Every New York apartment has a catch, and so when Ashley Falcon, a gregarious fashion stylist, considered the built-in closets, roomy kitchen and plentiful windows in a particular Greenwich Village rental while apartment-hunting two years ago, she decided that she could stomach the downside: living above a funeral home.
Ms. Falcon’s mother, in Miami, protested, talking of spirits and such, but the stylist was ready for her: “If you died in New York City,” she asked, “would you stick around the funeral home? Wouldn’t you go explore?”
It was her father’s perspective that carried the day. “Everything in New York,” he noted, “is on top of something.”
Living above commercial space is a hallmark of New York City homemaking — an ongoing reality for some, a nostalgia-inducing (if perhaps odious at the time) rite of passage for others.
Condo owners come home to awnings illuminated by the glow of bank signs. Renters find that after sharing a ventilation system with a restaurant, they are forever turned off by the cuisine of an entire continent. Members of co-ops that own the ground-floor commercial space debate whether it’s preferable to live above an appliance store (because anyone’s coffee maker can suddenly break) or a children’s boutique (useful only to some).
Having a bakery, locksmith or hair salon in your building can represent the ultimate in convenience. And some business owners mitigate the downsides by acting as concierges, accepting deliveries for the apartment-dwellers above or agreeing to hold keys for an out-of-town guest.
“It’s just friendship,” Zakirul Chowdhury, a salesman at Wines on 1st, near East 14th Street, said of his willingness to extend such favors to residents of 224 First Avenue, who live above the store.
As in other realms, though, a little distance can be a good thing. The joys of having world-famous ramen noodles or herb-infused cocktails at one’s disposal are sometimes obscured when cohabitation is involved. The businesses that make the city vibrant can appear, smell and sound very different to those who share walls, ducts and pests.
The commercial space beneath an apartment also often factors into the price, although there is no exact calculus for determining how.
“Lower-floor apartments in general tend to get lower prices,” said Andrew Gerringer, the managing director of the Marketing Directors, “but when you look at the use below, certain uses would make it even lower than other uses. There are so many pieces that come into this question.”
So far, Ms. Falcon, 25, has found living above a funeral home surprisingly pleasant. Sure, the occasional hearse is parked out front in the morning. She might pass a coffin or two on her way to work, and returning home in the evening, she must sometimes gently cut through a pack of black-clad mourners before slipping her key in the door.
There have also been unexpected perks.
“We’ve never had a bug problem,” she added, crediting “all the formaldehyde.”
Corlie Ohl, a broker with Citi Habitats, has shown apartments in Ms. Falcon’s building many times over the years. Some people are put off by the funeral home, Ms. Ohl acknowledged. But she emphasizes the positive.
“I say, ‘It’s going to be quiet downstairs,’ ” Ms. Ohl said. “And everybody knows you don’t want to be above a bar.”
To hear brokers and developers talk, it’s a wonder there are any bars in the five boroughs.
When a Lower East Side co-op board was scouting out potential tenants for its street-level commercial space recently, for example, “the one thing they didn’t want was a bar,” said Richard Lech, a Halstead broker who has sold half a dozen apartments in the building, on Avenue C.
The board chose a dance studio, turning down a bar despite its willingness to pay more than double the rent, said Cynthia Poulton, now the co-op’s president.
When Heatherwood Communities began seeking commercial tenants for the ground floor of 568 Union, a high-end rental building on Union Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, “bars were not what they were looking for,” said Chris Havens, who spearheaded the effort as a broker with aptsandlofts.com.
Then Kwaku Nyampong, a former bartender at the St. Regis New York hotel, came in with an intriguing proposal. It would be less a bar than an elegant lounge. The kind of place where the bartender knows what you drink, where a dinner companion might happily wait while a resident preens upstairs. It would be like a plush hotel bar — not just a non-nuisance, but a draw.
“We thought that it would be a nice amenity for the building,” explained Douglas Partrick, an owner of Heatherwood.