Anita Grossberg Knows a Thing or Two About the City’s Unsigned Stash of Real Estate
Terence Cullen Feb. 10, 2016, 10:30 a.m.
Anita Grossberg sat at the conference table in Douglas Elliman’s 575 Madison Avenue office and introduced herself as a specialist in marketing the city’s secrets.
For example, there’s the then-dubbed Waldorf Astoria account, which she “inherited” in the early 1990s, before retail became the most valuable part of a building. But, of course, having a good tenant helped ensure the hotel rooms upstairs were filled. The catch? There was no signage.
“We did a lot of marketing but could never put a sign on it,” Ms. Grossberg said. “So I would do a lot of reaching out to different companies and run ads and such, but we couldn’t put a sign on the Waldorf itself.”
For almost 15 years, from the early 1990s to 2004, she was forced to market the space through referrals and classified ads in newspapers. Over that time, she filled the retail spaces at the storied Park Avenue hotel with Bauman Rare Books, TD Ameritrade and technology retailer International Business Solutions.
While she’s since gone on to focus mostly on tenant representation, Ms. Grossberg still appreciates the unorthodox deal or situation. A 37-year veteran of the industry (Ms. Grossberg declined to reveal her age), this week she’s celebrating her 11th anniversary with the Sroka Worldwide Group at Douglas Elliman, during which time Ms. Grossberg has represented theaters on vacant lots, nonprofits and celebrities-turned-business people such as Gwyneth Paltrow. And walking the streets, or walking into stores, is a strong point of hers in a business that relies heavily on referrals.
Lately, Greenwich Avenue in the West Village is often on Ms. Grossberg’s mind. In the past two years, the broker has arranged several leases and building sales on the strip.
“It’s changed because if you look at Greenwich Avenue over the years, you have the ma and pa kind of stores and such,” she told Commercial Observer recently. “It’s no longer ma and pa. I think that what [properties in the area are] selling for…has had significant impact” on the area.
One of her biggest leases in the area was Surreal Eyewear, which in 2014 signed a deal for 70 Greenwich Avenue between West 10th and West 11th Streets. Surreal, formerly known as Artsee, moved from the Meatpacking District. Knowing the team behind the company for 15 years after going in to shop one day, she had tried in the past to get the company on to Greenwich Avenue. (Ms. Grossberg did, indeed, confirm the glasses she wore came from Surreal).
That was followed up last year with Mah Ze Dahr bakery, which is set to open at 28 Greenwich Avenue between West 10th and West 11th Streets. Ms. Grossberg said the bakery, which before had only been based online until now, has experienced some delays in opening but should be operating soon. The bakery will be joining trendy spots such as Mighty Quinn’s Barbeque and Quality Eats on Greenwich Avenue, which the New York Daily News recently named New York City’s newest Restaurant Row.
Last September, she represented Hollywood hairdresser Chaz Dean in his $10 million purchase of 59 Greenwich Avenue between Perry Street and Seventh Avenue South. The celebrity hair stylist is using the 4,142-square-foot townhouse as the flagship store for his popular WEN beauty product line. The building is currently being renovated.
Ms. Grossberg once told her boss at Douglas Elliman, Neal Sroka, that the best way for the team to find new clients is to send her into stores. Was she kidding? Maybe. But that method is how she became familiar with jewelry designer Alexis Bittar, whom she has represented in several deals for pop-up locations. Ms. Grossberg said she never took a commission for Mr. Bittar’s pop-ups—rather opting to take jewelry as payment.
“Some people leave their family fine gems and such,” she said. “I will leave them the best collection of Alexis Bittar jewelry, because I couldn’t ask for a commission.”
But high profile as the clients may come, Ms. Grossberg said she’s never starstruck—even if it’s the likes of Messrs. Bittar, Dean or Ms. Paltrow.
When she went to find space for TA Studio New York, a company co-founded by Ms. Paltrow, Ms. Grossberg said she was upfront with the Oscar winner about how much time it would take and Ms. Paltrow appreciated the no-nonsense approach.
