News that a group of West Village buildings, including the one that's home to the White Horse Tavern, have been sold has alarmed locals, with reports suggesting the new owner is convicted slumlord Steve Croman.
The Commercial Observer reported that the owners of 561 to 567 Hudson Street were looking to retire and sell the properties, but the "deal was contingent upon obtaining a leaseholder to maintain the century-old bar as is." Eytan Sugarman— a restaurateur whose establishments include a Midtown restaurant co-owned by former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci—will be taking over the bar.
White Horse regulars are fearing the worst. On Thursday afternoon, a few expressed worries about Croman, calling him a "scumbag and a crook." They also feared that Croman, who served jail time for fraud related to his various properties, will raise the rent so high that they won't be able to have their quiet afternoons sipping whiskey and beer while eating $8 burger deluxes.
There are also 17 apartments at stake, many of them rent-stabilized. Croman has been infamous for hardball tactics to evict tenants from their rent-stabilized apartments, or force them into buyouts by starting never-ending renovations on buildings.
Longtime West Village resident George Capsis, 90, the publisher and executive editor of neighborhood monthly newspaper The Westview News, has been covering Croman for years. One of his readers described living in a Croman building:
They start by trying to intimidate you as soon as they buy the building. They come to your door and tell you none of your leases are valid, that they have taken over the building and that all the leases were invalid if they were issued before they bought it out of foreclosure. They get a lot of their buildings this way...
Then if you have kids and a family, like I do, they corner your wife and children and say that they aren’t supposed to live there and that their lease is not valid. This tactic completely instills fear and trepidation. In my case it put a huge strain on my relationship with my son’s mother. This is exactly what they intended by this kind of harassment. They also start and engage in verbal fights and seem to relish doing this around the wife and kids to instill more fear. They have investigators come around and bang on your door. The investigator says he is from the fire department or police department and is “investigating you and if you can live here.”
Capsis noted that under the conditions of Croman's plea deal, he's not allowed to be involved with the day-to-day running of his business (they are managed by another firm). He also told Gothamist that he's heard that Croman "shows up at many of the lease locations that he has," including a "restaurant on Christopher Street which lost their lease under Croman... The new tenant said he saw Croman looking in the window. So he shadows all these locations."
Capsis has also been going to the White Horse for decades, and told us, "I went to it when Dylan Thomas got up and did one of his poems."
Mimi Vang Olsen, a pet portrait painter, has had a storefront a few doors from the White Horse since 1981 and said, based on her observations, that the bar has been doing good business. "The Village isn't what it was, there's too many modern buildings," she lamented about the state of the neighborhood overall. "Some of these builders say 'it's the look of the new Village.' But we old Villagers don't want a new look in the Village."