Why ‘The Gilded Age’ client is being kicked out of business
The challenges began for Ms. Uffner in 2006, when the landlord of the building she occupied in Midtown “invited” her, as she put it, to break her lease early. He was selling the building and wanted her gone, but moving thousands of clothes racks was going to be an ordeal. At the same time, commercial rents were skyrocketing and the city’s garment industry had all but disappeared, large loft-like spaces given over to corporate offices. Eventually, in 2008, Helen Uffner Vintage Clothing moved to Long Island City, after its owner was fined $1,000 a day if she did not vacate her existing space.
The transition was not easy. Fashion houses, which also praise the collection as a means of inspiration, began to return things via FedEx, Ms. Uffner told me, “as if we were in another state.” But over the next few years, Long Island City became popular enough to be a place a marketing executive at Ralph Lauren could live. So in 2018 Ms Uffner inevitably found herself in the same predicament she had faced earlier – the building she was in near Queens Plaza would be redeveloped and she would have to move. She eventually moved to another space in Long Island City to face the drama again – her current building is to be demolished to accommodate the construction of a skyscraper.
In the past, Ms. Uffner had several competitors, also freelancers, but almost all of them have disappeared. If it closed, the impact on the costume industry would be profound. Tom Broecker, an Emmy Award-winning costume designer who has trusted Ms. Uffner for decades, described her collection of early 20th-century women’s clothing as extraordinary. “In the whole world, Helen is the only person who has cotton dresses from this period,” he told me.
Even a move to Industry City, Brooklyn, where the city is trying to revive apparel manufacturing, would be difficult from his perspective. In addition to film and theater projects, Mr. Broecker is working on “Saturday Night Live,” where he may have to find an old garment in the span of two hours, taking a trip from Rockefeller Center to a semi-inaccessible neighborhood in Brooklyn unachievable.
Understanding the importance of her business to New York’s creative life, the city, through the mayor’s office of media and entertainment, said it was trying to help Ms Uffner move out, but without broad rent regulation commercial, there is not much to do. Over the years, she told me, landlords have added fees to monthly rent bills with impunity. In the beginning, she paid rent, electricity and property tax. In a later space, the owner added gas, then came the requirements to contribute to the local business improvement district.