Middle Village City Block Dies A Slow Death: Why?

Among a lonely and mostly vacant row of storefronts on Woodhaven Boulevard last week, a bright row of New York Giants flags, outside Killarney’s Cottage pub, snapped in a winter wind that barreled like a delivery truck down this eight-lane thoroughfare.

Beside them, torn canvas shop awnings — from which vacated business names had long since been cut out — snapped alongside, decidedly less triumphant.

“It’s a shame because it’s a really busy area,” said Ed Okun, a neighborhood resident who lives just three blocks away. “It could hold a lot of new stores.”

Residents of Middle Village and Rego Park want to know how a city block in an otherwise prosperous neighborhood could become as impoverished as this one. As with most things, the answers regarding this 63-00 block of Woodhaven Boulevard aren’t simple. But they are indicative of problems faced around the borough, around the city, and in other cities all over the country.

In a more hardscrabble New York neighborhood, the above scene could describe any number of failing blocks. But along the vibrant Woodhaven Boulevard, where it runs south from the Long Island Expressway to divide Rego Park from Middle Village, the sight is an eyesore — a glaring omission on an otherwise bustling row of delis, cigar shops, cafes and fine Italian restaurants.

As many local residents suspect, the block’s history of problems begin with its owner — in this case, a company named Highpoint Associates, based in Sherman Oaks, Calif., which owns the entire block. Keystone Management Inc., also based in Sherman Oaks, manages the property.

Both companies are run by Daniel Shalom, also known as Daniel Ohebshalom. He is one of several Shalom family members involved in real estate around the country whose record of tenant neglect is widespread and well known.

In real estate and tenant action circles they are known as “the Shalom family.”

Problems with Daniel Shalom’s property in Middle Village are a well-documented matter of public record.

The mixed-use building that stands on the corner of Dana Court, comprises 37 units, mostly one- and two-bedroom apartments, along with several Woodhaven Boulevard storefronts. Department of Housing Preservation and Development records show 265 open violations there, some dating back to 1977.

“That’s certainly far higher than we would like to see it,” said Seth Donlin, a spokesman for the agency.

He said that in some cases, what is classified as open violations are simply problems that have been fixed, but that proper paperwork has not been filed with the department.

“That’s clearly not really the case here,” Donlin said.

The total for the entire block, which comprises six separate address, and several more storefronts and apartments, was 342.

“He’s not a human being in my book,” said Alex Borg, a manager at Aaron’s Gourmet Emporium, referring to Shalom. Aaron’s, a glatt kosher caterer and meat market a block away, was located on the Shalom’s block until last year, when its owners temporarily relocated to their production facility nearby.

Happily for its owner and employees, “Grand Opening” flags currently fly outside Aaron’s new location — a block north of the old one, on Woodhaven Boulevard.

“It was inhuman the way he was doing everything,” Borg said. “They don’t want to deal with anybody, with no reasons, no explanations, nothing.”

The contrast between the block where Aaron’s is located today and the block it once inhabited are striking. Indeed, one can walk for several blocks in either direction along Woodhaven Boulevard, and find most, if not all, the stores open for business.

Meanwhile, between 63rd Road to Dana Court, only two out of ten shop fronts are occupied. Otherwise, the plate glass windows stand dull and dim, the shutters drawn and graffiti-covered.

James Slattery, manager of Planet Tan salon since 1999, worked on the block for nearly nine years before the business relocated to Myrtle Avenue, in Glendale, just last year. He said that for the nine years they were there, the establishment had no hot water, despite complaints. It also had no lease.

Planet Tan’s problems reached the breaking point when its rent increased to $2,500 a month. With no lease, the owners looked into renting an adjacent corner storefront on Dana Court, a property long since vacated by the florist whose sign still hangs there today. Highpoint asked for $4,000 a month for the corner. That was when Slattery knew they had to leave.

“Overall, personally, they were good to us, but when it came to maintenance, they really didn’t care about anything,” he said. “The apartments upstairs, they were just disgusting. The building was infested.”

At this point, Slattery added, Planet Tan wasn’t concerned with trying to recover its security deposit, which ran into the thousands of dollars.“It’s not even worth going through.”

For the two businesses which remain, Killarney’s Cottage and Tile Town, an interior decorating store, the future is unclear. Killarney’s Cottage’s owners did not return requests for interviews, while Tile Town’s owner was out of town.

Some tenants, however, are fighting back. David Franzo is one such tenant. At 43, he has lived in the building his entire life — first with his mother, in a different apartment, now in a rent-controlled space he inherited from his recently deceased grandmother. Franzo, himself physically handicapped, said that Daniel Shalom has fought him on the rent control issue every step of the way, even going as far as to question his relationship with his grandmother.

Today, he is an officer in the Shalom Tenants Alliance, a group dedicated to uniting aggrieved Shalom tenants all over the city.

He had especially harsh criticism for locally elected officials like City Councilman Dennis Gallagher and state Sen. Serphin Maltese.

“They’re despicable when it comes to political representation for the middle class,” Franzo said. “They have no interest because we are not considered big ticket people. What are they doing for their communities?”

Speculation among locals abounds regarding the motives behind Highpoint’s continued neglect, but nothing could be confirmed. Messages left with the tenant relations manager in Sherman Oaks were not returned in time for deadline. Calls to the Manhattan phone number were routed to the same office.

Tracking the Shaloms’ history can be difficult as some of the brothers use aliases. Among them is Darren Stern, also known as Henry Shalom (Ohebshalom), who, according to court documents from the Office of the City Attorney in Los Angeles, was also connected to an earlier business incarnation of Highpoint Associates.

The State of California sued both Stern and the companies affiliated with him, including Highpoint, last year. Stern was sentenced to up to five months in jail after pleading no contest to nearly three dozen code violations in Los Angeles, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times.

The report also stated that the city attorney had accused Stern’s company of “an organized campaign to force tenants out of dozens of buildings to raise rents to take advantage of the gentrification sweeping many parts of the city.”

Tenant complaints included leaking sewage and cockroach infestations, which, the state ruled, were intentionally neglected.

Closer to home, Fred Ohebshalom, head of Acquisition America, has faced scathing criticism in the New York press due to a rash of tenant complaints from around the city. A potential bright spot could be Bill 627-A, which the City Council passed last week to help empower aggrieved tenants. Though the bill doesn’t effectively change the grounds on which tenants may file complaints against their landlords, the bill does enable tenants to claim harassment for neglectful offenses like vermin infestations, to more egregious ones like changing a building’s locks without prior notification.

The law could prove helpful for groups the Shalom Tenants Alliance, which seek to continue fighting for their neighborhoods.

“It’s unfortunate because this used to be a really lovely neighborhood,” Franzo said. “But big business came in and the little neighborhoods died.”

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