Last of the Tribeca Textile Wholesalers Finally Ready to Let Their Building Go

Top: Ron Katz, left, and brother Alan, who along with their late brother Stevie, began working for their father in the 1970s. Left: A portion of an empty floor in the 5-story building. Right: 34 Walker Street went on the market this month for an asking price of $15.9 million. Photos: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Posted
Dec. 21, 2022

They are holdouts no longer.

The owners of the last textile wholesalers in Tribeca, brothers who for years had been swatting away potential buyers of their 1868 cast-iron building at 34 Walker Street, are finally ready to let it go. This month the L-shaped structure, which wraps around to 309 Church, went on the market for $15.9 million.

Seemingly blasé at the prospect of a windfall, Alan Katz, 65, and Ron Katz, 72, still take care of business, what there is of it now, at their Paramount/Boltex Textile Company. Each morning they take their seats a few feet from each other on the second floor, just as they’ve been doing for nearly 50 years, since they went to work for their father, Jack. A third brother and partner, Stevie, died last year. Across from them, two days a week, sits their secretary, 83-year-old Carol Levine, who began working at the company when she was 17. It’s an office barely touched by time, save for Jack and Stevie’s empty chairs.

But the rest of the five-story building, once filled with the sounds of rolling handtrucks and clacking sewing machines, lies vacant and silent. A few stray cartons of linen goods occupy a floor that for decades had been stacked high with them. Harold Green is in charge of shipping and receiving, but the trucks don’t come to 34 Walker any more. (Most Paramount/Boltex goods now go through a Passaic, NJ, warehouse.) At age 75 and in his 28th year at the company, Green opens the building in the morning and closes up at night, runs the elevator for Levine, and otherwise stations himself in a makeshift office on one of the empty floors.

Even today, the Katz brothers say, they’d be holding onto their property if there were still a market for their goods. “If business hadn’t changed and everything was the same as it was 20 years ago, I’d be more than happy to stay and not sell the building,” Alan said. “But it’s an empty building now. Like my friend told me, ‘You guys got the most expensive warehouse in New York City.

The Katzes are the last of a breed in eastern Tribeca. From the mid-19th-century until the 1980s textile manufactures, wholesalers and jobbers filled the area’s many loft buildings. Their grandfather started the business on White Street in the 1930s and bought 34 Walker after World War II for the manufacturing of laundry bags, the biggest such maker in the city. With his father’s death in 1959, Jack took over, joined by his sons in the 1970s. By then the business thrived as a maker of tablecloths and linens, sewn from the hundreds of bolts of cloth trucked in weekly from South Carolina. In 2003, three years after Jack’s death and facing stiff competition from foreign imports, the brothers shut down the 34 Walker Street factory and sent the yardgoods to Mexico for manufacturing.

In 2012, the Tribeca Trib interviewed the three Katz brothers and longtime Paramount/Boltex workers Carol Levine and Harold Green for a Trib cover story (page 21) and for this video.

A combination of factors in the last few years, including a pandemic-fueled blow to their shrinking customer base and Stevie’s death, finally led the brothers to sell. They were also hit with a slew of building violations a few years ago, forcing them to sink nearly a million dollars worth of repairs into the structure, they said. 

For years, brokers and buyers were calling constantly. Ron recalled one developer who showed up daily with doughnuts and coffee chatting up Stevie, the brother who loved to “hear numbers,” as Ron put it. “I guess it reached a point where, week after week after week and nothing was happening,” said Ron, “he decided to stop coming.” So, eventually, did many of the others.

Broker Monica Luque of  Douglas Elliman had not been among those who came calling on the Katzes when they chose her as the property’s exclusive agent. She met Ron last year when she sold him and his wife a larger apartment in their building on East 37th Street. 

“Ron said to me, ‘We have a building but I don’t want to talk about it. People call me every day about it,’” Luque recalled. “And I said, ‘Ok.’ I’m very respectful.” 

A year later, Luque and her family were on their way to the airport for a summer vacation in Greece when Ron called. “He said, ‘I think we might be ready. Can you come by?’ And I said to my husband, ‘Let me see this building. Drop me off and I’ll make it tomorrow on the next flight.” 

Now that 34 Walker Street is on the market, Luque said, “it’s going to trade really well. I have a bunch of showings and interests.”

Prospective buyers, Luque said, “can’t believe that it’s vacant. You can have 90 percent vacant. But 100 percent vacant? It’s a dream come true.”

Meanwhile the brothers say they’re in no rush to sell, even now. “If it takes a year, it takes a year,” Alan said. “We’re not going nowhere.”

When that time comes, Alan (who is moving from his Brooklyn home, where he had lived with Stevie, into the same building where Ron lives), says he’ll keep the business going, maybe working out of his apartment, or a rented space. 

And one day, when apartments go on sale at 34 Walker Street?

“In five years? I might buy something here,” he said. “Who knows?”