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Grand Street on Lower East Side: Suburban Couples Find Roomier Pieds-à-Terre

New York Times
By Trish Hall
Published January 27, 2002


JUDEE REIFMAN MARCUS and her sister, Corinne Reifman Barsky, are very close, and their husbands, Larry Marcus and Marvin Barsky, get along well, too. Both couples lived in Princeton, N.J., for decades, and often went into Manhattan together for plays and concerts.

So it made sense that they would decide to buy pieds-à-terre in Manhattan near each another. The apartments would be places to go on weekends and, maybe later, places to retire.

What is surprising is not that they decided to spend more time in New York City, which is increasingly a magnet for people whose children are grown, but that they picked a place so different from the manicured perfection of Princeton. All four are exuberant participants in the city's cultural life; and yet they settled not near Lincoln Center or the Metropolitan Museum of Art but on the Lower East Side.

For some time, the Barskys had been looking for a place, but the only things they saw that they could afford were studios. Even a 40-year marriage could be stressed by a lack of space, and so they kept looking.

When Mrs. Barsky saw an article about the co-op complexes that run along Grand Street from Essex Street to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive, however, she was intrigued.

The apartments had been developed for middle-income people. They owned the apartments but when they sold them, there was a limit on profits. But in 2000, that changed, and with sales at market prices allowed, many residents decided to move.

Of course, market rates on Grand at the F.D.R. Drive are not what they are in prime parts of Manhattan, and so very large one-bedroom apartments with kitchens large enough for a table and chairs range from $190,000 to $240,000, depending on the view and condition.

LAST spring, when the Barskys went to an open house at the complex held by Jacob Goldman of LoHo Realty on Grand Street, they knew they had found what they wanted. "We were astounded by these apartments," Mrs. Barsky said. Her husband said they were happy to find something that was "large, airy and affordable." They also liked the neighborhood feeling and the fact that the shopkeepers recognize their customers and say hello.

The next morning, Mrs. Barsky called her sister, who came in to look at them with her husband, and they were similarly amazed to find large apartments at that price. The Marcuses already owned a pied-à-terre in Manhattan, at Tudor City, but it was a studio and would have been cramped if they had decided to retire there. "We sat up all night talking," Mrs. Marcus said, and the next day made a bid.

By July, both couples had closed on 800-square-foot one-bedroom apartments in a building on the corner of Grand and the F.D.R. Drive. The Marcuses bought a place on the 17th floor, identical to the one on the 2nd floor bought by the Barskys.

From the Marcuses' bedroom, however, there is a sweeping view of the river, looking north over Manhattan.

The Barskys use their place from Thursday through Sunday. The rest of the week they are in Princeton, where they still have a house and where they run a mathematics tutoring business called Mathematics Center. Mr. Barsky is a former mathematics professor; he began the business as the urging of his wife, who handles the business end.

The Marcuses, however, decided to sell their eight-room house in Princeton and make the city their primary home. "Judee and I had a wonderful house in Princeton with flowers and trees," Mr. Marcus said. But they realized it was no longer the life they wanted. "We would sit on the deck, and after an hour say, let's go to New York," he said

Still, they needed a place in New Jersey because Mr. Marcus works at the College of New Jersey in Ewing, near Trenton, where he is the interim dean of education. They rented a small place so he would not have to commute every day from the city.

Although the Marcuses moved furniture into their apartment when they sold their house, they are not settled yet. The place is filled with boxes because they are planning to renovate, particularly in the kitchen, where the walls are turquoise and the stove is so old it has to be lit with a match.

Downstairs, the Barskys have moved in some of their furniture, and in their kitchen, they have put the table that was used in the family home when the two women were children.

Although the apartments are comfortable, it doesn't seem as though their new occupants spend a lot of time at home. The two couples are frequently out and about. "I've known these people for over 40 years, and it's always fun to see them," Mr. Marcus said.

They have become regulars at the Henry Street Settlement House up the street, which has an opera company and a jazz company. They have season tickets to the opera at Lincoln Center as well as season tickets to the concerts at the Washington Irving High School on Irving Place near Gramercy Park.

While many New Yorkers seem to become overly rooted in their neighborhoods, they have taken on the entire island of Manhattan. "We're near the F train, and the crosstown bus stops right in front of the building," Mr. Marcus said. "Chinatown is nearby, and the river, and Little Italy.
What was also stunning to us was the East River Park. We go every Sunday and have brunch."
The park, which had been neglected for years, was recently revived and refurbished.

For Mrs. Barsky, who grew up in Elizabeth, N.J., Manhattan was the place where she always expected to live. "I had wanted an apartment in New York since I was 17," she said. "I knew I was going to live here, and it never happened. Now I'm 66 and it's happening, and it's more
than I could have dreamed." 

Aaron Lee Fineman for The New York Times

Aaron Lee Fineman for The New York Times

Aaron Lee Fineman for The New York Times

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