Click to view the full letter to customers

After more than 30 years serving Sheepshead Bay’s parents and educators, The Learning Wheel at 1514 Avenue Z is shutting down. The business’ owner, though, said it’s not by choice: the landlord is pushing them out.

For the first time in recent memory, The Learning Wheel’s window display is empty, save for a large “Store Closing Sale” banner, advertising 50 to 80 percent off all goods. Below it is a letter, pointing the finger squarely at the building owner, Waldorf Realty Co. Here’s an excerpt:

It is certainly not our choice to leave you, our valued customers, without a store upon which so many of you depend. We can imagine how you feel about it. Can you imagine how we feel? We are bring forced out of our home away from home, and we’re all losing our jobs!

If you are angry, sad, or confused, please direct your feedback to our landlord who has caused this unfortunate situation.

Trouble began a year ago, according to Clare Resnick, The Learning Wheel’s owner for the past five years. She said she approached the landlord in September 2009 to renew the lease. The reaction was unexpected, she said.

“They told us they weren’t thinking of renewing the lease,” Resnick said.

The decision was mind-boggling; Resnick said she’s been a model tenant who has never been a day late on her $5,000+ rent. The surrounding storefronts, also owned by Waldorf, have been vacated as well, clearing the way for a much larger retail operation to move in.

And the property appears to be in a prime state to do exactly that. According to marketing materials from Massey Knakel Realty Services, who is charged with finding tenants for a new lease, the property spans from 1510 to 1518 Avenue Z – a 7,500 square foot lot. At an asking price of $40 per square foot, the new tenant remains in the same price range as The Learning Wheel.

But the pamphlet also makes a big affair of its proximity to the yet-to-be-built retail development, Station Plaza. According to Massey Knakel’s Brian Hanson, the coming of the Acadia-owned development, which may span two buildings with one as tall as 22 stories, is a selling point for high-profile retailers looking for more traffic, exposure and business.

“I use any positive development in any area and I would include that in any marketing material,” Hanson said. “It gives another reason why someone might want to be there … there’s potentially a big mall coming in and that’s going to drive traffic.”

Hanson said, though, that it’s not indicative of the size of the tenant they’re seeking, and he’s reaching out to both national businesses and mom-and-pops.

A representative from Waldorf Realty also said they’re not looking for a tenant of any particular size, just a new use for the building.

“We’re really sad to see that [The Learning Wheel is] closing,” the rep said. “It was our decision not to renew the lease for them. I think that, for us, we look at that as an opportunity; with the stores on both sides empty, it’s an opportunity to determine what to do with that building next.” The rep added that all of the neighbor’s leases came up at the same time, except for the Sheepshead Bay Gourmet Market which had already decided to close doors.

Regardless of what they plan to do with the space, Resnick is unhappy with how she’s been treated. After being told her lease wouldn’t be renewed, she asked the owner to buy out the remaining time. They refused, but offered her space in other properties, including one on Sheepshead Bay Road. But at that point, Resnick was too upset.

“I’d never use them, they’re horrible,” she said of Waldorf. “I’m a good tenant who never paid a day late, and I pay a lot of money. So, tell me, what was the reason [to not renew my lease]?”

The Waldorf rep insists, though, that it’s nothing personal.

“They’ve been wonderful tenants,” the rep said. “I think they’re just upset that their business is winding down, and rightfully so. But this is just a business decision on our part … I’d be more than happy to relocate them.”

The Learning Wheel’s owner is a retired teacher, and she’s facing moving her business or a second retirement. Considering the difficulty in moving, and the inability to sell the business if it needs to move, she’s decided to shutter doors and spend time with her four grandchildren.

“I’m no youngster,” Resnick said. “I’m not going to start with the racks and the books. I do not want to start setting up a store. It’s a very difficult thing to get started.”

But Waldorf’s behavior, she said, bodes ill for the entire neighborhood, and that’s why she posted the letter urging customers to contact the property owner. She said that landlords like Waldorf, which owns a great deal of property on and around Sheepshead Bay Road, are a threat to the neighborhood’s small businesses who’ve helped build the community. As soon as property values rise, they’re the first ones to go.

Lost in the squabble between tenant and landlord are the customers, who view The Learning Wheel as a neighborhood fixture. Sheepshead Bites received no less than 20 e-mails and phone calls about the closing within days of its announcement, and local teachers waxed poetic about the friendly service they stand to lose.

“As long as it’s been here, I’ve been shopping here,” said Ruth Leyden, a retired teacher of 35 years. “It was like a home away from home.”

