On a recent Monday afternoon, Liz Torres sat chatting with a customer in the cozy disarray of Yorkville Copy Services, on E. 84th Street and Lexington Ave.
After 51 years at its current location, the shop finds itself with no choice but to move because it can’t afford to pay the nearly $30,000 in back taxes the building’s owner, the Parkoff Organization, is asking for.
“We’ve had numerous landlords … and three of them we never paid real estate taxes on because they never asked,” said Bill Torres, owner of Yorkville Copy, along with his wife Liz. Two of the landlords, including Parkoff, have asked him for real estate taxes, and he has paid. At his most recent lease renewal, however, Parkoff claimed that Torres owed $41,000 in real estate taxes from the decade before they bought the building in 2010, which they have since lowered to just under $30,000. Either way, Torres can’t afford it. “They said they’ll include it in my rent,” he said, calculating that that would mean $1,500 extra on top of his monthly $5,835 rent. “I can’t do that.”
Torres is an East Side institution. His shop’s mom-and-pop charm and reputation for community engagement have been featured before in both Our Town and The New York Times. Torres got a job at the shop 51 years ago as part of his training at the New York School of Printing, and he has been there ever since. “They had a work program that if your grades are high in your senior year … you can go out and work in the field,” he said. “So I got sent here and I started doing letterpress printing.” Asked if he likes the printing business, Torres said, “No, I love it.”
Though Bill and Liz live upstate, he grew up in the area and has long-term relationships with many of his neighbors and customers, who put together a book of tributes from the “Friends of Bill” (F.O.B) for his 60th birthday. He is a regular at parties in the building and a go-to guy when it comes to small repairs. “Whenever there’s a problem, everybody comes to Bill,” said Kathy Jolowicz, resident and founder of the East 84th Street Block Association, who has lived in the building since 1966. “It’s a family member that we’re losing.” Torres prints newsletters for the block association, and participates in a golf club with the shop’s neighbors.
Alexandra Self, who lives one building over, has been coming to Yorkville Copy for the last 20 years. “I come here because they’re excellent at what they do, but I like the feeling, the conversation, the upbeat stuff,” Self said. “If I want to find out what’s going on in my building I ask them.”
As she chatted with Liz, a U.S. postal worker came in to deliver the mail. When the subject of the store’s move came up she said, “Oh, don’t make me start crying.”
Torres said he has taken his case against Parkoff to court and that it is advancing to the state level. He does not have high hopes for a win.
At the very least, Torres has been looking at some promising rentals in the area, so he wouldn’t have to move too far from his community. “It’s just that nobody looks out for small businesses anymore,” he said.