Kelly Contello has yet to meet her new neighbors on 19th Street, but she already has felt their presence.
The owner of The Lift, a bookstore and gift shop at 365 W. 19th St., said her March sales were about one-third lower than usual this year. Contello attributes the dip to ongoing construction at the historic building next door, which in October was purchased by a group that includes prominent Heights developer Radom Capital, LLC.
The new owner is in the process of transforming the two-story, two-lot building at the corner of 19th and Ashland Street, having replaced the awning, upstairs windows and exterior tile, repaved part of the sidewalk and painted the building with an Art Deco design.
Contello said she was not notified about any of the work, even though it entailed accessing the roof of her building over the span of a few days and extending yellow caution tape to the border of her property.
“I think if you’re going to come in a place and you’re going to make a really big change, you might want to meet your community partners. You might want to get to know them,” Contello said. “I believe they owe the community communication. … I think they owe 19th Street merchants communication. Because whatever they put in there, it affects us.”
Radom Capital vice president Barton Kelly said the developer is giving the 98-year-old, 9,703-square foot building a “very light facelift” and doing deferred maintenance to make it ADA accessible and more comfortable to tenants and customers. He also said the company has phased in construction to try to minimize the disruptiveness to existing tenants and neighboring businesses such as Contello’s.
Radom Capital purchased the building from Neil Sackheim, the longtime owner of the popular Carter & Cooley Company Delicatessen that remains the anchor tenant of the property. Sackheim, who said he signed a long-term lease with the new owner, will soon be the only remaining tenant in the building. He said Dr. Nataly Perez, a chiropractor, plans to move out in June. The six other tenants – two antique stores, an accountant, photographer, makeup artist and film company – already have left.
“It’s very lonely,” Sackheim said.
Austin architect Michael Hsu will open an office in the space formerly occupied by Mercader’s Antiques, which was situated behind the deli, according to Hsu’s client engagement director, Beth Sims. Hsu helped design Radom Capital’s award-winning Heights Mercantile and is now working on its M-K-T mixed-use development at Shepherd Drive and Sixth Street. Sims said Hsu also designed adjoining Heights restaurants La Lucha and Superica.
Kelly said the developer is seeking similar tenants to the ones that have recently vacated the building, such as therapists, designers and photographers for the upstairs office space and a retailer to replace Gen’s Antiques, which closed last weekend.
“The end product is going to be great for the neighborhood,” Kelly said.
The new tenants likely will be higher-end businesses that can afford increased rental rates under the new property owner, which caused at least a few of the former tenants to relocate. Sackheim estimated market rent to be at least $40 per square foot.
“I would suspect they would have to put in a lot of upgrades to attract a tenant of the caliber that would pay the market rent,” Sackheim said.
The owners of former building tenants Blueprint Film Co., Your Beautiful Face and Gen’s Antiques said they were given the opportunity to stay in the building but told their rent would go up as of May 1. Each owner said the new rate would have been at least double what they paid Sackheim, which they could not afford to remain viable.
Your Beautiful Face owner Leah Salinas, who worked in a partnership with Joie Photographie on the second floor of the building, said in March that she understood the new owner’s desire to maximize the investment in the property, which according to the Harris County Appraisal District is valued at nearly $1.2 million. Still, Salinas said she felt like her hand was being forced.
“It’s very apparent to me that they want to push us out so they can do whatever bigger plans they have for the space,” she said.
Gen’s Antiques owner Greg Nolte, whose last day in business was Sunday, said he doesn’t blame Radom Capital or Sackheim for his store’s plight. Instead he pointed to the popularity of the Heights, where property values have skyrocketed in recent years.
One of Nolte’s customers last weekend, Heights resident Contessa Ola, said she was sad to see a series of small businesses go. She said antique stores such as Gen’s contributed to the charm of 19th Street, which has a quirky and eclectic mix of specialty shops.
“Whenever you walk down the street, it’s all about it being kind of a historical place. So to lose the places that have kept up with that really stinks,” Ola said. “The whole reason why you go to it is because it looks different than everyone else’s. Now it’s just going to look the same as Midtown and all the other places.”
The building’s next tenants, though, could be just as well-liked by area consumers, if not more so. The popular Heights Mercantile at 7th Street and Yale Street consists of a mix of modern businesses, many of which are franchises.
A new set of attractive merchants could potentially bring more business to neighbors such as Contello, who in the meantime must cope with some commotion next door. The construction also has had an adverse effect on the building’s most prominent remaining tenant, with Sackheim saying the Carter & Cooley deli has suffered a 20-25 percent sales hit during the last two months.
Sackheim has had to remind customers he’s still open while most of the businesses around him have closed their doors.
“It definitely challenged our viability,” Sackheim said.