In another case, she showed tough love when it came to relocating Surreal from the Meatpacking District to the West Village. The retail space at 70 Greenwich Avenue became available and was expected to go quickly. Ms. Grossberg called Surreal founder Oleg Rabinovich and told him “get your ass over to that space.”
Ms. Grossberg’s tenacity for the deal and loyalty to her client is one of her strongest points, Mr. Sroka said. Sometimes she can be too into finding the right space, he added, prompting tenants to say she’s working herself too hard.
“Anita is probably one of the most delightfully anal people I’ve ever worked with,” Mr. Sroka said of the Upper West Side broker, who grew up in the Bath Beach section of Brooklyn. “Anita basically takes the client’s needs so seriously that she will leave no stone unturned, including how many steps from a subway. She will go out and look at the type of people who walk in the street. The only complaint I ever get about Anita is she works too hard.”
Ms. Grossberg went to work for the Sroka Worldwide Group on Valentine’s Day 2005 after meeting Mr. Sroka through a women’s business group. They began chatting. She said she was in the middle of a “business divorce” with the Lerner Group at the time, and decided to go work with Mr. Sroka, whose team was then part of The Corcoran Group before joining Douglas Elliman in February 2008.
“Neal is ADHD,” Ms. Grossberg said. “I’m a little OCD. It’s a very good mix because we bring different talents. I have patience where he doesn’t.”
“Opposites attract,” Mr. Sroka added. “I tend to focus more on the numbers. Anita tends to focus on what is good for the brand and what the brand wants.”
And understanding brands is part of the reason why Ms. Grossberg said she became a commercial broker. She wasn’t entirely sure what kind of career she wanted, and figured representing a plethora of companies might expose her to different avenues of the world.
“One reason that I got into this business—the commercial end of the business—is I wanted to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up,” she said. “I still learn. I’m learning all about the different businesses, and I need to understand the nuts and bolts of that business otherwise they’re not successful.”
But of all Ms. Grossberg’s deals, from shopping the Waldorf space in secret to building up Greenwich Avenue, her work in show business might be the act that most blows clients away.
Ms. Grossberg, an avid theater fan (she skipped the Real Estate Board of New York’s annual banquet because she had tickets to School of Rock) has twice found a home for Dave Malloy’s Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812—a musical adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
Producer Howard Kagan wanted a venue that included column-free space that could serve food and drink. He and Ms. Grossberg resolved to find a vacant lot somewhere in or around the Meatpacking District.
A tent would be put up on the spot and feature heating, cooling and restrooms. It’s hard enough to find land to build on in the development-prone stretch of Manhattan, but things get trickier where it has to be in a quiet and safe part of town.
“I’m walking around the city looking for vacant lots that you can put a tent,” she said. “Well we know what’s happened with a lot of vacant lots: they’re construction sites now or parking lots.”
Ms. Grossberg was grabbing coffee at the Standard Hotel in early 2013 when she spotted it: an empty lot. With an official address of 860 Washington Street, the site is currently under development with a 120,413-square-foot commercial building. But for summer 2013 it was home to the show. But Mr. Kagan had to pack up by that Labor Day as construction got underway.
“We had to have a landlord who was willing to let us do this, which involved us getting a liquor license,” Mr. Kagan said. “She was great in terms of finding the combination of space and the right location. After we ran in the Meatpacking District in a while, it moved from being the coolest, hottest Downtown thing to being an amazing show that everybody in the theater community just wanted to see.”
So Ms. Grossberg once again set out with the daunting task of finding a vacant lot on the West Side. As luck had it, Extell Development Company and the Related Companies had swapped vacant lots. Extell took a piece of property on Eighth Avenue and West 45th Street, while Related took a parcel on what’s now its Hudson Yards development.
She tracked down representatives from Extell through contacts via her time at Corcoran. The deal was sealed within three weeks, she said, and closed around Labor Day weekend in 2013. The show ran again, this time for another seven months. The show is slated to open in a permanent location on Broadway this September, although a theater has yet been announced, and will feature singer Josh Groban in the lead male role of Pierre.
“None of that would have happened if Anita hadn’t found us that space,” Mr. Kagan said.