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  • Guest

    Looks like a good spot for future sushi place, or a cell phone store, or a dental office, anyway you get the idea.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

      They are looking for higher profile renters than sushi vendors. Otherwise they would have renewed the lease.

      • Guest

        Pretty soon all of Sheepshead Bay will be full of “high profile” businesses that are really just a front for some illegal money laundering operation. Most of the businesses forced out were American owned and most of the businesses moved in are now Russian owned. Or really mafia owned. Always empty, no customers, how they make their overhead is an enigma if they run an honest business. So the only other hypothesis is that they run a dishonest business. Sheepshead Bay is loosing its cozy atmosphere and becoming..hm…Brighton.

        • Local Broker

          Sarcasm ?

          • Guest

            Dead serious. She is right, saying they are looking for “high profile” renters, they do not care whom they rent and what kind of business people are running. Sheepshead Bay is turning into another Brighton with its stores that are merely a front for money laundering.

          • Local Broker

            You have no idea what you are talking about.

          • Anonymous

            I’ll second that. The conspiracy theory is nonsense…unless there’s positive proof of it. Of that being obtainable or in existence I strongly doubt. It’s nothing more than one of many greedy scumlords who need a kick in the ass! There’s too much of this going on but it has more to do with “what the market will bear” which is another way of saying “sink or swim”. That attitude is what got this country into the economic mess in the first place. Where are our elected representatives when it comes to defending small business owners such as this one from such simple minded rapaciousness? Mike Nelson, are you reading this?

          • Anonymous

            I don’t understand – the landlord offered her another store and she said no. Sounds like they tried to work with the tenant and she walked away. Why are you trying to make the landlord look like a bad guy? He’s entitled to make as much money from the property as he can.

          • Anonymous

            I love people who speak of “entitlement” for the powerful but when it comes to disadvantaged people being entitled to justice or fair play it’s abhorrent to them. Can you honestly know that the property being offered as an alternative was a viable one? The whole scenario doesn’t fit any logic other than some strategic maneuvering of tenants. What possible tenant could ‘fit” in relationship to that so called “tower” project that would be able to occupy all three spaces on that corner?What would you do if your business was determined not be in fitting with a hypothetical up and coming development of retail space in this area? Who are these people to dictate what kinds of businesses we are “allowed” to patronize or have within easy reach? I’m personally tired of the endless cellphone retailers that pepper our neighborhood and block more useful businesses such as hardware stores, Butcher Shops, Supermarkets and real delis. Do we really need 2 or 3 AT&T stores within 2 blocks of each other?

          • Anonymous

            Yup – the owner has an entitlement to do whatever he/she wants with his property, within the law of course. He let them stay until the lease was up and decided that he wanted to put something else in HIS PROPERTY. He doesn’t owe anyone, including the tenant an explanation. Is it frustrating? Hell, yeah. But it’s life.

            I’d love to see a butcher, a fish market, a spice market, a book store, a decent affordable restaurant, a pet store, or a myriad of other types of local mom and pop businesses in the bay, but I don’t own the buildings.

        • SuKi

          So true….I miss the Sheepshead Bay of 30 years ago.

        • gene

          of course its the russians who are ruining sheepshead bay,.. oh yea and the jews….

          • levp

            … or the russian jews

          • Anonymous

            Let’s not forget the Chinese, the Catholics, The Prostit….er Protestants.. Last but not at all least: The Pomeranians.

        • Mike

          So even though this is the doing of Waldorf, lets blame the Russian people, who of course are all crocks. G-d forbid they come to this country and work hard and live the American dream of owning their own business.

  • http://twitter.com/nikiraa Nikira

    This is so sad! I use to buy here text books for my daughter, when she was learning to read, now she is finishing college, I love this store.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    They would relocate her and then she’d find her lease wouldn’t be renewed at that location in two years. She was smart not to accept.

    They’re playing monopoly here. They are, along with a small number of other scondrels, buying up every property that they can get their hands on.

    • Local Broker

      I know the owners of the property and have done business with them. They are very nice people that have owned real estate in this area for decades. Its a family company and from my experience of actually working with them they are far from scoundrels. As for buying up property they are very particular about what they buy and where they buy it. I dont know any details about this space or their plans for it but its not personal it business. Again i know these people and if they offered them another space i am sure it was with good intention. As owners of the property they have every right not to renew the lease and go in a different direction. They didnt kick them out their lease was up. If the tenant wanted to stay in business they should of took a new space that was offered or found one themselves they had a year to figure it out from what it says.

