June 25, 2017

Retiring: Older Women and Medical Marijuana: A New Growth Industry

“Everyone was pulling baggies out of their Gucci and Louis Vuitton purses, and I thought, ‘Why are we sneaking around like guilty teenagers?’” Ms. Moss said.

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In 2015, she started a business called AnnaBis, a line of aroma-controlled handbags, clutches, vape cases and other pot-related accessories. Soon after, she began publishing cannabis-friendly travel guides exclusively for women — becoming one of a small but growing number of older women who are marijuana entrepreneurs.

“What other industry is growing so fast there’s the opportunity and low cost of entry?” Ms. Moss said. “Entrenched opportunities already have their systems set up. This hasn’t been created yet.”

Her story is typical of the women in their 50s, 60s and 70s who have started up businesses in the world of pot. Inspired partly by their own use of the drug for pain relief, or by caring for others who use it for their own aches, these women see viable business opportunities and view their work as therapeutic for their customers.

“It’s definitely a trend,” said Troy Dayton, the chief executive and a co-founder of the Arcview Group, an investment and market research firm that focuses on the cannabis industry.

“A lot of women have this family recipe, or they were making a certain kind of tincture for a loved one who was suffering. Now that pot is legal, they’re like, ‘Wow, that thing you were making for Grandma could be a real product.’”

According to Mr. Dayton, the market for legal recreational and medicinal marijuana in North America hit $6.7 billion in 2016, a 34 percent rise from the previous year. Marijuana Business Daily, a trade publication, reported in 2015 that women comprised about 36 percent of executives in the legal-marijuana industry, compared with 22 percent in senior roles in other areas.

Since the industry is still finding its way, there is no “built-in institutional bias against women of any age,” said Nancy Whiteman, 58, a co-owner of Wana Brands of Boulder, Colo., which sells sour gummies, salted caramels and other products laced with THC, marijuana’s main psychoactive ingredient.

“In a lot of other industries, there are hundreds of years of history of who is successful and who is not, and there are glass ceilings to be broken,” Ms. Whiteman said. “But there’s no norm here. Everyone is figuring it out together.”

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Jeanine Moss started AnnaBis, which sells pot-related accessories. Credit Coley Brown for The New York Times

Cannabis start-ups are particularly appealing to older women who have had long careers. They are “smart businesswomen who see opportunities,” said John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has written the book “Marijuana: A Short History.”

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These are women, Mr. Hudak said, “who have the type of background and skill sets that lend themselves to be highly useful in an industry like this: lobbying, consulting, finance, operations.”

That is exactly what Jane Heatley discovered. In 2010, Ms. Heatley, who owned a real estate title company for 30 years, moved from Barnstable, Mass., to Corona del Mar, Calif., to care for her mother after a stroke. Cannabis helped her mother’s indigestion and depression, and it lightened her pill use. So Ms. Heatley, 66, got licensed to be a primary caregiver in California, which included learning about medicinal marijuana.

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After her mother died in 2012, she moved back east and applied for a license to open a dispensary. “I thought, for the last stage of my life, I’d like to do something to give back,” Ms. Heatley said. “How much of a glow can you get from a real estate transaction?”

She is now the president of the William Noyes Webster Foundation, a nonprofit that is authorized under Massachusetts law to develop, operate and manage medical marijuana dispensaries. She is set to open two in the fall.

Other entrepreneurs, like Frances Sue Taylor, 69, are specifically targeting seniors. She has been teaching older people about medical marijuana for the last six years and plans in the next few months to open a dispensary in Berkeley, Calif., just for people 50 and up.

There seems to be a market for such services: A study of 47,140 participants released in December, based on responses to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, found that cannabis use among adults ages 50 to 64 had increased nearly 60 percent from 2006 to 2013, while use by people 65 and older had risen 250 percent.

Ms. Taylor, a former Catholic school principal, used to think marijuana was a “hard-core drug like crack or cocaine,” she said. “If someone would have told me 12 years ago that I’d be an advocate for cannabis, I’d say, ‘You’ve been smoking too much.’”

But now? “I get so much gratification from this work, and it’s so rewarding to see people get healed,” she said. “My life is better than ever. I’m healthy, and I’m starting a new business at 69.”

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Lyn Kusher, 66, is the founder of Ma Kush’s Natural, which is based in Encinitas, Calif., and sells soaps, lotions, balms and edible cannabis treats. A mother of three, she had previously worked as a sales representative and pharmacy technician.

Like Ms. Moss, she arrived at her calling through pain. About four years ago, after hip-replacement surgery, Ms. Kusher began massaging coconut oil infused with THC into her side. It helped. So did homemade “protein balls” — peanut butter, sunflower seeds, protein powder and 15 milligrams of THC.

It occurred to her that her products might have the same effect on other people. Soon, she got certified to sell balms and bake mixes to dispensaries in San Diego.

“I’ve always grown plants and flowers and herbs, because I like growing,” said Ms. Kusher, who has a greenhouse filled with 30 pot plants of six different varieties. (Coincidentally, “kush” is a term among pot smokers for a high-grade strain of cannabis.)

Ms. Kusher said she was doing better than she had ever imagined, physically and financially. “This is the first time in my life I can completely support myself and my lifestyle,” she said.

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/25/business/retirement/retiring-older-women-marijuana-entrepreneurs.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

The Workologist: Welcome Aboard! And by the Way: I Quit

Since you explicitly mention hiring for “your team,” I assume that working with you may be part of what the job seeker finds appealing about this new position. If so, think of ways to soften that: Make sure recruits meet other managers and team members, making it clear that they should feel good about working for this organization in general, not just a specific individual. The idea, as you think through any particular case, is to consider the process from the applicant’s point of view — and how you would want to be treated in the same position.

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All of that said, you can be responsible only for the aspects of the process that are under your control. While it’s jarring when someone who just hired you immediately moves on (it’s happened to me), that is also part of the reality of the work world, in plenty of fields. (And after all, any given hiring manager may also be transferred, or even fired.) Operate according to a genuine belief that this new employee and the organization will ultimately prove a good match. That way, any unpleasant surprise will fade, and the relationship will take its course whether you’re in the picture or not.

Newbie’s Time Off

I am graduating college and will soon be starting my first job. My family has an annual beach vacation and reunion, and this year it is scheduled about five weeks after my job’s start date. I am debating whether it is appropriate to ask for three or four days off so soon, especially because I am aiming for a small promotion at the four-month mark.

My manager has mentioned that this company does not have specified limits for time off (number of days or seniority), so I do not think that there is any company protocol that would prevent me from taking the time. I do not want to make a bad impression, but I would really like to be able to see my extended family. Would you suggest sending an email to my manager as soon as possible, waiting until a few weeks after I start, or just accepting that fact that I will not be going to the beach this year?

SYLVIA, BOSTON

While it may not hurt to ask — if you frame it very carefully — you should be prepared to gracefully accept a “no.”

To get in the right mind-set, think about this from your new manager’s perspective. He or she may wonder why, if this is so important, it didn’t come up in the interview process. After all, it’s an annual event, not some just-announced one-off occasion that you couldn’t have anticipated. And given that it happens every year, the manager may further wonder if you couldn’t just skip it this one time — or at least settle for a visit that didn’t require four days off — out of excitement for or engagement with your new job.

Maybe you have good answers; maybe the company really does have a laissez-faire attitude about days off. And maybe you have other reasons for confidence in that rather ambitious goal of earning a promotion in just four months, let alone whether this may undercut it.

But certainly emailing your request before your first day sounds like the wrong tactic; that will come across as though you’re still negotiating after accepting an offer. If you bring this up, do it in person, soon after you start. That way you can make sure it is coming across as a humble inquiry, not a presumptuous and tone-deaf demand. You can also more clearly gauge the reaction — and this soon into a new job, I suggest dropping the request if you detect any hint that it’s going over poorly. More important, if you accept and understand the possibility of a “no,” you will not be so disappointed. And maybe you will be pleasantly surprised.

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/25/jobs/welcome-aboard-and-by-the-way-i-quit.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Feature: Jared Kushner’s Other Real Estate Empire

So Warren was startled in January 2013, three years later, when she received a summons from a private process server informing her that she was being sued for $3,014.08 by the owner of Cove Village. The lawsuit, filed in Maryland District Court, was doubly bewildering. It claimed she owed the money for having left in advance of her lease’s expiration, though she had received written permission to leave. And the company suing her was not Sawyer, but one whose name she didn’t recognize: JK2 Westminster L.L.C.

Warren was raising three children alone while taking classes for a bachelor’s degree in health care administration, and she disregarded the summons at first. But JK2 Westminster’s lawyers persisted; two more summonses followed. In April 2014, she appeared without a lawyer at a district-court hearing. She told the judge about the approval for her move, but she did not have a copy of the form the manager had signed. The judge ruled against Warren, awarding JK2 Westminster the full sum it was seeking, plus court costs, attorney’s fees and interest that brought the judgment to nearly $5,000. There was no way Warren, who was working as a home health aide, was going to be able to pay such a sum. “I was so desperate,” she said.

If the case was confounding to Warren, it was not unique. Hundreds like it have been filed over the last five years by JK2 Westminster and affiliated businesses in the state of Maryland alone, where the company owns some 8,000 apartments and townhouses. Nor was JK2 Westminster quite as anonymous as its opaque name suggested. It was a subsidiary of a large New York real estate firm called Kushner Companies, which was led by a young man whose initials happened to be J.K.: Jared Kushner.

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When Americans were introduced last year to Ivanka Trump’s husband and the nation’s prospective son-in-law in chief, it was as the preternaturally poised, Harvard-educated scion of a real estate empire whose glittering ambitions resembled Donald Trump’s own. In 2007, Kushner Companies, run at the time by Jared and his father, Charles, bought the aluminum-clad skyscraper at 666 Fifth Avenue for a record-breaking $1.8 billion; they are now seeking partners for a $12 billion plan to replace it with a glass tower that would be 40 stories taller. In 2013 they acquired 17 buildings in Manhattan’s East Village for about $130 million, and three years later they spent $715 million on a cluster of buildings owned by the Jehovah’s Witnesses on prime land in Brooklyn’s fast-developing Dumbo district.

