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Buchbinder’s Way

MacDougal Street

Norman Buchbinder was a man of many parts. He was a devoted father who impulsively flew to Rome when he hadn’t heard from his daughter Lori in a week –­ she was backpacking with a friend in Europe after graduating from college – and he took them on a cruise originating in Venice. Lori recalls him as a man who loved people but who could also be a tough boss, a distinctive individual who would frequently be seen in white shirt, white shorts, and white shoes climbing a ladder at a building site to deliver coffee to contractors.

Buchbinder, who died in 2007 at age 84, is fondly remembered by veterans of the real estate world as a manager’s manager, a man who was as dedicated to New York and its inhabitants as he was to his family. As a principal at Buchbinder & Warren, a management and brokerage firm, he took a keen interest in his community, so it should come as no surprise that in October the city is co-naming MacDougal Street, between West Eighth Street and Washington Square North, “Norman Buchbinder Way.” A plaque will be placed on the side of the building that stands at the southeast of MacDougal and West Eighth Streets, currently the home of Stumptown Coffee Roasters.

The honor’s origins date back to the 1970s. Looking to reverse what seemed to be the inevitable decline of a city on the brink of bankruptcy, Buchbinder helped start the Union Square Business Improvement District (BID), which led to a rebirth of the area. Following that, Buchbinder undertook, at his own initiative, the creation of the Eighth Street BID, which was the predecessor to today’s Village Alliance. “My father was very involved on Eighth Street,” says Lori. “It used to be called ‘shoe store alley’ because of all the shoe stores. When those stores disappeared, he worked very hard to get the right tenants.”

To start that BID, Buchbinder hired a small staff to photograph every building in the possible BID, then research ownership and store tenants for each of the properties. He then wrote informational letters to those owners and tenants to introduce them to the BID concept and explain how they would benefit. He followed up with calls to persuade them that the BID, which would cost each tenant a tax surcharge, would ultimately be of great benefit to Eighth Street and the entire city. He was right. Today, there are 68 BIDS in the five boroughs, investing over $100 million annually in their neighborhoods.

Buchbinder approached each problem with his chief characteristic: joie de vivre. “I really think that was why he loved the real estate business,” says Lori. “It blended many of the things he loved – the city and the people who live here.” He also appreciated the strange turns of life, like the fact that there was actually another managing agent working in the city named Norman Buchbinder. That Norman Buchbinder worked as the director of management at Sulzberger-Rolfe, and the two Normans often kidded each other when they inevitably received and exchanged misdelivered mail.

But Lori’s father rarely commented on the biggest irony of his life, which involved his partner, Eugene Warren, who co-founded the company in 1957 and still manages properties today at the age of 92. “We got a sweet e-mail the other day from one of our former tenants,” says Lori. “He said that he always appreciated the wonderful irony of my dad’s situation, where you had these two lovely men, who worked as landlords in a very commercial business, who were actually named after the two biggest socialists of the time, Eugene Debs and Norman Thomas. I don’t remember my father mentioning it, but I am sure it must have amused him.”

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