Trellis, NISI or What?

The Trellis/NISI Story Sparks

David Stone
NISI, August, 2016: Last observable activity.
NISI, August, 2016: Last observable activity.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

As previously reported in the Roosevelt Islander blog, NISI, successor to Trellis, may never open. But there seems to be more to the story.

Just two months ago, based on reporting by Frank Farance, we were cautiously optimistic that NISI would soon open. Farance, who lives in Island House, just upstairs from the long closed Trellis, found owner Kaie Razaghi overseeing plumbing work, readying for a Department of Buildings inspection that would clear the way.

Hudson, which oversees Main Street commercial development, was equally optimistic.

Said Hudson's Alex Kaplan in response to our query, "We too are very much looking forward to the day that Nisi opens. Kaie and Alex have put a tremendous amount of resources into the renovation and I know they are looking forward to opening day, perhaps more than the rest of us combined."

More recently, at RIOC's April Board Meeting, one of Hudson's Principals, David Kramer, praised a new agreement with RIOC that would finally get signage posted strategically around the Island. One benefit, he said, is that a sign would help visitors find great Greek food at NISI. 

But, then...

On Monday, Farance saw something as completely different as anything Monty Python ever staged. A letter listing many months of unpaid rent, totaling $142,000, had been taped to NISI's front door, coupled with a threat of taking over the business.

The news was jarring to locals, many of whom retain strong attachments to Trellis as well as its owners, Kaie and Alexander Razaghi, as valued pieces of a tightly networked neighborhood.

Some railed at Hudson as well as RIOC for "destroying Main Street," strangling businesses with excessive prices and regulations. But that was jarring too.

Neither the Razaghi family nor Scot Bobo, owner of the recently closed and also much loved Main Street Sweets, blamed Hudson. Finger-pointing was for others.

A Dose of Reality

Lost in the emotions surrounding Main Street businesses and the agreement allowing the real estate company to develop the commercial sector is an honest appraisal of the past and what it means for the present.

Long term residents lament the loss of the stationery, hardware and fish stores, among others, but none of them were viable businesses. None would have even gotten started or lasted as long as they did without RIOC's generosity. Each of them owed tens, even hundreds of thousands in back rent that would never be paid - by them, anyway. It can be argued that you and I paid through the loss of revenue to RIOC.

The last time I used the stationery store, I swore I'd never go back. Why? Because when I went to the counter to pay for my envelopes, I had to endure cigarette smoke being blown in my face by the cashier.

The hardware store? Having covered its last gasp for the Main Street WIRE, I recall that, although she owed tens of thousands of dollars in back rent, a legacy passed on by RIOC, the owner forced Hudson to spend even more money evicting her. The business was poorly run, stocked with many one of a kinds, a slapdash inventory, and unable to take anything but cash for purchases.

But the more salient point was that, like the stationery story, the bakery and the Italian restaurant, our small, limited income community was unable to generate enough demand even for a well-oiled business. As evidence, I give you Main Street Sweets. If ever an owner ran his business well, creative in integrating with the community, always clean, always friendly, it was Scot Bobo's shop. A popular resident, he invested personally in the community. He worked his butt off. But he closed anyway.

Need I go on?

Today and Into the Future

Bringing in Subway, Wholesome Factory, the new wine and liquor store, the planned Mexican restaurant, Onda, and a wine bar to a strip that has witnesses numerous failures is no mean feat. To its credit, in Southtown - also part of Roosevelt Island, Hudson has given us Riverwalk Bar & Grill, Duane Reade, Starbucks, Fuji East, all popular, and more.

When you consider that Hudson also found a way to work with Gallery RIVAA to keep culture flourishing along Main Street, it's hard to reach a conclusion that they've destroyed anything. In reality, we have more viable businesses serving us now than we ever did in the good old days.

As for NISI, the warning letter has disappeared. Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe a deal is in the works.

What Hudson's Alex Kaplan tells us, today, is that her company's confidence in NISI's opening remains undiminished. 

Kaplan anticipates Greek food being savored on Main Street and so do NISI's owners. Let's hope both are right.

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