But the Kushners’ empire, like Trump’s, was underwritten by years of dealing in much more modestly ambitioned properties. Jared’s grandfather Joseph Kushner, a Holocaust survivor from Belarus, over his lifetime built a small construction company in New Jersey into a real estate venture that owned and managed some 4,000 low-rise units concentrated in the suburbs of Newark. After taking over the business, Charles expanded Kushner Companies’ holdings to commercial and industrial spaces, but the company’s bread and butter remained the North Jersey apartment complexes bequeathed to him by his father.

In the mid-2000s, the company began to sell off the more than 25,000 multifamily rental units it owned, culminating in a 2007 sale of nearly 17,000 units for $1.9 billion. The sale — near the peak of the housing boom, just months before the crash — was impeccably timed, but it also reflected a shift in the attentions of what would soon be a three-generation real estate dynasty. Charles, a major Democratic Party donor, had returned late the previous year from a brief stint in federal prison after pleading guilty to 18 counts of tax evasion, witness tampering and illegal campaign donations. Back at the helm of the company, he began to shift its focus from New Jersey to New York City — and prepared to pass the reins to his son Jared, who had just received a degree in law and business from New York University.

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Baltimore-area properties owned by Kushner Companies. Credit Philip Montgomery for The New York Times

But amid the high-profile Manhattan and Brooklyn purchases, in 2011, Kushner Companies, with Jared now more firmly in command, pulled together a deal that looked much more like something from the firm’s humble past than from its high-rolling present. That June, the company and its equity partners bought 4,681 units of what are known in real estate jargon as “distress-ridden, Class B” apartment complexes: units whose prices fell somewhere in the middle of the market, typically of a certain age and wear, whose owners were in financial difficulty. The properties were spread across 12 sites in Toledo, Ohio; Pittsburgh; and other Rust Belt cities still reeling from the Great Recession. Kushner had to settle more than 200 debts held against the complexes before the deal could go through; at one complex, in Pittsburgh, circumstances had become so dire that some residents had been left without heat and power because the previous owner couldn’t pay the bills. Prudential, which was foreclosing on the portfolio, sold it for only $72 million — half the value of the mortgages on the properties.

In the following months, Kushner Companies bought another 1,700 multifamily units in similar markets, according to the trade publication Multifamily Executive. Unlike the company’s big New York investments, the complexes were not acquired with an eye toward appreciation — these were not growing markets, after all — but toward producing a steady cash flow. “Our goal is to keep buying and incrementally growing — they’re good markets where you can get yield,” Jared Kushner told Multifamily Executive in October 2011, predicting that the net income for the year’s purchases would be $14 million within a year. The complexes buttressed the Kushner portfolio in another way, he said: They would serve as a hedge against an upswing in inflation he believed was looming on the horizon.

A year later, in August 2012, a Kushner-led investment group bought 5,500 multifamily units in the Baltimore area with $371 million in financing from Freddie Mac, the government-backed mortgage lender — another considerable bargain. Two years later, Kushner Companies picked up three more complexes in the Baltimore area for $37.9 million. Today, Westminster Management, Kushner Companies’ property-management arm, lists 34 complexes under its control in Maryland, Ohio and New Jersey, with a total of close to 20,000 units.

Kushner’s largest concentration of multifamily units is in the Baltimore area, where the company controls 15 complexes in all — which, if you assume three residents per unit, could be home to more than 20,000 people. All but two of the complexes are in suburban Baltimore County, but they are only “suburban” in the most literal sense. They sit along arterial shopping strips or highways, yet they are easy to miss — the Highland Village complex, for example, is beside the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, but the tall sound barriers dividing it from the six-lane highway render its more than 1,000 units invisible to the thousands traveling that route every day.

The complexes date mostly from the 1960s and ’70s, when white flight from the city was creating a huge demand for affordable housing in Baltimore County. They were meant to exude middle-class respectability — unglamorous but safe and pleasant enough, a renter’s Levittown. Since then, however, they have slipped socioeconomically, along with the middle class itself, into the vast gray area of the modern precariat — home to casino workers, distribution-warehouse pickers, Uber drivers, students at for-profit colleges. Although most of the tenants I met in a series of recent visits to the complexes pay their own rent, ranging from about $800 to $1,300, some of them receive Section 8 assistance, as Kamiia Warren did; Baltimore County has no public housing for a population of more than 825,000, so these and similar complexes have become the de facto substitute.

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Kamiia Warren at Cove Village, the Kushner Companies property in Essex, Md., where she once lived. Credit Philip Montgomery for The New York Times

At the time of the 2012 Baltimore purchase, Kushner raved about the promise of the low-end multifamily market. “It’s proven over the last few years to be the most resilient asset class, and at the end of the day, it’s a very stable asset class,” he told Multifamily Executive. He said things were proceeding well in the Midwestern complexes he purchased a year earlier. “It was a lot of construction and a lot of evictions,” he said. “But the communities now look great, and the outcome has been phenomenal.”

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Kamiia Warren still had not paid the $4,984.37 judgment against her by late 2014. Three days before Christmas that year, JK2 Westminster filed a request to garnish her wages from her in-home elder-care job. Five days earlier, Warren had gone to court to fill out a handwritten motion saying she had proof that she was given permission to leave Cove Village in 2010 — she had finally managed to get a copy from the housing department. “Please give me the opportunity to plead my case,” she wrote. But she did not attach a copy of the form to her motion, not realizing it was necessary, so a judge denied it on Jan. 9, on the grounds that there was “no evidence submitted.”

The garnishing started that month. Warren was in the midst of leaving her job, but JK2 Westminster garnished her bank account too. After her account was zeroed out, a loss of about $900, she borrowed money from her mother to buy food for her children and pay her bills. That February — five years after she left Cove Village — Warren returned to court, this time with the housing form in hand, asking the judge to halt garnishment. “I am a single mom of three and my bank account was wiped clean by the plaintiff,” she pleaded in another handwritten request. “I cannot take care of my kids when they snatch all of my money out of my account. I do not feel I owe this money. Please have mercy on my family and I.” She told me that when she called the law office representing JK2 Westminster that same day from the courthouse to discuss the case, one of the lawyers told her: “This is not going to go away. You will pay us.”

The judge denied Warren’s request without explanation. And JK2 Westminster kept pressing for the rest of the money, sending out one process server after another to present Warren with legal papers. Finally, in January 2016, the court sent notice of a $4,615 lien against Warren — a legal claim against her for the remaining judgment. Warren began to cry as she recounted the episode to me. She said the lien has greatly complicated her hopes of taking out a loan to start her own small assisted-living center. She had gone a couple of years without a bank account, for fear of further garnishing. “It was just pure greed,” she said. “It was unnecessary.” I asked why she hadn’t pushed harder against the judgment once she had the necessary evidence in hand. “They know how to work this stuff,” she replied. “They know what to do, and here I am, I don’t know anything about the law. I would have to hire a lawyer or something, and I really can’t afford that. I really don’t know my rights. I don’t know all the court lingo. I knew that up against them I would lose.”

A search for “JK2 Westminster” in the database of Maryland’s District Court system brings back 548 cases in which it is the plaintiff — and that does not include hundreds of other cases that have been filed in the name of the company’s individual complexes.

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A late-rent notice left on the front door of a Kushner Companies complex in a suburb of Baltimore. Credit Philip Montgomery for The New York Times

A vast majority of these cases have been filed by a single small law firm in the Baltimore suburb of Owings Mills. The law office of Jeffrey Tapper specializes in “collections” work, with an emphasis on landlord-tenant cases. It has represented several other real estate management companies, including Sawyer, which retains a stake in many of the Kushner complexes.

In April, I drove to Owings Mills in hopes of speaking to Tapper. As I waited for him by reception, I overheard an assistant making a call about a new case, saying that the firm would continue to pursue one tenant even if the other person on the lease had filed for bankruptcy. Tapper emerged, a man in his mid-60s with white hair, a paunch and a large smartphone clipped to his belt. Our interview was brief. “I’m not having any conversation with you that has to do with one of my clients,” he said. “I’m not helping you with any of whatever you’re trying to do.”

In the cases that Tapper has brought to court on behalf of JK2 Westminster and individual Kushner-controlled companies, there is a clear pattern of Kushner Companies’ pursuing tenants over virtually any unpaid rent or broken lease — even in the numerous cases where the facts appear to be on the tenants’ side. Not only does the company file cases against them, it pursues the cases for as long as it takes to collect from the overmatched defendants — often several years. The court docket of JK2 Westminster’s case against Warren, for instance, spans more than three years and 112 actions — for a sum that amounts to maybe two days’ worth of billings for the average corporate-law-firm associate, from a woman who never even rented from JK2 Westminster. The pursuit is all the more remarkable given how transient the company’s prey tends to be. Hounding former tenants for money means paying to send out process servers who often report back that they were unable to locate the target. This does not deter Kushner Companies’ lawyers. They send the servers back out again a few months later.

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In March 2009, Joan Beverly, a probation agent, signed the lease for her daughter, Lennettea, for a unit at Dutch Village, a complex on the northern edge of Baltimore. Lennettea moved out a year later, several months before her lease was up. Kushner Companies bought Dutch Village more than two years later. In December 2012, JK2 Westminster filed suit in Baltimore County District Court against Beverly, seeking $3,810.16 — several months of rent it said it was owed, plus about $1,000 in repair costs, including $10 for “failure to return laundry room card.”

That February, Lennettea filed a written court notice explaining that her mother, who was dying of pancreatic cancer, was “in terminal hospice care and is not eligible to work.” She added by way of supporting evidence a letter from the hospice provider to Joan Beverly’s bank, explaining her and her husband’s late mortgage payments on their home: “There has been added financial stress because Mrs. Beverly is very ill at this time.” But JK2 Westminster persisted in seeking a hearing on the suit. In March, a district court judge found in favor of the company — a total judgment against Joan of more than $5,500.

