landlords,” Fendell said. “They’re nice, they’re fair, which is all you can ask for.”

news@columbiaspectator.com | @ColumbiaSpec

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Anonymous posted on

Its amazing how everyone in the neighborhood thinks Columbia is Mr Moneybags and needs to support everyone's livelihood. They do that already with their reputation, 28,000 students and 50,000 professors and staff. If you can't make a store work in this populated neighborhood, it is not Columbia's fault.

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Anonymous posted on

Manning's complaints that CU didn't help out Card-O-Mat as a small business is ridiculous. I have walked past that store countless times and every time wondered what human being would want to buy the products they sell. As a stationery/card store, the problem is not CU's high rents, it is the fact that no one needs stationery or greeting cards in the same volume they did in the early 90s when the store opened. Don't gripe about CU not lowering rents, perhaps go reevaluate your business model and see that it might have been time for a change.

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