To: Mayor Bill de Blasio
Pledge support for Caffe Vivaldi - A New York City "Cultural Institution"
Caffe Vivaldi needs your support in our pending case at the New York State Supreme Court against our landlord, Mr. Steve Croman, who has been uncompromising in his continued harassment and attempts to evict us from our premises, where we've provided refuge to artists, musicians and to our community of patrons for decades.
Why is this important?
This is not a request for financial support, but equally important, for your moral support to stand with us and sign this petition.
Since 1983, Caffe Vivaldi has provided a haven for artists, musicians, writers, and comedians—young and old alike—to come and share their magic with our community of local, national and international customers. Caffe Vivaldi has become a way of life first and foremost, and then a business. From its inception, the idea of establishing Caffe Vivaldi was to provide a venue for creative people, who would contribute to the timeless qualities of the Republic of Greenwich Village. The Republic of Greenwich Village, below 14th St. in New York has no physical but some cultural boundaries where artists and free thinkers have mostly dwelled for over 200 years. Its streets, buildings, alleys, eateries and cafés have riveting stories about people who have enriched modern day America.
For the past 30 years, Caffe Vivaldi has been harnessing such creative energy by attracting individuals such as Nobel Prize Laureate Joseph Brodsky, who gave interviews here upon receiving the Award; Al Pacino, who directed parts of his autobiographical film here; Woody Allen, who preferred to shoot scenes for three of his films here; Oscar Isaac and Marcus Mumford, who in an unplugged acoustic performance personified the ever-present magic of the Village; along with numerous other great artists, known and unknown.
But a threat looms. The past five years have been a challenge for us to keep this heritage going, and especially for me on a personal and emotional level as I have dedicated most of my life to keeping this legacy in Greenwich Village alive.
In October 2011, we launched an online petition to save Caffe Vivaldi from the imminent existential threat posed by a new landlord who tried to impose a 400% rent increase. After almost five thousand people from our community signed and commented on our petition, our landlord caved in to the overwhelming support and pressure and the fear of further adverse publicity. The rent did increase, but thankfully, nowhere near the amount demanded, and with incremental adjustments.
In December 2011, we launched a fundraiser to help us pay for soundproofing, allowing us to stay open longer with live music, so we could increase our revenue to pay for our higher rent. Our new lease, signed in January 2012, allowed us the use of a basement, promising critically needed storage space to begin serving extra revenue-generating premium beers, along with the chance to open a small annex space for our artists and customers, and access to one of the two existing basement restrooms.
However, once the lease was signed and the public pressure was off his back, our landlord refused to provide us the access to that basement, and yet demanded that we pay rent for that inaccessible space. In July 2012, our landlord took us to court for non-payment of that portion of rent pertaining to the inaccessible basement space. I can only speculate that the landlord believed, given his own vast financial resources, that I would not have the financial means, the stamina, nor the savvy legal team (who offered their services at a semi pro bono basis) to defend myself in court, and that I would thus be forced to give in to his pressure to close Caffe Vivaldi).
On February 27, 2013, New York State Civil Court Judge Lynn R. Kotler, declared Caffe Vivaldi to be a "cultural institution," and dismissed the landlord's case against us, noting that in essence, Caffe Vivaldi was partially evicted by the landlord from the space allowed in the lease.
To our absolute shock, the case turning in our favor did not result in us being given access to the basement. The landlord defied the court order and continued to hold back from giving us access until nine months later, when it was already too late for us. By denying us access, he had forced us to take a huge risk and change our marketing strategy. We had to build storage shelving throughout the inside of our ground floor space, and to reverse the focus of our live music selections from 70% rock and contemporary (largely beer drinkers), 30% jazz and classical (mostly wine drinkers), to the complete opposite. Basement access was no longer essential. The landlord continued to demand rent for the basement and began harassing and bombarding Caffe Vivaldi with eviction notices.
In 2014, a new court case was initiated by Caffe Vivaldi against the landlord, this one at the Supreme Court of the State of New York. Continued delays have pushed the case to finally be heard in June 2016. We were at the point of seriously considering the actual viability of Caffe Vivaldi's future. A ruling against Caffe Vivaldi would force us to permanently shut our doors, or to somehow find a way to rebuild this "cultural institution" elsewhere.
On May 9, 2016, our landlord, Mr. Steven Croman, was arrested on 20 felony counts, including grand larceny, business record falsification, and tax and mortgage fraud and called the "Bernie Madoff of landlords" by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. I invite you to do your own research on Mr. Croman and learn what you will. This criminal case against Mr. Croman, however, has nothing to do with the pending civil case between Caffe Vivaldi and Mr. Croman. There is no way to predict what will happen next.
Today, I, Ishrat Ansari, owner and operator of Caffe Vivaldi since opening our doors in 1983, reach out to you yet again to help us save our "cultural institution." We need your help, your support, your voice. We need you to sign our petition, and to comment if you will.
Our objective is simple: the more we can draw in community support, the more we can show to the Supreme Court judge, who will be deciding our case against Mr. Croman shortly, that Caffe Vivaldi deserves to remain open.
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