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Dutch Village, a Kushner Companies-owned complex in Baltimore. Credit Philip Montgomery for The New York Times

Joan died two weeks later. Her husband, Tyrone Beverly, a retired longshoreman, requested that the judgment against his deceased wife be removed but was denied. The case remains open in the court database. Tyrone, who was married to Joan for 32 years, told me that he had assumed the judgment had been dismissed and was unaware that it was still listed as awaiting payment. “They just didn’t treat us fair,” he said.

The sweeping nature of the company’s pursuit of tenants was most evident when those tenants were, in fact, prepared to defend themselves. Shawanda Hough moved out of her unit in the Carriage Hill complex in the northwestern Baltimore suburb of Randallstown in early 2012 after black mold worsened her son’s asthma, landing him in the hospital twice. After the maintenance crew tried and failed to fix the problem, she got the rental office’s written permission to move out in advance of her lease. But then Kushner Companies bought Carriage Hill, and a year and a half later, in August 2013, JK2 Westminster filed a lawsuit against Hough, seeking $4,068.53.

Hough fought back. In a court filing, she said that she had kept all of her documentation, and that the company had assured her that it had not lost a dime in rent; she had gone so far as to coordinate the time of her departure with the arrival of a new tenant. JK2 Westminster went ahead with a hearing before a judge a month later, but the judge ultimately found for Hough.

Cases like Hough’s, however, were the exception rather than the rule. Over all, about nine out of every 10 cases brought by JK2 Westminster that I surveyed resulted in judgments against the defendants, who often did not appear in person for the hearings — and if they did, almost never had legal representation. How could it possibly be worth Kushner Companies’ while to pursue hundreds of people so aggressively over a few thousand dollars here and there? After all, the pursuit itself cost money. And it wasn’t happening just in Baltimore — Doug Wilkins, a lawyer in Toledo who has represented some of the complexes bought there by Kushner, told me the company is seeking far more monetary judgments than did previous owners.

When I presented JK2 Westminster’s record of litigation to Matthew Cypher, a Georgetown University business professor who used to work for the real estate giant Invesco, he said it was highly unusual to put so much effort into pursuing former tenants in court. “These people fade into the shadows of the night,” he said. “It’s amazing to me that there’s that much to go after.” Brian Pendergraft, an attorney in Greenbelt, Md., who works on both sides of landlord-tenant litigation, told me he had heard of large property-management companies pursuing former tenants for unpaid rent but not going so far as to pursue tenants who predated the company’s ownership of a complex. “I guess you can do it,” he said, “but I don’t think it’s cool.”

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Dutch Village. Credit Philip Montgomery for The New York Times

But Matthew Hertz, whose Bethesda, Md., firm represents landlords and tenants in similar cases, explained to me that there is a logic behind such aggressive tactics. The costs of the pursuit are not as high as you might imagine, he said — people are not that hard to find in the age of cellphones and easily accessible databases. “If I give my process server a name and phone number, it’s generally enough to trace you,” he said. “If I have a date of birth and Social Security number, it’s even easier.” The legal costs can be billed to the defendant as attorney’s fees, if the terms of the lease allow. And garnishing wages is relatively easy to do by court order, assuming the defendant has wages to garnish.

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As for pursuing former tenants from years before the new company’s ownership of a complex, Hertz said it was hardly different from an investor’s buying a portfolio of mortgages: It’s debt to be collected on. “If you buy someone’s properties, you’re buying their debts, not just their assets. You take the good with the bad, and try to collect on the bad. Even if you only get back 5 percent, you’re making something,” he said. “It’s, ‘I’m buying up this property and if I can collect anything, it’s gravy on top.’ ”

There was, Hertz added, an ancillary benefit to such relentless pursuit: sending a message to current tenants. One way to make sure that tenants are paying their rent and to keep them from breaking leases early — which brings with it the costs and hassles of having to clean apartments and find new tenants — is to instill a sense of fear about violating a lease. “Any landlord takes that into account,” Hertz said. “They know tenants are going to talk to each other. If they say, ‘He’s going to come after you,’ it’s deterrence.”

When Kushner Companies finally responded to my questions about the cases, they essentially affirmed Hertz’s reasoning. As manager for the Baltimore complexes, the company had a “fiduciary obligation” to its ownership partners to collect as much revenue as it could, said Kushner Companies’ chief financial officer, Jennifer McLean, in a written response. She said the company’s legal costs have been “minimal” compared with what it seeks to recover.

McLean declined to comment on several cases, including Kamiia Warren’s. But she said the pursuit of Joan Beverly, the woman dying of cancer, was justified. “This tenant owed the landlord $3,819.16,” she said in the written statement. “As property manager, it’s our job to collect rent payments.”

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Catherine Silver outside her apartment in Dutch Village. Credit Philip Montgomery for The New York Times

In general, “Westminster Management only takes legal action against a tenant when absolutely necessary,” McLean said. “If legal action is pursued, however, the company follows guidelines consistent with industry standards.” She added: “While taking a tenant to court is far from an ideal outcome, that option — and clear rules governing it — must exist as a last resort.”

The Highland Village complex, along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, is one of Kushner Companies’ largest, a vast maze of lanes and courts lined with rows of short brick-and-siding-fronted homes. Like the other Kushner complexes I visited in Baltimore’s southern and eastern suburbs, it is situated in what was once a predominantly white working-class community, within reasonable commuting distance of the harbor and industrial plants, now defunct, like Bethlehem Steel. In recent decades, many black transplants from the city and Hispanic immigrants have arrived as well, and Highland Village is an unusually integrated place.

The complex, like the others I saw, seemed designed to preclude neighborliness — most of the townhouses lack even the barest stoop to sit out on, and at least one complex has signs forbidding ball-playing (“violators will be prosecuted”). At another complex, kids had drawn a rectangle on the side of a storage shed in lieu of a hoop for their basketball game. The only meeting points at many of the complexes are the metal mailbox stands, the Dumpsters and the laundry room. And the only thing that united many of the residents I spoke to, it seemed, was resentment of their landlord.

They complained about Westminster Management’s aggressive rent-collection practices, which many told me exceeded what they had experienced under the previous owners. Rent is marked officially late, they said, if it arrives after 4:30 p.m. on the fifth day of the month. But Westminster recently made paying the rent much more of a challenge. Last fall, it sent notice to residents saying that they could no longer pay by money order (on which many residents, who lack checking accounts, had relied) at the complex’s rental office and would instead need to go to a Walmart or Ace Cash Express and use an assigned “WIPS card” — a plastic card linked to the resident’s account — to pay their rent there. That method carries a $3.50 fee for every payment, and getting to the Walmart or Ace is difficult for the many residents without cars.

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Tenants who pay after the 5th are hit with late fees that start around $40 to $50 and escalate from there, with court fees usually added on as well. What upsets residents most, though, are not the fees themselves but that the property managers, instead of putting pink or yellow late notices and court summonses discreetly in mailboxes or under doors, post them in public — on the front doors of townhouse units or on lobby walls or lobby doors of apartment buildings. This bothered even tenants who said they always paid their rent on time. “The whole neighborhood knows,” said Marquita Parmely, a truck driver who pays $1,010 a month to rent a townhouse at Essex Park, near Cove Village. Dareck Cromwell, a retiree living at Carriage Hill, told me: “They put them in the windows for everybody to see, to see your business. That’s not right. You don’t put people’s business out like that.”

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Chris Freimiller and Jaclyn Meador at Morningside Park. Credit Philip Montgomery for The New York Times

Compounding these grievances was Westminster’s maintenance of the properties — or lack thereof. Their complexes comprise hundreds of units, but typically have only four or so workers looking after them. Alishia Jamesson, a 30-year-old Highland Village resident, invited me into the small living room of the $842-a-month townhouse she and her fiancé share with her two children. The room was cluttered with bags from Walmart and Dollar Tree, ketchup packets and supplies for the work Jamesson took up after she lost her cashier’s job at Walmart for missing too many shifts for parenting duties: making personalized tote bags and gift baskets for weddings.

Jamesson showed me three large holes in the walls of the townhouse, which Westminster charged her and her fiancé, Keith Riggs, $150 to fix in October but had not yet repaired. “Every time I ask about drywall they say, ‘Oh, well, we only have one drywall person,’ ” Riggs told me. There was also black mold spreading around the bathtub, a large brown stain and crack on the wall adjacent to the stove and a gap in the bathroom skylight that allowed in rain and snow. Jamesson told me that the refrigerator hadn’t worked for more than a month before being replaced; her family had lived on canned food and boxed milk.

Complaints about poor upkeep abounded at the other complexes too. At Highland Village, there was the matter of the vacant unit that burned down one night a couple of months ago: its shell was still standing, attended by nothing but plywood and a tarp. At Essex Park, east of the city, Marquita Parmely, the truck driver, told me she had a mouse infestation that was severe enough that her 12-year-old daughter recently found one in her bed. Parmely also has a 2-year-old with asthma, which is aggravated by allergens in mice droppings. She moved her own bed and other furniture away from the walls to dissuade mice, kept the family’s laundry in tote bags after mice started appearing in the hamper and vacuumed twice a day. Her neighbor told me it took weeks for staff members to replace a rear window that had been shot out by kids with a BB gun.

At the Carroll Park complex in Middle River, Md., Jen Jackson showed me a ceiling leak that was causing a mold problem. At the Whispering Woods townhouses nearby, a resident named Nicole, who asked that I not use her last name, told me she had filed unheeded complaints about loose plastic shutters, one of which finally fell off and hit her in the head. (When I visited Nicole again a few weeks later, she told me that Westminster staff had scolded her for speaking with me and told her not to do so again. A large black pickup followed me and a photographer as we walked through the complex until we left.) In the same complex, Renee Cook showed me the large swath of her downstairs ceiling that had collapsed and the mold and mildew beneath the carpet, each resulting from a leak from her neighbor’s (illicit) washer-dryer.

