Grand Street News
Published October, 2006
When we heard that a Columbia graduate student of Journalism covering the Lower East Side was working on a profile of a newsworthy member of the community, we bought it
by Elizabeth Thomas
It’s 5:15 pm on a Thursday at the LoHo Realty office on Grand Street, and owner Jacob Goldman, 35, is balancing a phone on each ear. His desk faces a portion of Cooperative Village, a forest of brick high rises on the lower east side, intermingled with playgrounds and patches of greenery.
Goldman’s window view is partially obscured by the company’s logo, a pop art creation with all of the cheerful modernist appeal of Robert Indiana’s Love sculpture. That same circular badge is stamped on the office’s stacks of leaflets, business cards, flyers, and mugs. Piles of red pens by the front window read, “LoHo knows the Lower East Side.”
In March, Forbes Magazine ranked LES the fourth best zip code in the country to buy a home, citing a 123% median appreciation in its housing values from 2004 to 2005. Five years earlier, Goldman had jumped heads first into the LES real estate market, brokering an abundant crop of newly privatized Co-op Village properties almost exclusively and with unparalleled success. His drive to brand their location as “LoHo” intrinsically draws comparison to fully gentrified neighborhoods like Tribeca and SoHo.
In short, if there is a face on the otherwise faceless Lower East Side real estate machine, it is very possibly Jacob Goldman’s.
Longtime friend and Heeb Magazine humor editor David Deutsch, who helped Goldman coin the term LoHo, calls him “the Donald Trump of Co-op Village, both for his success in real estate and his success in marketing himself.” By 5:30 pm on Thursday, LoHo’s staff is departing for the day, with a chorus of friendly Goodbye’s and an Hasta manana or two, but Goldman, sporting wire-rimmed glasses and a yarmulke, remains bound to the phone.
At the desk in front of him, his son Simcha leans over a pile of homework with greater diligence than most third graders on a warm September day. From where Goldman sits, Simcha – the second oldest of four – is visible only when he spins the black office chair around.
“Oh,” Simcha says politely, “I’ll wait until you’re off the phone.” The chair swirls back around.
Goldman’s humor is often self-deprecating and occasionally snarky, although his particular brand seems more playful than biting. “I’m kibitzing,” he says often, and he mimics Jon Stewart’s habit of pretending to scribble intensely on a notepad while deadpanning. Though he is also a fan of comedian Andy Milonakis, who films a show on the Lower East Side, Goldman publicly objected last January to his use of elderly and possibly mentally disabled LES residents in skits.
The chair in front of Goldman’s desk spins around again. Simcha would like to go home, please.
“You know, I always say this to you because I love you,” says Goldman. “Be careful crossing the street.”
“Yeah, I know,” comes the practiced refrain. “Cross when there’s a green light, and look both ways.”
“But remember it’s different on three way stops,” Goldman says.
“Yeah, I know. Do them both like you do the first way,” says Simcha excitedly, simulating looking in several directions at once. “You look this way and that way, and that way!”
Ten years ago – before Simcha was born – no broker could touch Co-op Village, and Jacob Goldman had no inkling that he would start a real estate company devoted to selling its units. The 4,700 apartments, split into 19 buildings, were designed for garment union workers. Residents owned shares in the cooperatives, but had no rights to sell or sublease the properties to outsiders, preventing them from profiting off of their homes.
Meanwhile, Goldman, who had dabbled in radio, journalism, and disc jockeying up to that point, was attending law school at CUNY.
Everything changed in 1997, when the co-ops voted to privatize, and owners became rich overnight. The co-ops then attempted to stagger sale prices on the apartments to avoid flooding the housing market. Still, by 2000, the price caps on the apartments had been dissolved, leaving residents free to sell at market rates.
Meanwhile, after graduating from law school in 1998, Goldman found that he had a love for real estate law, especially closings.
“A lawyer can really protect a client on something that’s one of the biggest decisions,” he says of the closing process. “It’s a damn important thing, a beautiful thing.”
The following year, reasoning that the reconstitution of Co-op Village would necessitate a go-to man familiar with real estate by-laws, Goldman incorporated LoHo Realty.
The convergence of Goldman’s expertise with the explosive growth of the Lower East Side housing stock proved an instant success.
“I saw the writing on the wall,” Goldman says. “We got in early; we did it right.” Some have complained that Goldman’s work, including his coinage of LoHo, is detrimental to the neighborhood.
Goldman counters, “A neighborhood should have economic diversity.” And he says that he’s not looking to replace one name with the other. “No one’s going to say, ‘My parents came from Ellis Island and moved to LoHo.’ The Lower East Side is much more than LoHo.”
In 2003, Goldman rolled the dice on publisher Yori Yanover’s then-fledgling local monthly, The Grand Street News. “He said to me, ‘How much would it cost me to have it say LoHo Realty’s Grand Street News on the cover?’” Yanover said. When Yanover was able to give him an exact figure, Gold- man “didn’t flinch.” They shook hands on the deal; no written agreement was ever drawn up. Until last May, the Grand Street News was sponsored by Goldman. He con- tinues to advertise extensively in it, and the two have a friendly relationship.
Victor Papa, director of the community development organization Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, shares this sentiment. He said that branding LoHo is simply “real estate’s way of selling, giving it a distinction.” And he likened Goldman’s role in LES property value hikes to “the guy you buy a train ticket from before you get on a train.”
Besides owning LoHo Realty, Goldman serves on his community school board and neighborhood advisory boards. He is proprietor of 41 Essex, a tongue-in-cheek kosher deli that serves up a dish named for Mel Gibson.
Goldman is also an honorary president of Bialystoker Synagogue. According to Rabbi Zvi David Romm, when Goldman was acting president, he “brought a tremendous amount of dynamism to the position. He kicked off the ball, thank God.” Romm said that among other accomplishments, Goldman revived a defunct month- ly newsletter and began using the Internet to send members weekly emails.
That same gusto has led Goldman to butt heads with some. One local broker said, “We’ve had several interactions revolving around real estate matters. Typically, they’ve been stressful because he has a very specific way of practicing business. He likes to control situations. He’s very strong willed.” Despite this, the broker also expressed admiration for Goldman.
“He’s very smart, very shrewd,” the broker said. “You’ve got to give him credit for what he does.”