77 Yr Old Watch Fixer Gets Evicted From Shop After 26 Years

Photo via GoogleMaps
Photo via GoogleMaps

Two weeks ago Greenpoint resident and local watch repairwoman, Ms. Leokadia Trzaskowska, was sitting at her workbench, like every day for the past 26 years, and had the unimaginable happen. A NYC Marshal stormed into her shop, not get a watch fixed, but to announce that the 77 year old was to leave the premises immediately. With no time to spare, the woman grabbed her purse and watched in confusion as a padlock was put on the door.

For the last 26 years Ms. Trzaskowska has sat in the window of the Sunshine Laundromat tinkering with gears and tiny screws, repairing a lifetime of watches from ending in the up in garbage heaps. All of her specialized tools, her passport, and essentially her life’s work was now being kept under the auspices of a commercial possession.

And yet Ms. Trzaskowska, who has been paying a monthly rent of $745 without an official lease, claims she never received any court documents telling her to leave. Mr. Sokol, the lawyer representing the landlord, denied the allegation.

The shuttering of Ms.Trzaskowska’s shop is a common occurrence in NYC these days. Each month in NYC  1,200 to 1,400 small businesses lose their leases due to displacement. Last month, Greenpointers published an article about the horrid situations many commercial tenants fare in the wake of rapid gentrification. For a small businesswoman like Ms. Trzaskowska, whose second language is English, she is particularly vulnerable to displacement.

When speaking with the Gothamist, Mr. Sokol, the landlord’s representative, shrugged off Ms. Trzaskowska’s eviction as a byproduct of gentrification. “Is this case really so strange in Williamsburg or Greenpoint? You see that on Manhattan Avenue, the prices are going up. This is how the neighborhood is changing.”

Unfortunately without a lease, Ms. Trzaskowska doesn’t have much a case. Attorney David Hershey-Webb, who often litigates on behalf of tenants says, “Commercials tenants are treated worse than residential tenants, and even they don’t have much in the way of defenses if they don’t have a lease.”

This why organizations like Small Business Congress and TAKEBACKNY are lobbying hard to pass the Small Business Jobs Survival Act–legislation that would protect commercial tenants from such hostile takeovers and save small businesses from price-gouging rent increases.

According to Ms. Trzaskowska, her landlord had approached her in April, saying he needed the shop and suggested she start looking for another space to rent.

“Landlord say, look in different place, because we need,” she told the Gothamist. “I need the place small, you understand? Because I just do the repairs.”  Ms.Trzaskowska looked at one space and became quickly discouraged when the asking price was $4,000 a month. She said decided to wait it out and until she received official notice from the courts as how to proceed.

“I looked, I didn’t find a new shop, and he told me he was going to court,” Ms. Trzaskowska said. “I didn’t get any documents, you understand?”

Sadly, at a recent court hearing over the legality of the commercial possession, Judge Theresa Ciccotto sided in favor of the landlord and refused to grant Ms. Trzaskowska her workspace back. The reason behind the ruling was a lack of an official lease and the fact Ms. Trzaskowska was “informed many times [via documents delivered by a process server] that the landlord needed the space and that she had to look for a new location.” The landlord’s lawyer also had photographic proof of the marshal’s warrant, posted at 860 Manhattan Avenue, six business days before the eviction took place–which is within the state’s legal limit for a commercial possession.

“It’s simply 20 years of my life. I suffer terribly,” she said of sad her fate.

So what is to become Ms. Trzaskowska’s shop? Well surprise-surprise, the landlord has received a wine and liquor license, and plans on building out a bar in the back of the shop.

As for the fortune telling chimp sits in the window where the 77 yr old sat for 26 years. Ms. Trzaskowska said, “They should have killed me…I’ve lost everything.”

About Kim M

Kim is a native New Yorker, local activist and writer. When she's not writing books or playing Erin Brockovich with her Save Greenpoint peeps, you will see her whipping around Greenpoint on her bike, chatting it up with folks, and sharing stories about what it is about her hometown that makes life worth living. Follow her on twitter @kimasson or www.kimmassonwrites.com

14 Comments

  1. JG says:

    I spoke to her, outside her shop, the day the police were supposed to come by and discuss paperwork. Imagine what she’s going to do now. Rents are so high. She’s never going to make it. What will she do now? The landlord needs to be shamed in more ways than one.