Asked about such conditions, Kushner Companies said it follows industry standards for maintenance staffing and exterminator visits, and that it and its partners had spent $10 million on upgrades across the complexes. “Despite those improvements, issues still arise, given the age of the properties,” said McLean, the chief financial officer. Shortly after I put questions to the company about specific tenants’ complaints, Cook’s ceiling was repaired.

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Mike McHargue in his living room at Kushner Companies’ Carroll Park complex in Middle River, Md. Credit Philip Montgomery for The New York Times

The worst troubles may have been those described in a 2013 court case involving Jasmine Cox’s unit at Cove Village. They began with the bedroom ceiling, which started leaking one day. Then maggots started coming out of the living-room carpet. Then raw sewage started flowing out of the kitchen sink. “It sounded like someone turned a pool upside down,” Cox told me. “I heard the water hitting the floor and I panicked. I got out of bed and the sink is black and gray, it’s pooling out of the sink and the house smells terrible.”

Cox stopped cooking for herself and her son, not wanting food near the sink. A judge allowed her reduced rent for one month. When she moved out soon afterward, Westminster Management sent her a $600 invoice for a new carpet and other repairs. Cox, who is now working as a battery-test engineer and about to buy her first home, was unaware who was behind the company that had put her through such an ordeal. When I told her of Kushner’s involvement, there was a silence as she took it in.

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“Get that [expletive] out of here,” she said.

Very few of the complex residents I met, even ones who had been pursued at length in court by JK2 Westminster, had any idea that their rent and late fees were going to the family company of the president’s son-in-law. “That Jared Kushner?” Danny Jackson, a plumber in his 15th year living at Harbor Point Estates, exclaimed. “Oh, my God. And I thought he was the good one.”

Jackson said he voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Many of the others I spoke with had not voted — in that or any other election. “I’m not a big political person, so I feel like I don’t think I should vote on something I know nothing about,” Alishia Jamesson told me. But eastern Baltimore County was a Trump stronghold, a formerly staunch Democratic territory with many downwardly mobile white voters — and Kushner’s complexes were no exception.

East of the city, I met Chris Freimiller, a 38-year-old resident of the company’s Morningside Park complex, who was smoking Newports in his car before heading to work at a Rite Aid distribution center. Freimiller complained to me about the persistent leaks from the toilet and the ceiling damage it had caused, and about being hit repeatedly with late fees. He told me he voted for president for the first time ever last year — for Donald Trump. His vote, he said, was motivated by “the racial and police issues. How bad it got with Obama and how he seemed to promote the cop-bashing and the racial divide.” Did knowing that he was sending his late fees to Trump’s son-in-law change anything? “Yeah, actually,” he said. “As if they need any more money.”

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Fontana Village, a Baltimore-area apartment complex owned by Jared Kushner’s company.

Credit Philip Montgomery for The New York Times

At the Carroll Park complex, I met Mike McHargue, a private investigator, and his girlfriend, Patricia Howell. “They’re nothing but slumlords,” Howell told me of Westminster Management. “They take everyone’s money.” When I asked if they knew who was behind the company, they said they did not. “Oh, really?” Howell said when I mentioned Kushner’s name. “Oh, really. And I’m a Trump supporter.”

Jared Kushner stepped down as chief executive of Kushner Companies in January. But he remains a stakeholder in the company — his share of company-related trusts is estimated to be worth at least $600 million — and the company says it has no intention of selling off its multifamily holdings. (JK2 Westminster was formally dissolved in December, but Kushner Companies still owns the complexes through other entities; lawsuits against tenants are now typically filed in the names of the complexes themselves.) Because Kushner retains his interest in the complexes, the White House told The Baltimore Sun in February that he would recuse himself from any policy decisions about Section 8 funding, as many of his tenants rely on it for their rent. But even as Kushner now busies himself with his ever-expanding White House portfolio, his company is carrying on its vigorous efforts in court.

On April 17, three cases were being held consecutively in Baltimore’s District Court involving tenants of the Dutch Village complex. One was against Catherine Silver, a Morgan State University student who had given notice that she was moving at the end of March — she was fed up with lousy maintenance (among other things, a perpetually clogged toilet and a ceiling leak in her closet). But when Silver went to Walmart to pay her March rent with her WIPS card, the money mistakenly ended up not in the account for Dutch Village but the one for Kushner Companies’ adjacent complex, Pleasantview.

Westminster Management started eviction proceedings. On March 23, a sheriff’s deputy changed the locks on the unit. Silver was traveling at the time — it was spring break — and it was not until March 31 that she was able to explain to a judge what happened and get her keys back. By that point, it was too late to get her possessions into the moving truck she’d rented, and classes had resumed. She stayed in the unit, in which Westminster had turned off the heat and hot water, trying again to plan her departure. But Westminster was now after her for April’s rent, despite the fact that the company had literally barred her from being able to move before April, as she had intended. On April 25, a judge ruled that she needed to pay half of April’s rent, plus court costs: $471.

Westminster had a lawyer from Tapper’s firm, Andrew Rabinowitz, at the April 25 hearing, which lasted more than three hours — all over less than $500. The next day Rabinowitz was back to defend Westminster against Silver’s criminal complaint over the unfounded eviction. This time, he was more accommodating, perhaps because he realized a reporter was present. After conferring with Dutch Village’s property manager, who was also in attendance, Rabinowitz agreed to let Silver have until the end of May to move out, rent-free, as long as she paid for April. Silver asked if she could have her hot water turned back on. He said he would look into it. But when I visited Silver two weeks later, the hot water was still off. The stove was covered with the pots she was using to boil water for bathing.

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On May 10 at the Highland Village complex, a woman was distributing the yellow “failure to pay rent” notices filed with the District Court to tenants who were behind on their May rent. One went up on the door of a man who introduced himself to me as Tommy, a recently divorced house painter with two children, who was at that moment sitting in his pickup truck reading Psalm 91 to gird himself for a visit to traffic court. He said he didn’t know why he kept being hit with late fees and court fees at Highland Village because he was up to date on the rent itself.

Over at Carroll Park, Mike McHargue, the private investigator, had also received a yellow notice and was trying to find out when he needed to come up with money to avoid eviction. So was Chris Freimiller, the Rite Aid worker. He had missed a couple weeks of work with back pain related to a metal bar in his leg from an earlier car accident, and Westminster Management had moved quickly to file for eviction over $722.09 in missing rent, plus $66 in fees. When I arrived, Freimiller was sleeping on the couch after a night shift, and his wife, Jaclyn Meador, was trying to get an eviction date from the constable while their 11-year-old son, Ethan, looked on.

One more yellow notice was affixed at the Highland Park home of Alishia Jamesson, the wedding-basket maker. Her fiancé had left his job as a casino housekeeper to take a job handling Amazon packages near the airport, but his first check hadn’t come through yet. Jamesson was working at Walmart again. The couple’s car tags had expired, so both were enduring long public-transit commutes. No one had come from maintenance. There were still three holes in the wall.

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/23/magazine/jared-kushners-other-real-estate-empire.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Prototype: A Lawyer With a Taste for Soy Sauce and a High Tolerance for Pain

Flummoxed by the discrepancy, he researched how soy sauce is made and learned that it is a fermented natural product, like beer, wine or cheese.

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The complexity of its production makes it prime for nuance, he said, but the soy sauces he had tasted up to then were consistently mundane — “analogous to something like ‘Two-Buck Chuck’ or Budweiser.”

He couldn’t understand why people didn’t expect more from sushi condiments. “If someone can pay 15 bucks for one piece of bluefin tuna, they can pay 15 bucks for a bottle of soy sauce that they’re going to put on every piece of fish,” he said he thought.

Soon, Mr. Blum was making trips to far-flung corners of Japan to sample the soy sauces produced by small family breweries with centuries-old traditions. With an interpreter in tow, he met with the owners to discuss their concoctions, and he snapped up small bottles of sauces to try out in sushi restaurants. In tasting more than 150 sauces, he found a wide range of colors, from white to inky black, and flavors that included coffee and chocolate.

Mr. Blum’s initial idea was to start his own brewery in the United States. But making soy sauce takes a long time; brewing a single batch can take two years. (Batch sizes vary depending on the size of the brewery.) So he decided to import artisanal sauces in the hopes of creating a market for them here. Eventually, he would like to start his own brewery.

When Mr. Blum was growing up in Brooklyn in the late 1970s and early 1980s, his family made frequent trips to New York City sushi bars and to Mott Street in Chinatown, which he considers “a proto-foodie scene of the era,” he said. But the soy sauce he tasted back then was never on par with the food itself. He remembers red-capped bottles left out on the restaurants’ tables, filled with bitter, sour liquid emitting a “caustic” aroma.

Mr. Blum’s gusto for food led to a job at a French restaurant when he was in high school, and it has trickled into his legal career. His clients at the Cornerstone Law Group in San Francisco, where he practices business law, include restaurants and food producers. He is a principal of the firm.

When Mr. Blum decided to pursue Shiso as a side business, he continued to spend most of his time working at Cornerstone. It helped that the firm is not set up as a traditional partnership; it is made up of lawyers who work their own cases individually.

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A plant where Jonathan Blum bottled his Shiso soy sauce, which costs $16 to $18 for a 3.4-ounce container. Credit Esme Watson

It gave him more freedom to develop Shiso, including the ability to make trips to Japan that lasted at least two weeks. And it provided a steady source of income, which meant he didn’t need to take on investors.

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Although Mr. Blum has spent the bulk of his legal career advising businesses, starting his own company was more complicated than he had expected.

He could not have anticipated Shiso Soy’s first major setback, which occurred a few years before the trip to the town dump. Just as he was completing the logistics and regulatory paperwork to import sauces from a Japanese brewery in the Fukushima prefecture, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami struck, followed by the worst nuclear meltdown since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Suddenly, his business was in jeopardy, but far worse, he wasn’t sure if the brewery and its owners had even survived.

