J&R Owners Readying for More Retail—Just Not Their Own

Rendering of proposed master plan for 15 Park Row, with one tenant occupying the entire retail space in the south section of the ground floor. The proposal also includes designs for two and three stores in the same space. In the north section is another storefront and an entrance, with marquee above, to what will be J&R Music Lounge by City Winery. Rendering by Fogarty Finger Architecture via The Tribeca Trib

Jan. 27, 2020

The residential conversion of the 1899 landmark office building at 15 Park Row was completed years ago, but the J&R Music World storefronts remain barren. Now the owners of the former retail giant, who also own the building, are readying the spaces for hoped-for new stores, on the block between Beekman and Ann Streets. On Feb. 11, they will go before the Landmarks Preservation Commission with a master plan that will govern how the mostly bronze storefronts on Park Row and Ann Street will be restored and reconfigured to accommodate new stores.

Given the retail landscape these days, building owner Rachelle Friedman (the “R” of J&R) is said to be uncertain how the large store space, south of the residential entrance at 15 Park Row, will end up being divided. So the master plan includes alternate entrance designs for one, two or three businesses south of the residential entrance, as shown below.

“Our client would love to rent this entire space to one person,” architect John Zimmer told Community Board 1’s Landmarks and Preservation Committee earlier this month. “In today’s environment we may not be able to do that so we have different retail configurations and need approval for different options.”

At the north end of the building will be another entrance, this one to a subterranean 150-seat supper club called J&R Music Lounge by City Winery, a joint venture of the Friedmans and City Winery founder and CEO Michael Dorf. The committee’s enthusiastic reception to the plan turned into groans of disapproval when, almost as an afterthought in his presentation and not shown in the main rendering, Zimmer mentioned that the marquee above the super club entrance, announcing the musical attractions, would be digital.

“Oh, and I thought the proposal was perfect,” lamented committee co-chair Bruce Ehrmann.

“Not digital,” committee member Susan Cole said firmly.

In a telephone interview, Dorf defended the electric marquee. 

“Do you use lettering that is from the 1910s, almost pre-electricity, where you would take a letter and have to stick it into a hole and then put someone on a ladder to go up there and change it, or do you use technology to do the same thing?” 

“We’re suggesting that we can do a lot more with a digital sign there,” he added, “and we’re trying to do everything very tasteful.”

Dorf said the 8,000-square-foot space, where he plans to present mostly instrumental jazz, r&b and world music beginning this summer, has what he called “that historic nature, because it was such an old building and we’re preserving a lot of that element.”

In its resolution, Community Board 1 praised the restoration plan for the storefronts. The one exception, “and it’s a big one,” the resolution stated, is the marquee, “an awful and jarring contrast to all the rest of the proposal.