    Reply
    • Kim M says:

      It’s awful. I can’t imagine losing my whole life’s work at 77 years old. Seriously, it was only a matter of time before she retired. Couldn’t the landlord let the woman end the rest of her years in peace? Shit, he already waited this long. Another year or two wouldn’t have killed him. Shame on him.

      Reply
  2. Kate says:

    Don’t even rich “creative types” need their watches repaired every now and again? A neighborhood with just bars, restaurants, and nail salons isn’t very livable.

    Reply
  3. Curious says:

    Would the small business protection act really provide recourse to a tenant without a lease? This is a sad enough story but I can’t imagine that it would, or that a law protecting people without written real estate contracts (which are de facto unenforceable) would be workable, practical or desirable.

    Reply
  4. smo says:

    man i love sunshine laundry and i know they were trying to expand the laundromat in the back and get a liquor license so they could serve at the laundry, but i really hope they didn’t have a hand in this. somehow i didn’t register it may affect the watch repair. that is super sad.

    Reply
  5. GL says:

    I don’t really understand how you guys can publish these diatribes against gentrification on the same site that’s basically an full-on advertorial for all the useless hipster businesses taking over and charging exorbitant amounts of money for stupid crap (yes, I’m talking about the Heatonist piece you just posted), driving up rents and making these scenarios inevitable.

    Reply
  6. Emmanuel says:

    Completely agree w/GL, I empathize with the lady losing her business, but come on…total hypocrisy coming from this site! Just make a fundraiser already for every business that can’t afford the rent.

    Reply
    • Teo says:

      One of your sentences after another, you empathize with the old lady and ridicule every business that can’t afford the rent –as if others’ greed was their fault. And in between both of them, you have the balls of accusing the site of hypocrisy? You wouldn’t know what hypocrisy is if it vomited on your face, just the same way you haven’t noticed the beam in your fucking eye.

      Reply
      • GL says:

        Soooo, I think you are misinterpreting my comment. I am not criticizing the old lady’s business, I am criticizing the businesses that come in AFTER someone’s been kicked out and are willing to pay steep rents to hawk they’re high-priced frivolous wares or brunches–which also seem to be the types of businesses most represented on the other sections of this site. (But you know, if you’re having a tough day and just looking to spew vitriolic non-sensical insults at people, then never mind.)

        Reply
        • Teo says:

          Dear GL, I wonder if by now you’ve realized that my comment was directed to Emmanuel; not you.
          Not only I almost quoted him –“empathize with the [old] lady”– but you’d also found another clue to my comment’s desired recipient if you had just paid attention to the overall indentation of the comments, which it is doubtlessly intended for such purpose.

          I have to say, though, that it doesn’t surprise me your feeling alluded by my remarks to Emmanuel being the case that you also accuse others of your own faults –such as your claim that I am misrepresenting your comment.

          And it doesn’t surprise me either your qualifying my observation as “non-sensical” as you likely didn’t understand what I said. Vitriolic, yes, though I ponder if you know the meaning of the word.

          And, now, you may kiss my ass.

          Reply
  7. b says:

    It’s a global balancing act of economic polarization. When governments encourage gentrification to come from within the community, I think that’s healthier. NYC is a magnet for dreamers. Someone once told me one should be wary of dreamers, to which I’d add, particularly if they’ve zero respect for the environment.

    Here’s to drinking reality away.

    Reply
  8. AM says:

    1. @ the end of the day most people on this blog have contributed to pushing this woman and others out by demanding the type of services that come w/ the rent they are paying.

    2. NYC is a place that is ever changing. Once upon a time, the Polish were not ‘native’ to this area, people get pushed out and come back etc. etc. etc.

    Reply
    • Don Papi says:

      1. Yes, the same that happened to Photoplay or even the HSBC branch at that corner (by the way, can anyone wrap their head about a bank not being able to pay rent?) . They had to close because we Greenpointers demanded the type of services that come w/ the rent we pay.

      Oh, wait a minute, those places closed over a year ago, and no new service whatsoever has come to the area in their place. I think I’m going to ask my landlord to lower my rent based on fulfillment failure of my expectations.

      Give me a break.

      2. Have you ever heard of changing without ruining someone else’s life?

      Give me another break.

      Reply

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