“I was trying to call them up to see if they were still alive,” Mr. Blum said. “It was terrible. I’d become friends with those people.” They were indeed alive, but “nothing got exported from Japan after that,” he said.

He had to re-evaluate the future of Shiso Soy and decide whether to abandon it or find a new brewery and wait for trade with Japan to resume. He persevered.

“I believe in it,” he says. “I love it. I mean, you suck it up and double down.”

In addition to this passion for his product, Mr. Blum was extremely patient — a trait that benefits anyone trying to set off a new culinary movement, according to Lance Winters, the master distiller at the craft distillery St. George Spirits.

Mr. Winters sees parallels between the soy sauce and spirits industries. After World War II, both became “industrialized commodities instead of something where there’s passion and artistry really driving them,” Mr. Winters said. It took 20 years for consumers to develop a taste for craft gins and vodkas, he noted, because they had grown accustomed to limited options.

To educate St. George’s consumers to a different style of spirits, the company asked bartenders to help with marketing. Mr. Winters believes it will be equally important for Shiso to find “the right sushi chefs who will put this in front of their customers, and say, ‘This is different. This is better. This is what I recommend you use,’” he said.

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But that approach would probably require sushi restaurants to alter their business models. Currently, sushi eaters at restaurants dunk their fish in soy sauce that sits out on tables and is free, just like ketchup at a burger restaurant. The retail price of a gallon of Kikkoman soy sauce is $15; Shiso Soy Sauce is significantly more expensive at $16 and $18 for a 3.4-ounce bottle. For restaurants to carry Shiso sauces, they would probably need to charge for it.

So far, some of his food industry contacts have predicted that chefs might be resistant, Mr. Blum said. He is hiring someone to help market the sauces to chefs and restaurants. For now, he is focused on selling them online with the idea that consumers might take the sauces to sushi restaurants for their personal consumption.

Mr. Winters expects the artisanal soy sauce market to develop faster than craft spirits did, partly because the so-called maker movement is now so robust.

“People are making sausage at home,” Mr. Winters pointed out. “They’re making condiments of their own at home. People are fascinated by process.”

“Whereas before, if people saw a brand they didn’t recognize,” he said, “they would automatically steer away. Now they steer toward it.”

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Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/06/business/a-lawyer-with-a-taste-for-soy-sauce-and-a-high-tolerance-for-pain.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

How He Got There: Christopher Gray on How to Be a Social Entrepreneur


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Christopher Gray pitched Scholly on “Shark Tank” while still a student. Credit via Christopher Gray

Christopher Gray’s first job title after graduation was C.E.O. As the son of a single mother who lost her job during the recession, he knew he would need considerable financial aid to pay for college. After seven strenuous months of searching for scholarships, dodging scams and writing (and recycling) essays on leadership and community service, he raised $1.3 million. Then, as a student at Drexel University in Philadelphia, he turned his experience into a social enterprise — an app called Scholly that matches students with a personalized list of scholarships. Scholly soared to No. 1 in the iOS App Store after Mr. Gray pitched it on “Shark Tank.” In three years, Scholly has been downloaded over a million times and has helped students raise more than $50 million.

Mr. Gray — now 25, one of Forbes’s “30 Under 30” and Oprah Winfrey’s “SuperSoul 100” — shares advice for students hoping to launch a sustainable social venture.

Find Your Motivation

Being from Birmingham, Ala., you tend to want to get out of Birmingham, Ala. I wanted to be a tech entrepreneur. I wanted to escape and get to a place where I could do that. My brother and sister were 4 and 2 at the time I was going to college. I wanted to break the cycle and create a better life for them. They now have someone they can see who’s different than what’s around them. All the success is just surreal, and it’s emotional. When I started Scholly, my goal wasn’t to make a billion dollars. It was to help a lot of people.

The ‘Aha’ Moment

Realizing there’s a big market, that’s when I knew this could be a business. At Drexel I was around a lot of kids who had different backgrounds. I saw, it’s not just me. Both parents could make 100K, but they have three kids in college. They need scholarships, too.

Make a Deal

To get on “Shark Tank,” my advice would be to find a producer and have a conversation. A producer spoke to one of my friends at Drexel and I ran up to ask for an introduction. I pitched my story and ended up calling him, like, six times. Be persistent. The producer I talked to had to find scholarships of his own, so he understood. Find people who identify with what you’re doing.

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Leverage Your Peers

You have a lot of people around you who want to get experience and will work for free. And a lot of your friends have connections. One of my investors is Springleaf and that came from a guy I partied with. His dad is the C.E.O.

Leverage Your University

Your university wants your success as much as you do. I was a student when I appeared on “Shark Tank.” That’s a big thing for the school. Drexel helped promote us. Your university has tons of networking events and marketing opportunities. Students don’t have money, so we have to figure out the most inexpensive way to get the word out there.

Tap Student-Specific Cash

There are so many funding opportunities specifically for students. I think students miss that sometimes. I won $75,000 from Cupid’s Cup, an entrepreneurship competition for students and recent graduates. At Drexel, I won $32,000 in an incubator competition.

Persevere

When you’re a student, you study hard for a test and you make an A. You have a degree of control over your success. When you’re an entrepreneur, you can work eight months on a deal and it may not go through. Markets change. Investors change their minds. When that happens, be resilient. Students may not be used to dealing with that yet. If a little boy from Birmingham, Ala., can go to college, pay for it and build a successful company before the age of 25, so can you.

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Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/06/education/edlife/christopher-gray-on-how-to-be-a-social-entrepreneur.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

As Strollers Roll Through New York City Grit and Muck, an Industry Is Born


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Illustration by Kaye Blegvad

There is nothing more emblematic of New York City baby life than the beat-up stroller. In this walking city, strollers become homes on wheels, where babies and toddlers log long hours eating, napping and playing.

Parents and caregivers thump these portable playpens and high chairs down subway steps, bump them over broken curbs, and drag them through snow and puddles of who knows what. Their carry baskets hide yesterday’s snack crumbs, crumpled art projects, splashed coffee and grit from the sandbox. They moonlight as grocery carts and extra storage, and mark the passage of time with ever-accruing layers of stain.

“Just like you would buy a minivan if you had a couple of kids, we buy huge strollers,” Katelyn Taylor, 32, said she tells her relatives in the Midwest. She regularly turns heads by toting four children around the Upper East Side in a single Uppababy Vista stroller, balancing two toddlers on the running board and two infants in the double seats. (Two are hers; two she watches for a friend.)

With that kind of use, strollers tend to get filthy. And as perhaps should be expected in this era, when web-based services are springing up to handle everything from dog walking to errand running, and especially in a city known for its entrepreneurial spirit, a fledging stroller-cleaning industry is emerging to deal with the mess.

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In New York, baby strollers are particularly adept at picking up the dirt, dust and the other unmentionables of a New York City street. Credit Bryan Thomas for The New York Times

Two very different businesses, one national, one local, are vying for a slice of this market in Manhattan. In the homegrown corner is Baby Bubbles, a mom-and-pop shop tucked into a quiet side street on the Upper East Side. The store is painted light blue and white, with a row of tiny white baby clothes hanging from a clothesline in the window. The vibe is meant to be part spa, part New England farmhouse, and to emphasize that the store cleans baby clothes, too.

The owner, Seth Mittman, 39, opened the store about 18 months ago, after becoming a father and noticing that each stroller parked outside the pediatrician’s office was dirtier than the next. “This cannot happen,” he said he remembers telling his wife. Mr. Mittman started cleaning friends’ strollers in the bathtub of his Upper East Side apartment, and when he realized he had a viable business idea, he quit his job in advertising sales and went all the way. (The family has since moved to Wayne, N.J.)

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Baby Bubbles is small, so all the scrubbing these days is done in the store basement by an employee, Jose Nuñez, 29, a father of two from the Bronx who brings his own baby gear to clean on the weekends. His key tools are a scrub brush, All Free and Clear detergent, and a $3,500 dry vapor steam cleaner usually used for car detailing.

When Mr. Nuñez got a hold of a Joolz stroller last week — a $1,200 Australian import — he took apart the fabric seat and started vacuuming the bottom bin. A funky smell rose from its depths, with notes of old cheese, fish and perhaps the nasty puddle that the owner, Tali Roth, said had driven her to seek professional help.

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“I try not to breathe through my nose,” Mr. Nuñez said.

With the deluxe cleaning package, which costs $75, Baby Bubbles disassembles and sanitizes the stroller, details the wheels with Armor All and wraps them up in plastic wrap, a process that takes about 60 to 90 minutes. Pick up and delivery are free in most of Manhattan and a portion of Brooklyn, and the job is usually done in a day. The company also cleans strollers donated to a charity, called NYC Mammas Give Back, at no charge.

Baby Bubbles’s competitor, Tot Squad, has a location in a Midtown office building and juggernaut-like aspirations. Its founder, Jennifer Beall Saxton, 33, came up with the idea for a baby-gear cleaning and repair business while a student at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. She wants to be to strollers and car seats what the Geek Squad is to computer repair.

“I think that sometimes if you can find something that no one else wants to do and you do it for them, there is a business opportunity there,” she said in a telephone interview.

Tot Squad’s main location is in Los Angeles, where it sets up in front of businesses like Whole Foods and Babies “R” Us and cleans car seats and strollers while parents shop. Ms. Saxton’s dream is to develop her partnerships to the point that when a parent buys an expensive stroller at a major retailer it will come with a service plan from her company.

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Jose Nuñez steam cleans a car seat at Baby Bubbles, a shop on the Upper East Side. Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

Tot Squad’s New York location has no storefront, so items must be dropped off in the building lobby. It is more expensive; a full-service stroller cleaning with wheel detailing costs $119, plus $50 to $75 for pickup and drop-off. “New York City strollers are exponentially dirtier” than strollers elsewhere, Ms. Saxton said.

