Latino artists claim three storefronts in Washington Heights

Last night, for the first time in at least a year, the unmarked storefront at 3855 Broadway St. and 161st St., hummed with activity. A small crowd of about 50 artists gathered in the narrow commercial unit that sits between a Dunkin Donuts and a tired looking t-shirt shop. Bird cutouts from recycled cereal boxes floated in this Vantage Properties-owned window, and the brightly lit, lime green and white walls, visible from the street, displayed the work of ten local, Latino artists for the opening of El Escaparate: A Storefront Art Show.

The art installation, which runs October 5th to 29th, is presented by Vantage and the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance, a non-profit organization that promotes art in northern Manhattan (NoMAA), to generate interest in vacant rental units in Washington Heights, and to showcase community art. The commercial unit at 3855 Broadway St. will be run as a gallery, with management responsibilities split between Vantage, NoMAA and the artists themselves. And though they won’t be open for public visits, the storefronts of two other empty Vantage properties (3495 Broadway St. and 4101 Broadway St.) will also host local art installations in a spirit of street art.

“We’re hoping to attract folks from all over the city to Washington Heights to rent [from us], and to create art and culture for the community,” says Raquel Batista, VP Corporate Responsibility and Compliance at Vantage. “Things are mixed [here]. We have a lot of vacant spaces we’re looking to fill. We want to get the flow moving again; bring in folks that work locally, and new businesses.”

Vantage, founded in 2006, owns approximately 140, predominantly retail, commercial spaces, in Manhattan and Queens. The majority of these rental units, all but 12, are located in Harlem along Broadway from 139th St. to 192nd St. Currently, ten of these properties are vacant (two have leases out for final review), but Spencer Cohen, who has been the Commercial Leasing Manager at Vantage since April, is optimistic they will find tenants soon. “There has been a robust list of inquiries since I joined,” said Cohen, adding: “There is a nice upsurge right now. People are wanting to stay in place.” But, conscious of protecting their existing clients’ interests, Cohen says Vantage won’t accept same-use tenants. “There can only be so many bodegas, restaurants, barber shops and beauty salons in a block,” he said.

As a “service-oriented market” in Washington Heights, Vantage is most often approached by fast food and ethnic restaurants, dollar stores, delis, hair salons and grocery stores, but according to Cohen, they are looking “to fill in those gaps,” and says galleries, studios, art supply stores and schools would be welcome tenants.  Soon, Vantage is likely to boast at least one of these — Pepe Coronado, whose art was on display at the opening of El Escaparate, is negotiating a lease agreement to use the commercial space as a studio.

Moses Ros-Suarez, the artist responsible for the window display, thinks the initiative is working. “This is perfect,” he said, gesturing to the crowded room, “look how many people are here! It’s good for [Vantage] and it’s good for us.”

Photo Caption: Artists, friends of NoMAA, Vantage Properties affiliates, and members of the public enjoy community art, Dominican food, and wine at El Escaparate: A Storefront Art Show.