The 140 tenants of 20 Nassau Street, recently sold for $32 million to the hotel chain Graduate Hotels, are not just shocked by the news that they will soon lose their long-held office spaces and storefronts in downtown Princeton — they are outraged.
“It’s scandalous, unscrupulous, heartless,” said one tenant, whose business has occupied its current 20 Nassau Street location for 34 years.
On Nov. 8, several tenants received a letter from Pablo A. David of Adventurous Journeys Capital Partners, the real estate developer that owns Graduate Hotels. The letter, which came after an “open house” meeting, held on Monday, Nov. 4 between tenants and the new owners, describes the options available to tenants in light of the building’s sale.
“Rental rates will not change, and we recognize and respect the terms of all leases in effect,” the letter states. “If your current lease is month-to-month, know that we feel confident we can accommodate you through at least April 2020.”
However, it has become clear that the transition will not be quite so seamless. On the Chambers Street side of the building, four businesses have already shut their doors — including Gilded Lion Antiques, Pins & Needles, The Angel’s Touch Florist, and the Banmu Garden Gallery. In the next few months, others will follow.
“Obviously we’re all upset,” said a representative of Bucks County Dry Goods, whose storefront on Nassau Street faces Rockefeller College. She explained that she received no direct notification of the sale and instead found out through an acquaintance that her store’s lease, set to expire in December, would not be renewed.
“We’ve been here two, almost three years,” said the representative. “Our lease was up — we weren’t sure, to be honest, if we were going to sign or not — and they said, ‘no, you’re not getting a new lease.’”
Others agreed that the notification process for tenants seemed abrupt or uneven.
“We just learned they sold the building, and we were not really notified about that,” said the owner of CG Gallery. “On the first of November we learned we have a new landlord, and that’s basically it.”
For still others, the first news of the sale came from outside of 20 Nassau Street.
“We found out about the sale actually in the local paper,” said Nicolina Brown of Camacho Mauro Mulholland LLP, a law firm with office space in the building. “It was listed in the local paper, and then they sent us a notice saying that there’s a new corporation that we could make our rent checks out to. So at first, we didn’t think we needed to leave, and then after the building sent out their email … we realized, ‘okay, we need to call somebody and figure out what’s going on.’”
“We called the management office, and they told us that ideally, we need to be out by April of 2020,” Brown added, “so we were a little taken aback.”
There has been much debate among tenants regarding this notification process, with some speculating that certain individuals were let into the loop before others.
“We’ve only been really active in this building for three years,” Brown said, “so I do feel like the tenants that have been here a lot longer than us probably knew before we did, just because they’re obviously a lot friendlier with the management office and chat more than we do.”
In addition to the lack of advanced warning, tenants shared concerns about the repercussions of the change in ownership. These included worries about paying higher rents in new office locations, losing out on monetary investments in their properties, and having reduced access to University students, who supply a market for many local businesses.
One mental health specialist, who did not wish to be named, told The Daily Princetonian that “two-thirds” of her clients are university students, and that she “[doesn’t] know” what they will do if she is forced to relocate farther from campus.
“Maybe it’s naïve of me to talk about morality,” said Maurice Sasson, Executive Director of the international language company inlingua and a long-term tenant of the building. “The last thing I want is to be a victim. But they have the money. They have the power.”
When April 30, 2020, arrives, some tenants will seek out new office spaces in Princeton, while others will return to other locations already owned by their businesses.
“We were in Palmer Square for 10 years before, so we’re leaving Princeton,” said the representative of Bucks County Dry Goods. “We have a store in Lambertville. We have two stores there; we’ve been there 26 years.”
“They did tell us that they can make some accommodations if we need it,” Brown said, “but our thought process is that if the entire building’s going to be empty, we don’t want to be here. We really like it here, we love this office, and we worked really hard to put it together, but we understand that they are trying to make moves that are good for the neighborhood, and obviously it’ll be great for Princeton alumni to have that hotel.”
“We’re obviously sad to leave,” Brown added, “but we get it: business is business.”
When asked if her business was staying in Princeton, the owner of CG Gallery said she was unsure. “I hope I’m not leaving yet in April,” she said. “Maybe we will get an extension.”
At this point, all the tenants of 20 Nassau Street can do is wait — wait until their leases expire, or until they find a new location and are ready to move. Many viewed the news as bittersweet, trying to balance their feelings of disappointment and even betrayal with more positive feelings of optimism and resilience.
The representative of Bucks County Dry Goods expressed precisely this sentiment.
“It’s small business against big business,” she said. “That’s life.”