She has seen baby gear stained with cat urine, covered with spider webs and chewed through by mice. Mold, she thinks, is the toughest stain — she charges an extra $25 to remove it. Vomit does not even raise her eyebrows. “Carsick kids keep me in business,” she said.

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Mr. Mittman, who also washes and folds baby clothes for about $1 a pound, says he thinks New York is a unique market for baby-gear cleaning because of all the busy working parents who do not have a washing machine in their homes. So he is not planning on opening other locations.

His bread and butter are people like Ms. Roth. An interior designer from the Columbus Circle area, Ms. Roth had considered professional stroller cleaning pretentious — until her stroller got soaked by a Central Park puddle so disgusting she could not stomach putting her toddler back in it.

The stroller is now “lovely and gorgeous and feels brand-new,” she said. Even if “by January it will look like it was never cleaned.”

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Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/04/nyregion/as-strollers-roll-through-new-york-city-grit-and-muck-an-industry-is-born.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Start-Ups for the End of Life

A new crop of tech start-ups is hoping to capture a slice of that sector. Many are founded by millennials, who have grown up online and expect to shop for — and curate — everything there.

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As baby boomers become more comfortable shopping online, these start-ups are finding a highly engaged audience. And those in their 20s and 30s, hitting major life events like marriage, the birth of a child or the loss of a parent, also require planning services.

The typical customer would be someone like Michelle LaBerge, a resident of Oshkosh, Wis., who recently turned 50 and helped her parents move into an assisted living community. Those events reminded her that she needed to get her own affairs in order.

She was put off, however, by the hassle and expense of having to consult a lawyer. But when she ran across a Groupon offer in February from a start-up called Willing, which provides state-specific estate planning documents online that can be updated any time, she decided to try it.

For $30, Ms. LaBerge created a will customized to suit her particular circumstances. “It was very easy,” she said. “I compared it to my parents’ will, done by an attorney, and it looked the same.”

The founders of Willing, Eliam Medina and Rob Dyson, wanted to create a platform that allowed users to complete their own estate planning documents like a will, power of attorney and health care directive.

“If you look at what TurboTax has done for tax planning, we wanted to do the same thing for estate planning,” said Mr. Medina, the company’s chief executive.

An early version of the platform was introduced in Florida in January 2015. Consumers were invited to try the service free and about 500 wills were created, Mr. Medina said. That summer, Willing, based in Miami, went through the start-up incubator Y Combinator, where it expanded to all 50 states. The company has raised $7 million. Mr. Medina says 25,000 wills a month are created on the platform.

Until the 2008 recession, the funeral industry had largely been unchanged, said David Nixon, president of Nixon Consulting, which works with funeral home owners. But since then, consumers have been actively looking for deals and other ways to simplify the funeral process.

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Enter the start-up Parting, founded about a year ago in Los Angeles, an online directory of funeral homes searchable by ZIP code, which allows users to compare prices and services, and view the homes’ locations.

A team of people posing as shoppers seeks out pricing and services information from funeral homes that are unaware the information is for the site. An increasing number of funeral directors, however, are voluntarily working with Parting to put their information in the database, which now has more than 15,000 funeral homes.

It is backed by an angel investor and is increasing about 27 percent a month in searches and visitors, said Tyler Yamasaki, a founder.

Still, it has been an uphill battle getting these traditionally small, mom-and-pop companies to promote themselves, Mr. Yamasaki said.

“It’s a big, slow industry and a lot of these funeral homes aren’t open to start-ups,” he said. Funeral homes can get a free basic listing on Parting or pay for a premium listing, which increases their visibility. If a home gets a customer through the listing, Parting collects 12 to 15 percent of the funeral bill as its fee.

Another start-up in Los Angeles, Grace, is tackling all of the issues that can overwhelm family members coping with grief after the death of a loved one. There is little guidance about what to do when someone dies, said Alex Kruger, Grace’s co-founder and chief executive.

“Like what are the 60 things I need to do in the next three months? At Grace we say, ‘Here are the 17 things you need to do this week’ and you can check them off as you do them. Here’s what you do the week before someone dies, when they die and then two weeks later.”

Today, most of Grace’s customers call in and are helped by staff members who are also licensed funeral directors — including Mr. Kruger and his co-founders. “In some ways death is still handled by talking to other people,” he said.

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Grace connects families with vetted providers, including estate lawyers, financial planners, funeral homes and caterers. Customers receive a list of tasks to complete before and after a death, including the necessary paperwork, but the staff can also help with funeral planning, filling out forms and other tasks.

Mr. Kruger said Grace has had some unusual requests, like shipping a body to Romania and closing a deceased individual’s Tinder account.

The company, founded in June, has raised under $2 million in seed funding and transactions are growing about 20 percent a month. Grace’s services are offered only in Southern California, but Mr. Kruger said they would be in Northern California by the end of the year and in additional states next year.

Possibly the most difficult situation consumers face is to decide how to be cared for at the end of their lives, and communicating that to family members.

Cake, a start-up in Boston created at M.I.T.’s Hacking Medicine conference’s Grand Hack in 2015, helps users decide end-of-life preferences, like the extent of life support or what to do with their Facebook page. It then stores the choices in the cloud and shares them with those who are designated.

The start-up has been self-financed until now but is now closing a seed round, said Suelin Chen, a founder and chief executive.

The platform asks users a series of questions to help them determine their preferences. Their answers are used to populate their Cake profile, to which they can add notes and instructions to family members or friends.

An environmentalist, for instance, could learn that others sharing his green values donated their bodies to science. Or the person could arrange for a biodegradable burial.

“People get very inspired by what other people do. It’s a part of living,” Ms. Chen said. And now it’s part of dying, too.

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Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/03/business/start-ups-for-the-end-of-life.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Small Factories Emerge as a Weapon in the Fight Against Poverty

For the first three decades of Marlin’s existence, the company almost exclusively made simple, sturdy, welded-wire bagel baskets. As the Jewish breakfast staple exploded in popularity outside the Northeast, Marlin prospered along with it.

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But by the early 2000s, the bagel craze was fading, and the popularity of the Atkins diet and carb-phobia started hurting bagel sales. China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001 presented traditional manufacturers — and what is more old-school than bagel baskets? — with an existential threat.

Chinese versions of Marlin’s products were selling for $6 each, or less than what the steel alone cost in Marlin’s baskets. The other $5 that Marlin charged, to cover salaries, taxes, equipment and a sliver of profit, was now just red ink.

Mr. Greenblatt did what organisms threatened with extinction have always done to survive: He evolved.

He moved the factory to Baltimore in 1999, with eight of his Brooklyn employees following him, including one who is still working on the floor. Then he began going after what economists call value-added goods, products that were more specialized and sophisticated what than the Chinese were making, and therefore able to command higher prices.

But producing baskets with very specific requirements, or tolerances, as they are known, for automakers or aerospace giants could not be achieved by hand. “If a bagel falls out the bottom, that’s 10 cents,” Mr. Greenblatt said. “A single airplane part can cost thousands of dollars, so there’s no room for error.”

Over the course of a decade, he invested in robots that churned out baskets almost a hundred times as fast as human beings. He trained his workers to operate the robots, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each, and hired engineers to help design ever-more-sophisticated products to win customers and stay ahead of overseas rivals.

“In Brooklyn, eight fellows could do 300 bends an hour,” Mr. Greenblatt recalled. “Now two guys running robots can do 25,000 bends per hour.”

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Today, in fact, many of Marlin’s robot-made baskets are designed specifically to be handled by other robots.

Automation did not mean the elimination of jobs — in fact, it saved the company. But it does mean producing many more baskets with only a few more workers. So, while Marlin’s revenue has grown to over $5 million today, from $800,000 when Mr. Greenblatt arrived, the company’s work force has increased by just a third, to 24 people from 18 people.

Marlin’s comeback isn’t exactly a secret. In 2012, the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, visited the plant. Mr. Greenblatt is a well-known booster in industry circles.

Less publicized is how the company’s survival has transformed the lives of its workers, even as the Westport neighborhood around the factory, and other poor sections of Baltimore, remain deeply scarred. “Some are dead, some are locked up,” said Edward Derrill, 23, of the guys he grew up with in West Baltimore. “I didn’t want to end up like that.”

With an associate’s degree in computer science from Morgan State University, a historically black college in Baltimore, workers like Mr. Derrill can earn at least $50,000 a year. Besides health insurance, they also have access to a 401(k) plan and two weeks’ paid vacation, a rarity at many local employers.

“You can work your way up and get raises,” he said. Mr. Derrill hopes to become a team leader soon, supervising other workers. Marlin also pays for its employees to go back to school and get degrees in related subjects like engineering, giving workers who never had a chance to attend college additional options.

Nationwide and for men in particular, whether black or white, the erosion of manufacturing work has been especially devastating.

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Drew Greenblatt, owner of Marlin Steel, said, “This isn’t theoretical. Manufacturing bootstraps people out of poverty.” Credit Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

In the 1950s, says Lawrence Katz, a prominent labor economist at Harvard, nearly one-third of the men who went to work after high school were employed in factories. Those jobs and that era are never coming back, Mr. Katz said, “but a job as a physical therapist or a home health aide doesn’t fit the identity of someone who is a welder or a machinist.”

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And while not all the workers at Marlin are men — the split is about 80-20 — for many blue-collar men there and elsewhere, the idea of working with one’s hands and building things is closely connected to finding a purpose in life, and in the workplace. “I call it an identity mismatch, and I think it’s a huge issue for men,” Mr. Katz said. “Pure physical labor isn’t much valued today, but we need to try and rebuild the service sector for men without college degrees.”

Brent Fox, 34, served with the Marine Corps in Iraq and is now the weekend shift supervisor at Marlin, a position that can pay well over $50,000 a year. While the money is a draw, Mr. Fox also said working in a service-type role doesn’t appeal to him.

