BY THE VILLAGE SUN | Jim Drougas is an atheist, but it sounds like he’s starting to believe in reincarnation — at least for his bookstore, that is.
After 31 years at 34 Carmine St., Drougas had to close his Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books shop at the end of June after his new landlord hiked the rent, plus demanded all back rent from during the pandemic, when businesses were either closed or hurting for customers. In return for Drougas’s agreement to leave, though, the landlord let the back rent slide and also gave him an additional six months rent free.
After vacating the Camine store, Drougas — determined to reopen — initially couldn’t find any affordable spaces Downtown, either on the West Side or East Side. Everywhere rents were out of reach. To make things more feasible, his plan is to bring in partners to share the space, but even that wasn’t enough.
However, something has changed and the Downtown real estate scene has undergone a seismic shift, according to Drougas, whose hopes are now back up. In short, landlords’ power to demand super-high rents is on the wane, the bookseller feels. In fact, they are now offering, as he put it, “silly-low” rents.
“I am currently being offered extraordinarily low prices well below half of the previous offers for commercial properties in the West Village over and over again near my original bookshop,” he said. “It seems that brokers and landlords are finally knuckling down on a major scale to offer silly-low prices for rent in the face of hundreds of empty shops and a rather dismal, or at the best spotty, long-term outlook for the storefront retail economy and the wide sense of unsafeness in the city.
“I am also finally finding just the right partners to go in together on the right spots, more potential spots than I imagined,” he said. “Every time I turn around there is a better offer out there. It is so heartwarming to see landlords finally knuckling down under a sense of reality and surrendering to the impulse to give up on the idea of extreme greed. Indeed it’s only because they have no choice. There are still many who hold the line at ridiculously high prices and sometimes get a sucker to take it, but those renters fail very quickly when they realize what a mistake they made. Brokers and landlords can only fool so many people for just so long before the truth becomes widely apparent.
“I see a bright future ahead for small businesses,” Drougas predicted. “When rental costs plunge, businesses can thrive. So the landlords are being defeated, not by laws or pressures of the market, as much as by sheer force of history — as in the overturning of their power, simply because they never really had any more power than what we give them, and we are no longer acknowledging them as the force they used to be.”