The lease is signed and the plans are being filed for Amai’s first retail location! Our store will be located on 3rd avenue between 16th and 17th street – just east of Union Square in the Gramercy area of Manhattan. When I found the space and realized it could be ours, it was one of the happiest days of my life. The reason I started Amai was to have the opportunity to share ideas and bring people together, and this store will finally allow us do that. I look forward to meeting our customers in person and expanding our product offering.
I expected the search for a retail space in Manhattan to be a very difficult, if not torturous, task. Real estate in Manhattan is notoriously expensive and hard to find, and my past experience with shady NYC apartment brokers has made me skeptical of the industry. My previous apartment searches did lead me to one good residential broker named Peter who works at Manhattan Apartments. I kept in touch with him over the years, and asked him for a reference for a commercial broker. That led me to Janet, the best commercial agent a real estate newbie could dream of. She was wonderful to work with, and best of all, she was free (to me, at least). I was shocked to find out that owners typically cover the commercial real estate broker fee. I got the best service, from a friendly person, all at no charge. My search was off to a great start.
Janet and I looked at several places in the Gramercy area, which I consider to run from 2nd Avenue to Irving Place, between 14th and 23rd street. I focused on this area because I felt it was underserved by artisan bakeries and tea shops, and that the residents of the area would appreciate our unique offering. I also like that it is a residential neighborhood, where the store could become a “third place” for the community.
I looked at 4 spaces in my price range. The first one I saw had incredibly low ceilings, the second one had a big pole in the middle of the store and a standardized strip-mall exterior, and the third was in terrible condition but was huge and had a nice location across from a park. I considered renovating the large space, but on my limited budget I wouldn’t be able to make it as nice as I wanted. I finally chose the space on 3rd avenue because it was the right size for the store, had good traffic, and was easily accessible from the 4,5,6,N,R,Q subways at Union Square and the L subway at 3rd avenue. It is also very charming, and has a warm, inviting feel. The building was built in 1910 and is part of the Gramercy landmark district. The landmark designation means the store front cannot be changed, which is fine with me. I like it, and it’s one less thing for us to build.
The lease negotiations went very smoothly, another sign that the space was meant to be. One other potential tenant (who hoped to open a Japanese restaurant, I believe) was competing against us, but the owner prefered to have a bakery and somehow chose us to have the space. Lawyers reviewed the lease, and we signed at the beginning of April. We are now in the process of finalizing designs for the space and filing our plans. We hope to open by Fall 2007.
I apologize for my lack of posts in the last few months, but I have been busy building the business and trying to organize the retail space. Now that we finally have the space, I plan to document the build-out process on Lovescool, so expect many updates to come. If you live in the area, let me know if there’s something special you’d like to see. I am very excited to have a place for everyone to come visit soon!