“‘You want fries with that?’ No way,” he said. “I like being able to take raw material and make it into something. There’s pride in making things — you don’t get that in a lot of service jobs.”

New employers have appeared in Baltimore, including an Amazon warehouse that employs more than 3,000. But with hourly wages of over $15 an hour, that is still less than what most Marlin workers earn.

“This isn’t theoretical,” Mr. Greenblatt said, shouting over the din of metal pounding on metal. “Manufacturing bootstraps people out of poverty.”

‘Honest, Hard Work’

Up Annapolis Road from the small industrial park that Marlin calls home, in the Westport neighborhood, the deindustrialization of urban America wreaked havoc. Derelict rowhouses line the streets, with rotting stoops and garbage-filled yards. Only 6 percent of residents have college degrees, and more than a quarter do not have a high school diploma.

“Try to get a job,” said John Brooks, who has lived in Westport for most of his 63 years. “They won’t hire people from here.”

Ticking off Baltimore employers of yesteryear — like Bethlehem Steel, and Carr Lowrey, a glassmaker that shut its doors in 2003 after 114 years down by the Patapsco River — Mr. Brooks shook his head.

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“McDonald’s, you might not even get that,” he said. “There used to be plenty of factories here. You didn’t even need a high school diploma to work at Bethlehem Steel.”

Once upon a time, Mr. Branch, the Marlin machine operator, also lacked a high school diploma. He earned one through an equivalency test, and later helped other prisoners earn their G.E.D.s during his time inside.

After Popeyes and his course at the Magna Baltimore Technical Training Center, Mr. Branch landed a job at Crown Cork Seal in a suburb of Baltimore. “I don’t know if anyone else would have taken a chance on me,” he said.

In the autumn of 2015, after 123 years of making cans in Baltimore, Crown Cork Seal shut down the plant where Mr. Branch worked. But he was determined to find another manufacturing position and not go back to the streets.

“The worst feeling in the world was watching my kids get up and leave after they visited me in prison,” he recalled. “I promised them I wouldn’t put them through that again.”

Mr. Greenblatt had worked with Magna, and when a headhunter steered Mr. Branch to Marlin Steel, it was a natural fit. “I like being creative,” Mr. Branch said, as he entered figures that would determine the diameter and angles of the parts that his machine produces.

“God gave me a lot of blessings,” he said. “When you lived that life on the corner, you never knew which day would be your last. Now I can come home, sit on my couch, look at my big-screen TV and appreciate it because it came from honest, hard work. That’s a great feeling, and nothing can take that away.”

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Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/30/business/small-factories-emerge-as-a-weapon-in-the-fight-against-poverty.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

On Brink of a Sale, Family Shop in Chinatown Stays in Family

“They are leaving a big pile of cash on the table for their heritage,” said the broker, Will Suarez, a director at the commercial real estate company Cushman Wakefield.

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Mei Lum, 26, is taking over the operation and re-envisions the store as a community space in a gentrifying Chinatown. Credit Alex Wroblewski/The New York Times

Wing on Wo’s salvation appeared in Mei Lum, 26, the second-youngest of the family’s five grandchildren. She turned down acceptance to graduate school at Columbia University last May to interrupt the store’s sale and offered to take it over. She is now reinventing the shop, molding it into a community space that operates against the backdrop of Chinatown’s history. The antiques will become secondary; instead, she envisions a forum for panels on issues like neighborhood politics, exhibitions for local artists and a coffee shop. Ms. Lum held an event recently at the store on the neighborhood’s gentrification, and a planned panel will include influential businesswomen from Chinatown. She calls her concept the “W.O.W. Project.”

Ms. Lum was traveling in China when her father in New York called to inform her that her grandparents, Nancy and Shuck Seid, 86 and 92, were selling the shop. Mrs. Seid, who inherited the shop from her father’s family, managed it for decades, while Mr. Seid worked for years as a clerk in the New York Police Department’s Fifth Precinct in Chinatown. Mrs. Seid said she was exhausted and wanted to spend time with her aging husband, who now speaks little and is in a wheelchair.

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“Every little thing becomes a problem when you get old,” Mrs. Seid said, surrounded by family at Wing on Wo on a recent afternoon. “You don’t want to deal with things anymore. So I told them: Sell the damn thing.”

Mei’s father, Gary Lum, 61, sat beneath the shop’s dusty industrial ceiling fan. “On the one hand, you want to walk into the sunset,” he said. “But you also have to consider what it means to close something like this after all these years.”

Ms. Lum’s early fascination with Chinese history set her apart from the other grandchildren. Growing up in Chinatown, she relished afternoons with her tradition-minded grandfather, who taught her Cantonese and the teachings of Confucius. Any skepticism from friends about passing up a prestigious education, she said, weighed on her only momentarily.

“The wheels were turning. It was on the market. I had to act fast,” Ms. Lum said. “You’re supposed to get all these shiny things and then go onto better things, right? But I had to think about my impact. How can I make a global impact if I haven’t even had an impact on my own community? Graduate school will always be there. This won’t.”

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Ceramics for sale at Wing on Wo Co. Credit Alex Wroblewski/The New York Times

Wellington Chen, the director of Chinatown’s business improvement district, pondered the shop’s new chapter and said Ms. Lum was challenging a troubling neighborhood narrative. “These children get the degree or the big job or the car, and then no one ever comes back,” he said. “That is the problem we have with young people in Chinatown now. Can she make the shop relevant? We have to see. But I applaud her for coming back, because no one is coming back.”

Ms. Lum’s new vision for Wing on Wo, ironically, resembles the store’s original incarnation over 100 years ago, when Chinatown spanned just Pell, Doyers, Bayard and Mott Streets, and was populated by people who felt very far from home.

General stores like Wing on Wo were crucial hubs in this early village-like stretch. They sold tastes of home like dried fish, herbs and tofu, but they also operated as social clubs, representing Chinese villages and counties, and provided mail and money-wiring services.

Ms. Lum’s great-great-grandfather, Walter Eng, opened Wing on Wo at 13 Mott Street, opposite the shop’s current location (it moved in 1925). It was a dimly lighted place, family members said, filled with men in felt hats who smoked Lucky Strikes and drank Martinson coffee while playing mah-jongg to pass the time. A roast pig usually hung from a ceiling, and there was a resident herbalist.

Mrs. Seid inherited the shop in 1964, recasting the general store as a purveyor of antiques and porcelain (“I wasn’t going to cut meat,” she said indignantly). When the United States’ trade relations with China reopened after President Nixon’s 1972 trip there, she began annual buying trips with her husband. They would send back loads of plates and teapots from Hong Kong in stamped wooden crates; 200 of these crates collect dust in the shop’s basement, and Ms. Lum started a contest for local artists to re-envision them (an extra-long skateboard and a garden bench are among the entries).

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Many old businesses in Chinatown did not survive the economic slump after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The day brought a personally searing loss for Wing on Wo: The Seids’ only son and heir apparent to the store, Stuart, died in the south tower. “It took years out of them,” said Mei’s father, Gary Lum. “They were planning to retire then but had to pull themselves up from their bootstraps all over again.”

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Like other stores, Wing on Wo Co. on Mott Street was a community hub in its early days, selling familiar foods and offering postal services and wiring money. Credit Alex Wroblewski/The New York Times

Today, Chinatown’s youth show little interest in staying in the neighborhood. “The soil is loose for the new generation,” Mr. Lum added. “The older folks dug their toes into the soil of this neighborhood. They lived, played, worked, and celebrated in it.”

He commended his daughter’s sensibilities. “It was never about the gold ring for her,” he said. “Or to want Jaguars, Tag Heuers, or a house in the Hamptons. I didn’t raise her like that.”

The Seids seemed pleased to be free of Wing on Wo’s burdens one recent Saturday morning at the shop. They had just finished one of their standing dim sum breakfasts at Ping’s next door. David Eng, a family friend, stood by Mr. Seid, who sat calmly in his wheelchair, wearing a felt cap.

“My father always told me when I was growing up: This is a good man,” Mr. Eng said. “He didn’t say that about a lot of people.”

The Seids soon departed to their apartment in the nearby Chatham Towers complex, and Mr. Eng, who had been giving advice to Ms. Lum, returned to his shop, Fong Inn Too, which has made tofu in the area since 1931.

“I wasn’t ready for David to grill me so early,” she remarked to her father. “He asked me lots of questions. Do you think you’re too young? Are you ready for this? Do you need an introduction with this person?”

“He’s just had a lot of coffee,” her father said.

The father and daughter kept chatting. Ms. Lum’s mother, Lorraine, busied herself around the store. A cousin prepared food in the back kitchen, where a trapdoor leads to the oven room once used for roasting whole pigs. As the ice cream shop’s line grew outside, and tourists walked along Mott, Wing on Wo continued to bear witness to it all.

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Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/09/nyregion/family-shop-in-chinatown-stays-in-family-wing-on-wo-co.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Keeping It Local

The Cheungs were originally attracted to Windsor Terrace because of what Mr. Cheung described as “a mix of old-school Brooklyn and new families.”

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In 1999, he and Mrs. Cheung, the assistant administrator at the law firm Ostrolenk Faber, purchased a two-bedroom duplex condo facing Prospect Park for under $300,000. Mr. Cheung said that neighbors have recently sold similar properties for around $900,000.

Back in January 2015, Mr. and Mrs. Cheung were out on a neighborhood stroll when they saw a for-rent sign in the window of a storefront that had gone through many incarnations in recent years, including ice cream shop, oyster bar and tiny upscale cafe.

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CHRIS CHEUNG, Owner, East Wind Snack Shop, Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn Credit Alex Wroblewski for The New York Times

“When I saw the space, it reminded me of the restaurants I used to go to as a kid in Chinatown,” Mr. Cheung said. “They’re like Chinese teahouses with the focus on snacks — dumplings and bao. I thought, here’s this spot near my house — we’d be opening up a neighborhood restaurant.” Within two weeks, Mr. Cheung, whose lengthy culinary résumé includes stints at Jean-Georges, Nobu, the Monkey Bar and Almond Flower Bistro, had signed a five-year lease on the place.

