Lee’s art store to close as Midtown towers grow around it

The Lee Building, at 220 West 57th Street, was originally a clubhouse for the American Society of Civil Engineers, whose members no doubt appreciated its delicate facade as they filled and filled its auditorium with 400 places – until the building becomes a Schrafft restaurant. Lee’s, which was across the street in a 500-square-foot storefront, rented the ground floor in the 1970s.

The owners of Lee’s purchased the entire building in the 1990s and spent $ 8 million on renovations in 2001 and 2002, increasing retail space from 7,500 square feet to 40,000 feet squares. The extra room was on three floors largely unused upstairs. New escalators were brought in (through a hole in the roof) and installed at night. This allows the store to remain open during the day.

In 2013 – five years after the death of Gilbert Steinberg, owner of Lee’s since the early 1950s, and six years after the death of his wife, Ruth, known as Ricki and also involved in the store – the two children who had taken over signed a contract to sell the building for $ 65 million.

That deal fell apart, and in 2014 Thor Equities, a longtime business owner, and General Growth Properties struck a new deal with the Steinberg children. The Real Deal website reported that the price was $ 85 million and that the closing was to take place next month. Lee’s, which has no plans to reopen in another location, will continue its final sale until then, although many of its shelves and display cases are already empty. (David Steinberg, Lee’s chief executive, did not respond to a call for comment.)

Artists will therefore have to look for supplies elsewhere. The League of Art Students of New York, across the street, has its own store. “Anyone who mourns the loss of Lee can cross the street and pick up whatever they need,” said Ken Park, a spokesperson for the school.

But long-time clients like Ms. Simon, the photographer, will find themselves without the help they relied on from Lee employees like Hector Alburez. “I have these gelatin silver prints and if a corner is horny, everything is canceled,” she said, adding that Mr. Alburez wrapped them for years so that they never got damaged in the process. ‘shipping.

“He never talks about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, although I saw them in a magazine at Lee’s Art Supply,” she said. “I would say something to Hector, and he would never talk about it.” And he’s someone I’ve known for 38 years. I don’t want to stress too much about this particular star couple, but they’re there all the time. And Tony Bennett would be there all the time.

Other clients, however, said Lee’s demise seemed almost inevitable.

“What’s no different in New York than it was before?” Marty Merkley asked, checking out the discount merchandise on Friday. “What was quaint was the fuss and what was fuss is astronomically expensive. But it is progress, like it or not. Gentrification at all levels is the cornerstone of any city.

Laura J. Boyer