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Business of the Month: East Village Cheese

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Owners Lobsang Tsultrim, left, and Thupten Tenphel inside East Village Cheese.

This article was modified Wednesday, Feb. 25 with up-to-date information on the business’s search for a new location.

Anyone who’s walked on Third Avenue near Astor Place knows those bold hand-lettered signs filling the windows of No. 40. If you are curious to go in, you find a variety of cheeses at a marked discount, as well as a broad selection of well-priced crackers, teas, jams, sweets, spreads, condiments and more. The place practically makes you want to throw a party.

Who letters the signs? Tsultrim said he writes some of them.

Befitting a humble store, its popularity was of the sleeper variety until news broke last month that East Village Cheese’s lease is not being renewed because the retail landlord, Urban Associates LLC, plans to rent the space to Duane Reade for an expansion of the existing drugstore at No. 46. (Residents of the large condo building above are under separate management and have no say in the matter.) Then the floodgates opened with cries of despair, on EV Grieve for example:

East Village Cheese is a unique wonderful place.

I LOVE East Village Cheese. Like an oak tree, it has sheltered many nonprofits (allowing them to provide cheese for cheap at events) and non-billionaire folks in the shade of its generous prices.

I am very saddened by this news and am hit by so many thoughts and memories. …[W]hen I was sort of poor, East Village Cheese kept me pretty much alive.

Its neighbor at No. 38, Excel Art & Framing, is in the same boat and also has many fans:

I’m very sad to hear about the Excel frame shop. We used them to frame nearly everything in our apartment and the guys who work there are outrageously kind and good at what they do. I’ll be extremely sad to see that wonderful small business go.

East Village Cheese is owned by Lobsang Tsultrim and Thupten Tenphel, immigrants from Tibet who worked at the shop and eventually took over from its founder, Alvin Kaufman. Tsultrim told Off the Grid that his lease lasts until July 31 – after which the business plans to move to another location in the neighborhood. On Feb. 25 Tsultrim clarified that, while he had been considering taking over the former Kim’s Laundromat at 208 Avenue A at 13th Street, that space no longer seems viable and his search for an East Village location is ongoing.

Excel, which is part of a family business that includes the Rooq and Paintbox frame shops, is also looking for a new home locally, but has not announced its plans.

“Rent is going up, cheese is going up,” Tsultrim said. “If I have to move, I have to spend money. I don’t know if it’s going to work.” They have to move the equipment and fixtures, he said, and the new space is smaller. The store’s practice is to buy cheese for, say, $2 per pound, then sell it for $4 per pound where other stores will mark the same product $10.

“They’ve got the money and they’re trying to take over. We’re trying to help the East Village. It’s all about the money, you know,” he said. “We’re trying to help the Village – that’s why we’re having a problem.”

These storefronts will become part of the Duane Reade on the corner.

Downtowners are saying permanent goodbyes to too many treasured small businesses lately, from Avignone Chemist in the South Village, to Shakespeare & Company bookstore in NoHo, to Kim’s Video in the East Village.  You can be sure that we are working on the problem at GVSHP, from supporting local businesses through this, our Business of the Month program, to exploring measures to limit the proliferation of chain stores and to prevent the loss of small businesses through untenable rent hikes.

What with Duane Reade’s expansions also nearly putting an end to a Midtown favorite, Jim’s Shoe Repair – recently saved by an activist campaign – Off the Grid was eager to hear the corporation’s perspective. With 318 stores, it’s the third-largest chain in the city (see p. 5 of this report). Repeated requests to Duane Reade produced no comment.

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One response to “Business of the Month: East Village Cheese

  1. It would have been nice to talk more about the history of East Village Cheese. I’ve been shopping there since they were on 9th Street and there were 3 generations of owners that I knew of. Well 2 really, the old man who passed away and then his son whose son occasionally worked there in between acting gigs and Buddhist retreats. They were students of an American rimposhe that I went to college with but I did not know them well at all although I was and still am an avid customer. I believe it was their Buddist connection that lead to the sale of the store to the current owner. The gems that I would find there for $2.99 a pound that one might also find @ Dean and Deluca for $30 or more have absolutely delighted me over the years. Just last week I bought a couple of packages of herbed sliced salami with no nitrates for $3.99 that would be hard to find anywhere for under $10.

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