Many of us have passed Eliot Avenue and 80th Street, over the past year and noticed the extensive renovation effort underway on the Northwest corner. One of the oldest commercial buildings in this part of Middle Village, it has been among the true anchors for the community. The major tenant, Met Food, moved into 79-15 Eliot Avenue in 1992, a space that has always been occupied by supermarkets. For those of us who are familiar with the area, other businesses in the building have included a bakery, a bar and grill, a real estate office, a beauty parlor and dry goods and stationery stores.
While its importance to the neighborhood continued, it became obvious to its owner, PerMax Realty Co, that the solid-brick structure was showing her age. When a new Walgreens store went up across the street, the dowager began to suffer in comparison and demanded a serious facelift. In early 2008, plans were set in motion for a complete exterior facade renovation.
More on the renovation in a minute. Every dowager has her history, and PerMax Realty Co’s building is no exception. She was one of the first commercial buildings erected along Eliot Avenue in what was then Elmhurst, now Middle Village. However, she is old but not ancient. As late as 1936, Eliot Avenue was still a dirt road in Queens. We estimate that our girl was built sometime between 1936 and 1938. She is known to generations of Middle Villagers as the “go to” location for groceries and other needs in their daily lives. Every tenant has thrived in this location. In fact, each of its 4 stores has been occupied by the same type of business over the past 34 years.
Max Schneider was an immigrant from Poland. To avoid conscription into (and tenuous treatment by) the Polish army, Max made the agonizing decision to leave his then pregnant wife, 3 year old son, parents and brothers for America, “the land of opportunity.“ On his way West, in Germany, he developed pneumonia and was detained from boarding the ship. It took one year, working as a horse trader, for Max to again garner the funds for passage to the USA. According to the manifest from the SS. Ryndam posted on October 8, 1920, Nordsche Schnajder (a.k.a. Mordechai or Max Schneider) arrived in New York on October 19, 1920 after an 11 day voyage.
Max was 27 years old at the time, virtually penniless, and did not speak English. His first job was carrying ice and coal up four to five flights of stairs in multi-story tenements. He worked hard to bring over from Poland first his three brothers and then, 7 years after his arrival, his wife, Perel or Pearl, their two sons and his parents to the United States. By the time Max first laid eyes on his (second) son, Irving was 8 years old.
(Coincidentally, during the years that Max was developing a new life in New York, Middle Village was beginning to promote itself as a desirable suburb from Manhattan.)
Never lacking for energy and hard work, over the next 20 years, Max, a diligent and enterprising young man, managed to accumulate savings. With a natural instinct for purchasing real estate, he began to invest in various properties. At 56 years of age, he acquired a partner, Jack Kliger, to purchase this property classified by the city as Block 2850, Lots 41 and 33 on September 15, 1949, 60 years ago to this month. The sellers were Benjamin S. Moss, Charles B. Moss, Beatrice F.M. Crystal, Viola F. Ettinger, Wilson A. Ettinger and Bette G.Ettinger. These folks hailed from Manhattan, Scarsdale and Glendale, California.
Over the years, Max bought out his partner and held onto the building. On his death in 1961, shares of the property passed to Pearl Schneider and their surviving son, Irving. Eventually, the building became property of a family partnership and “PerMax Realty Co., LLC” (named in memory of Pearl and Max) was born. Irving managed the property for over 40 years. He was respected as a hands-on, compassionate and amicable landlord. Irving, a true people person, taught his family by example. His selfless hard work resulted in a valued family legacy. Today, Irving’s wife, Audrey Schneider and children Sandra Schneider Lehman and Barry Schneider share ownership and management of the premises.
Now back to the renovation. After 60 good years, the property on the NW corner of Eliot Avenue and 80th Street started to show her age. It was in dire need of a facelift. So, in early 2008, with the help of Met Food, the huge task of improving the premises and modernizing the building façade began.
PerMax Realty had certain design objectives: The design would be stately, up-scale and compliment – not distract from – the neighborhood. What began as three separate structures would be integrated into one unified, architectural scheme. The four tenant storefronts would be more energy efficient and accessible to the disabled. The family appreciated the original brick detail and was delighted to uncover a curved wall on the corner of Eliot Avenue and 80th Street and hoped to save them. In loving memory of Pearl, Max and Irving Schneider, PerMax Realty set out to honor its founders and give back to the very community that helped make it a success.
Once the architect and contractors were in place, then the real fun began! True to form for most construction projects, Murphy’s Law appeared in virtually every nook, cranny and corner of the building. Loose bricks in the existing façade, wavy or crooked old walls, undocumented physical variations from design and uncooperative weather required continual reevaluation of the design and construction approaches. The original brick detail had to be replaced by a new design. With a late October, 2008 start, the finished building façade was finally unveiled in June, 2009, four months later than estimated.
As we go to press, the facelift is almost complete. The installation of a large rear canopy, awnings, and state-of-the-art security camera and shopping cart retention systems plus refurbishing the parking lot are in the works. The community is curious as to which new tenants will occupy the remaining 3 vacant spaces. So are the owners. While there has been a lot of interest, PerMax Realty says they are looking for the “right” fit, i.e., stable tenants who will enhance the area, and provide services or goods that the community wants and/or needs – and thus succeed for years to come.
Arduous as the renovation was, it certainly seems to have done the trick. Middle Village is virtually buzzing with praise for the handsome look of this neighborhood cornerstone. The Dowager of Eliot Avenue has regained her beauty in a way that makes us proud to have her back in her rightful place in our esteem.