      • Animo916

        I agree with Lisanne. This is nothing more than kicking out a small established business in the attempt to garner more money. While it is their building, and they have every right to do what they want as a business decision. Just because you have the right, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right thing to do. However, with the other tenant’s closing up I felt it was just a matter of time, before the Learning Wheel, would be forced out.

        I watched years ago, when my father was forced out of his successful NY City location, and he decided to move his whole store elsewhere. 3 years later, he was toast. I see the same thing happening, had the Learning Wheel relocated. It is not easy to dig up, and plant new roots somewhere else. This is just another tragic, yet all to familiar occurrence in Sheepshead Bay.

        • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

          I was wondering when the Learning would be in the situation as the Self-Help Center, which occupied the next storefront.

          They have a reputation that has spread far. I was once asked to do a transaction with them by a friend who lives in Portland Oregon. They often carry items that are hard to buy in retail.

          They had two very unique businesses. There was no reason to remove tenants that pay on time and add something to the neighborhood.

          I’m sure you father had to put a lot of work just into relocating, and then rebuilding his clientèle. People are creatures of habit. Moving often means the loss of steady customers.

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

        I’m sure that they are nice people, but they separate business from other considerations. If The Learning Wheel was offered a location on Sheepshead Bay Road, and the people at Waldorf are focusing on renting to businesses that “compliment’ the proposed development that arrangement could become an impedement, and the non-renewal would become an unfortunate practicality once more.It’s like when you build hotels on Baltic Avenue. You only get $550 dollars for it but that beats by far the $55 for one house. And is so much more prestigeous.

      • Anonymous

        They are not very nice when it comes to business it seems. Are there no prisons? Are there no Workhouses? Bob Marley was a good man of Business too.

  • Eitan

    I have a bag sitting in my room full of great stuff I recently bought my kids from there, so sad to see them go. Not another place like it.

    When people reminisce about ‘good old days’, they are remembering places like this that have since vanished.

  • winson

    what a bummer

  • Anonymous

    Everyone loses. Owner ,employees and the children. I never left the establishment with out what I needed.

  • parent

    “The owners are very nice people for brokers” but why no one think about teachers, kids and their parents? We can only talk about our care for our future generations… and we care only about money not education.

    • Animo916

      The evil dollar rules. That is why Bankers control the world.

      • Anonymous

        Gordon Gekko would disagree with the word “evil”.

  • Jeanette

    The old Sheepshead Bay is gone and the new one is not interested in the ways of the old. I have lived here my entire life…52 years and find more and more I think about moving….why? because the things I loved about this area have disappeared.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

      This is what some people would like. They believe it is “their neighborhood” now. It is an attitude that comes from a sense of entitlement. Such people succeed because they believe it is their right to take. They are shallow people with shallow values and this neighborhood is starting to resemble them. How unfortunate.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=665079815 Allan Berkovitz

    It’s unfortunate, and somewhat sad, but truthfully, it doesn’t mean that someone else can’t open up another teaching store if The Learning Wheel won’t re-establish itself somewhere else. There’s plenty of real estate available in Sheepshead Bay, and if another teaching store opened with the same type of product that wasn’t available most anywhere else so readily, even online, it would do well no matter the location in Sheepshead Bay. Teachers, parents, and students flocked to the store because of what they sold and how they treated customers, not so much the location.

    Wish I had the capital to start up a teaching store myself, I would do it in a heartbeat.

  • Guest

    @Local Broker
    “You have no idea what you are talking about.”

    Oh , yeah?
    Enlighten me please.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

      This has nothing to do with Russians. As Local Broker pointed out Waldorf has a long history here. It is about redefining the neighborhood. One doesn’t need to be a Russian or even a newcomer to decide that the neighborhood demographics need changing. I disagree with strongly, but that is another issue.

  • Princessgina726

    Every time I turn around, there is yet another business going “out of business” in the Bay. In replacement there is always a useless store that has overpriced merchandise. I once went into Little Angels to buy my 5 year old a hat & they wanted $45….did I say my 5 year old? In addition, all of these sushi places & cafe’s are agian useless & overpriced not to mention since cafe glechick opened it’s a nighmare to even drive down Sheepshead Bay Road. I was raised in this neighborhood & although it is still a nice neighborhood & safe for the most part, I always go elsewhere to shop becuse there is nothing of interest left anymore.

  • Guest

    @Princessgina726

    I totally agree with you. Waldorf is probably looking for another high priced store to take this whole space, selling sh*t like $45 hats or $200 shoes for 5 year olds.

  • bigmike

    GREEDY BASTARDS

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