Sandy Zuckerbrot, The Lion of Long Island City, On Its Past and Future
Gus Delaporte March 12, 2013, 5 a.m.
With a wealth of experience across industrial, retail and investment real estate, Sandy Zuckerbrot of Sholom & Zuckerbrot LLC has seen Long Island City and the rest of New York transform along with his own business. Boasting a portfolio of 1.5 million square feet occupied by tenants including Walmart, CVS, the United States government and Home Depot, the 76-year-old real estate veteran spoke with The Commercial Observer last week about the history of his 50-year-old, family-owned company, the transformation of Long Island City and a proposal to change its name to LIC.
The Commercial Observer: Give us some background on Sholom & Zuckerbrot?
Mr. Zuckerbrot: I am a co-founder of the company, which started 7/11/62, which is our good luck number. The company was initially started by two people, [myself] and Ronald Sholom, and we were partners for 33 years. We built up a company of six offices. We had offices in Long Island City, Garden City, N.Y., Manhattan at the Flatiron Building, in Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., Edison, N.J., and Parsippany, N.J. For many, many years we ran this very, very successfully, and we built up a staff of 150 sales reps and support staff.
What areas did you focus on early on?
The area of specialty, when we first started our business, was industrial real estate, and the first office we opened was in Long Island City—and in those days Long Island City was a very heavy-duty, smokestack-type industry city. So you had every conceivable type of operation.
In the early days, many, many companies in lower Manhattan were being pushed out because of the inadequate operations, terrible elevator facilities, and the difficulty moving inventory in and out. Because of the limited access they had, we were looking for more attractive facilities, and Long Island City offered the one-story building, high ceiling, easy loading. It was very costly for companies to operate in multistory buildings in Manhattan. Manhattan was a feeder to Long Island City.
As time went on, Long Island City was getting reasonably inundated with these operations, and soon we started to see New Jersey as being a feeder and started to bring companies from Manhattan to New Jersey and Long Island City.
That was our initial imprint in the market, handling all the industrial. As time evolved, we started to see there was a higher and better use for all of these properties. Bear in mind that as time goes on, all the available land starts to get built upon and all of a sudden you don’t have land anymore.
We were looking at higher and better use, and we were starting to get a lot of retail requirements coming in—we were starting to then take industrial facilities and turn them into retail centers either for single-tenant or for a strip-center-type operation. We developed, in addition to our industrial base, we developed, both in New York and New Jersey, very successful retail departments. To this date, we are very, very successful in doing that.
Could you describe, given your experience in the Long Island City area, the transformation of the area?
Given from where I started in 1957, it’s been quite a transformation.
Long Island City was one-dimensional when I started, which was just heavy-duty industry. Today, which is very exciting, you still have the ability to have industry, not heavy-duty anymore but many types of industries. More of the assembly-type operations, high-tech operations. In conjunction with that, we have office and medical that have come into Long Island City. We have the best of all worlds. We have an area that caters to both business and residents and many people can walk to work. Long Island City has all the subway lines right at its doorstep, and we have bridges and tunnels. It’s easier to get to the East Side of Manhattan from Long Island City than to get to the East Side from the West Side. You know what they say: Manhattan is six miles long and six hours wide. That’s the truth.
We are very excited about the development of Long Island City today, and I think it has completed its first phase and people are going to see a second phase and a third phase.
What do you think we will see in those second and third phases?
Additional residential, and I might also add—the one thing we never had here—we have a number of motels and hotels that have been built in Long Island City as well.
How do you view the Hunters Point South project?
It’s a great location, and it’s just a matter of what the [Request for Proposals] is going to be—if someone is going to come up with a multiuse-type operation—but right now, when you go there, you have Rockrose and Cityscape, which has been developed and it’s just very, very appealing to think about it. You have a subway stop a couple of stops into Manhattan.
I don’t know what the RFP is going to be for, or who’s going to come up with the right kind of deal there. But it’s not going to be much different from what you see at Rockrose now. So Rockrose built all those apartment houses. They built some shopping inside as well, and I think it will be a continuation of more residential, maybe residential and office hooked into each other.
What’s your stance on changing the name Long Island City to LIC, which some merchants in the neighborhood recently called for?
Change never comes easy. If you think about just having to change the stationery in your company, you can understand there are many people out there who are so comfortable with the name Long Island City—and it’s so well-known throughout the country, why would you do that? But I’m always for change for the better. I would look at LIC; I don’t have any strong feelings not to do it, although I do have a feeling in my heart about the name Long Island City. That’s where I started. I could see a change. I could see with proper promotion it could be very appealing, very attractive.
Where are you positioning yourself and the company going forward?
Over the past 50 years, I’ve created two businesses. We have a very successful brokerage business; we also have an investment and development business. I have a son, his name is Frank, and he’s been with me for 20 years, a little more. I feel very fortunate to have my son, my other partners and our sales staff that have been with me for so long. We’re like a well-oiled football team or baseball team. We run very, very smoothly and it’s proven to be very successful and we have a great reputation in the community. So it’s something that’s very important to me, the people I’ve surrounded myself with.
How has the market looked for you earlier on this year, and how do you see things progressing?
I’m very positive about where the market is going. Right now, the market is very active. We don’t have too much product in the market, and there is demand. Even though there’s still a strong need to create jobs, companies are doing well and interest rates are very, very low. Even though they may creep up a little bit, they’re still going to be extremely low, which gives many of the companies we deal with the incentive to go out and try to find a building to buy. We have incentives of low interest rates—plus there are real estate tax incentives. So we’re in a very active state right now. There’s a lot of activity going on, and a lot of deals are being made.
Speaking of deals, are there any that you’re particularly proud of during your career?
Sure. Probably one of the most attractive deals was a higher and better use, taking an industrial building and adapting to a higher and better use. We represented the Tisch family, who owned the Bulova watch company. They still do. Bulova had offices and a factory on Astoria Boulevard in Jackson Heights, right by LaGuardia Airport. They had an approximately 200,000-square-foot building on 25 acres, and I was doing a lot of business with the Tisch family, and they asked me if I thought I could do something with this property.
I said, “I think we could make a corporate park out of this.” Either they could develop it or I could sell it to a developer. And they said, “You find somebody that will develop it.” I found a builder-developer by the name of Edward Blumenfeld, and he bought the site and he maintained the name Bulova—It’s called Bulova Corporate Center. One of the very first deals we made was a reservation center for British Airways, and that was the beginning of it—and over a period of about 12 months we rented up the entire facility, and then on additional land, Blumenfeld built a couple of big-boxes, like Home Depot. That was one of the very first higher, better use deals.
Any last thoughts?
Having a son in the business who is able take the platform you hand over to him and make it bigger and better is a wonderful thing. My son—I’m very proud of him—has really taken our company to another level, and part of our operation is ownership of some substantial properties we have developed over the years, and my son is in charge of all those things as well. Being the elder statesman of the firm, I hope to see it go to a third generation. I hope I’m still around to see that. That would be very exciting to me.