Sometimes in life, you need to take a step back before taking two steps forward. And sometimes, the step back is the involuntary result of a shove, such as the figurative one that 2021 Regina Kellerman Village Awardee Linda Pagan received from her landlord a few months ago. But before we get to that story, let us take a step back ourselves and provide some context for that development.
Linda operated The Hat Shop (our December 2016 Business of the Month) at 120 Thompson Street for twenty-seven years. During that time, she became a pillar of the community, co-founding the Thompson Street Business Association, which was instrumental in helping storefronts confront the challenges of 9/11; founding the Milliners Guild as a platform for mutual support among hat-making peers; co-launching SoHo Village NYC, a group that promotes the history of the neighborhood; and helping found Save Our Storefronts, a state-wide group that mobilized in response to the COVID-2019 crisis to secure legislative small business assistance. And all that was on the side! Her main efforts went into making her store into one of the most celebrated hat shops in the city.
COVID proved a challenge for Linda, as it did for most small business owners. By the spring of this year, however, she felt like she had come out on the other side. Then, toward the end of April, her building’s managing agent swung by her store during business hours on a Friday afternoon to deliver what Linda thought was her lease renewal, but in fact was a notice of non-renewal, asking her to vacate within 30 days. She spent the weekend contemplating the possibility of having to close her store during the busiest months of the season, April through August. Linda then set two goals for herself: to get an explanation from her landlord and to get an extension. She succeeded only in the latter, which may very well have saved her business. From the landlord, however, she only got a cryptic answer. But she did later learn from the managing agent that the plan behind the removal of The Hat Shop and its two neighboring businesses was to tear down their interior partitions, create contiguous space, and rent to a large retail tenant. This added to Linda’s business concerns an additional one regarding the “luxury mallification” of her corner of the neighborhood:
The reason we call this SoHo Village NYC is because we want to say that it is still a village. This is still New York. It’s not a Dubai mall that has exploded in Istanbul, London, Paris whatever. And the people who shop on these streets are looking not to see the same things they see at home. So it’s a little worrying.
When word got out of Linda’s impending departure, dozens of customers and neighbors called to express their dismay. And they were not the only ones calling. After twenty-seven year in the neighborhood, landlords knew what kind of a tenant they would be getting in Linda, and several approached her, hoping to lure her to their retail space. Although she initially wanted to stay on Thompson Street, a landlord on Sullivan Street won her over by offering to build out storage space in the basement and by asking for 20% less rent than what she had been paying.
Linda celebrated the move to her new place on the last day of August with a spectacular, Mariachi-accompanied parade.
The festive mood of the event, however, belied Linda’s sadness over her departure. She worked at her old store until the last minute and then lay on the floor and cried, not wanting to leave. But after setting up the new place, she fell in love with it. It has the same dimensions as her old space but is deeper, with more display room for her hats. Plus, it has a proper office space and new flooring. According to Linda, old customers have enthusiastically approved, “It looks exactly like the other store!! They’ve said it looks great. It looks fresh, and it looks familiar!”
Beyond the store itself, Linda has found much to like about her new block. As fond as she was of Thompson Street, she had begun to resent the number of vacant storefronts, the loss of trees, the accumulation of garbage, and the increase in car traffic since COVID. She sees Sullivan Street as an improvement on all fronts. Linda has also discovered unexpected new synergies with the diverse businesses with which she shares her block. And yet, for all the differences, she is still only a few steps away from her old street and very much part of the community that she has done so much to foster for over twenty years. During our half hour visit, no fewer than five people popped their heads in to say hi. We invite you to do likewise. And while you’re there, add a little elegance and pizzazz to your head. At The Hat Shop, it’s easy to do, with its great selection of show-stopping hats by New York City milliners such as Cigmond, Cha Cha, Romer Millinery, Marie D’Antoni, Abigail Aldridge, and Jennifer Hoertz, as well as by Linda herself.
But whether you walk out of the store hatted or bareheaded, you’re certain to walk out grateful that Linda Pagan is still part of our neighborhood.