An obvious benefit of staying local is that although he puts in 10- to 12-hour days, five to six days a week, his commute is practically nonexistent. And it’s unlikely that his policy of shuttering the restaurant on Sundays to spend time with his wife and son would fly in a neighborhood that wasn’t already so focused on family.

Mr. Cheung said he had matured since his days at the helm of big-time restaurant kitchens. In Windsor Terrace, he said, sounding contented, “I’m known as the ‘dumpling guy.’ I’m known for making good food.”

For some business owners, opening up shop in a neighborhood is the impetus to further commit to the area by purchasing a home and becoming a full-time local.

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‘When I saw the space, it reminded me of the restaurants I used to go to as a kid in Chinatown.’ — Chris Cheung Credit Alex Wroblewski for The New York Times

Up in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, James Lee, 48, a contestant in 2011 on Season 7 of the Food Network’s “Chopped,” resides just steps from his eclectic neighborhood cafe, 181 Cabrini, at 854 West 181st Street, and about a dozen blocks from Buddha Beer Bar, a sports-oriented establishment at 4476 Broadway, which he also owns.

“I’m a neighborhood kind of guy,” said Mr. Lee, who was born in Busan, South Korea, and grew up in Toronto. “I used to have a restaurant in Midtown. I didn’t like it. Everybody wants things right away. We catered to law firms. They’re just miserable, so I didn’t know why I was bothering.”

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Mr. Lee opened 181 Cabrini in 2008, and then in 2010, along with his wife, Verena Cimarolli, 47, a senior research scientist for the Research Institute on Aging of the New Jewish Home, moved to their two-bedroom co-op from Harlem. Mr. Lee declined to reveal the purchase price, but according to Jonathan J. Miller, the president of Miller Samuel, a real estate appraisal firm, similar properties in the area have sold for a median price of $581,392 over the last six months.

In 2012, Mr. Lee opened Buddha Beer Bar, a spot where locals convene for fantasy football, trivia night and craft beer. Next month, Mr. Lee and his sister will close on an investment property, a townhouse in nearby Hamilton Heights. John Keenan, a salesman with Douglas Elliman Real Estate, helped them with their search.

Tips for Neighborhood Business Owners

Hire the Right Help “Hire someone to oversee the construction,” advised Terri Gloyd, an owner with Annie Tsantes of LIC Corner Cafe in Long Island City, Queens. “We had an offer from a guy to do the whole renovation for $70,000, and I thought, ‘That is so much money!’ It probably would have been smart to do it.” Look to the Locals “There’s this Russian guy that lives up the street and he introduced us to this Polish woodworker who put the wood in around our windows and front door,” Ms. Gloyd said. “Annie’s son Rowan put our electricity in, and her other son, Damien, put our air-conditioners in. My son helped to move equipment.” Prepare for Obstacles “This city makes it hard to do small businesses,” said Chris Cheung, the owner of East Wind Snack Shop in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn. “I’ll be flat out — the city almost makes you feel like they don’t want you to open a business. From permits to fees to signing onto your cable and internet, it’s a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle.” Don’t Push Product When it comes to her clothing, Lia Kes, a fashion designer and shop owner on the Upper West Side, strives to create a relationship with regular customers. “I say: ‘If you don’t need it and it won’t leave your closet enough times, leave it here. We’ll sell it to someone else.’” Bring Your ‘A’ Game“You need that Type A personality in order to do this,” said James Lee, who owns a cafe and a sports bar in Washington Heights. “You have to be able to multitask. It’s not about the food, it’s about ‘How many balls can I put in the air without dropping them?’”

“I definitely see the purchase as a way of James investing further into his community, as he’s been doing in Washington Heights and Harlem for the past 10 years,” Mr. Keenan said.

Mr. Lee feels that by keeping his ventures near home, he’s “carved out a living without all the hassles,” he said, which includes being able to pick up his son, Noah Lee, 8, at the bus stop every day after school.

“I design my schedule so that I have pockets of free time. I coach his soccer team, I’m coaching his hockey team. Even though my wife and I both work full time, he’s never had a babysitter.”

Mr. Lee calls Washington Heights one of the “last real neighborhoods in New York City,” where different cultures coexist and everyone’s “just trying to make it.”

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LIA KES, Owner, KES NYC, Upper West Side, Manhattan
Credit Alex Wroblewski for The New York Times

“The only thing that matters in a neighborhood are the restaurants, bars and cafes,” he said. “It used to be about being near shops. Nobody cares about shops, even grocery shops — everyone gets Fresh Direct. No one cares to be close to the Gap. How many times do you need to go get a T-shirt? The social fabric is here, in the restaurants.”

And, he said, owning a restaurant near home means a better quality of life, not just for him, but also for his employees. “I like to hire guys from the neighborhood,” he said. “I think one of the most stressful parts of your job is the commute. So if you eliminate that, it’s a little bit simpler.” Hiring locals also has a practical side: “They can’t give me no lie that the train was stuck!”

For some, living in such proximity to the shop would mean blurred lines between home and work. But for Mr. Lee, those lines don’t exist. “You can’t really separate the business from your life when you’re this close,” he said. “I step out my door and I’m at work.”

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Sometimes, living in a neighborhood gives you perspective on what your community is lacking.

When Terri Gloyd, 62, made trips to the dog run with her spaniel in Long Island City, Queens, she would often stare at an abandoned Filipino grocery near her building, and envision the possibilities. The area had restaurants and a nice market, she said, but there seemed to be room for a cafe.

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‘I think there is something very beautiful and human in opening a business in a place that you feel a connection to.’ —Lia Kes Credit Alex Wroblewski for The New York Times

In November 2015, she and her business partner, Annie Tsantes, 65, opened LIC Corner Cafe at 21-03 45th Road. Ms. Gloyd has resided around the corner from the spot since 1987, while Ms. Tsantes has lived in the very building that houses the cafe since 1980 — she’s its superintendent.

“Neither of us have owned a business before,” said Ms. Gloyd, who arrives at the cafe at 6:30 a.m. each day to start making baked goods such as blueberry pie, while Ms. Tsantes comes in for the later shift and focuses her attention on preparing savory dishes. The partners, who were acquaintances, have fallen into what they call a “sisterly” relationship, divvying up the work without really talking about it.

“We now know the old neighborhood and the younger crowd who are buying these new condos,” Ms. Gloyd said. “This isn’t just about money for us. It’s about community.”

Ms. Tsantes’s brother owns the building that houses the cafe, and did not charge rent during the time it took to complete the gut renovation. “That’s what allowed us to do this,” Ms. Gloyd explained. The rent on the cafe started at $1,500 a month and has now increased to $1,800 a month.

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JAMES LEE, Owner, Buddha Beer Bar and 181 Cabrini, Washington Heights, Manhattan Credit Alex Wroblewski for The New York Times

Ms. Gloyd and her husband, Pat Irwin, 61, a composer, secured a piece of the neighborhood before it was popular, purchasing their two-bedroom apartment for $60,000 in 1994.

“Long Island City was like a secret, easy-to-get-to, quiet neighborhood with lots of old factories,” Ms. Gloyd said. “It was a great place for a kid to grow up. We have a lot of friends that live in the neighborhood. It feels like a small town, and we love that about it.”

The cafe is the definition of mom-and-pop — Sam Irwin, 22, the son of Ms. Gloyd and Mr. Irwin, and a recent graduate of Bennington College, fills in at the cafe. Other employees include Natalie DeSabato, 26, a resident of nearby Ridgewood who secured herself a spot on the payroll by enticing the women with the homemade dough that they now use for their chocolate chip cookies. Julie Powell, the author of “Julie Julia,” who met Ms. Gloyd at the dog run, works there part time as a barista.

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The women were initially wary when a popular coffee chain opened a block away, but they have since realized it’s not direct competition.

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‘The only thing that matters in a neighborhood are the restaurants, bars and cafes.’ —James Lee Credit Alex Wroblewski for The New York Times

“We carry Toby’s,” Ms. Gloyd explained, referring to Toby’s Estate Coffee, the Brooklyn-based small-batch coffee roasters. “We have water filters, everything’s weighed, we’ve taken classes.”

Besides offering what they believe is a better brew, they have Ms. Gloyd’s homemade focaccia. And every month the cafe features the work of a different local artist on its walls.

Lia Kes, 44, a fashion designer, opened her boutique, KES NYC, in March 2014, not downtown, but on the Upper West Side, her home of 15 years, not counting a brief sojourn in San Francisco. The shop, at 463 Amsterdam Avenue, features her seasonless, utilitarian-yet-feminine clothing.

“There was nothing expected about it, and yet it’s needed,” said Ms. Kes of her business, striking a glamorous figure in her Elongated Kimono Dress in black silk and a wild mane of hair. “I feel that this is my role in the community,” Ms. Kes said.

Reared on a kibbutz in Israel, she says she is drawn to her neighbors. “On the Upper West Side there is something very special that I feel and recognize in the casualness of people, the ‘no big deal’ of who they are,” she said. “And I’m very appreciative of that.”

She described her shop as a living room for her neighborhood’s “super successful, beautiful women.”

“Women are coming in, and they might have coffee with us,” Ms. Kes said. “Some will pass by and say hi and it’s a conversation that may lead to buying something — or not.”

Ms. Kes, who has two daughters, Sunnye Lyri Berman, 11, and Orrie Love Berman, 9, rents a two-bedroom apartment for $7,000 a month just steps from her store. She is working with Anat Patishi, a saleswoman with DJK Residential, to find a home in the $2 million range, and has limited her search to a radius of a few blocks.

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“I think there is something very beautiful and human in opening a business in a place that you feel a connection to,” Ms. Kes said. “If you feel like part of the community and you see an opening and there is a void you can fill, there’s something very organic and beautiful about that.”

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Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/09/realestate/keeping-it-local.html?partner=rss&emc=rss