Jul 30, 2011 Published by Joyce Cohen, The New York Times
A Neighborhood for Man and Dog
NEARLY three years ago, when Richard Rethemeyer moved to New York from San Francisco, he paid $1.16 million for 1,400 lovely square feet in the ClockTower, at 1 Main Street in Dumbo, Brooklyn. The plan was for his girlfriend to join him there.
“She was going to bring out her two dogs and we were going to live happily ever after in Dumbo,” Mr. Rethemeyer said.
Instead, she told him that it was over. “The one person I wanted to be here with wasn’t going to be part of it,” he said. “I found myself on a much different New York adventure than I had booked.”
Within months, he put the ClockTower place on the market. It took nearly a year before it sold, for $1.125 million, slightly below his purchase price.
Mr. Rethemeyer, a photographer (professionalphoto.com), rented an even larger place — 2,200 square feet — nearby on Washington Street. He paid the owner $3,900 a month.
The apartment was a duplex, and he used the windowless lower level as his studio. But while he had made good use of a studio in San Francisco, Mr. Rethemeyer found one superfluous in New York, as he worked mostly on location or in a studio rented for the project at hand. He does a lot of catalog shooting for auction houses.
He had intended to furnish the large patio so he could garden and read outside, but quickly realized that the constant drone from the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway meant he would never use it. With the job market sluggish, Mr. Rethemeyer, 52, then considered returning to San Francisco, but “giving it another year became kind of a mantra,” he said.
He was, however, eager to move to a place that was less expensive and better suited to his needs. The room where he slept, for instance, was dark, and Mr. Rethemeyer had “discovered I don’t like sleeping in a cave.” Some kind of view was necessary “for my own sanity.”
And the utility bills were enormous — almost $400 a month. He began to suspect he was paying for more than his own electricity. He gave his landlord notice.
His new neighborhood, as well as the building, would have to be dog-friendly, for 14-year-old Topeka, an Australian shepherd mix.
“I didn’t realize how big a consideration Topeka is in my life, but she really is,” Mr. Rethemeyer said.
Topeka moves slowly in inclement weather. She prefers to be walked on grass, and it would be best if it was nearby.
“When I have to get to work and she’s poking along,” getting her in and out “becomes a bit of an issue,” Mr. Rethemeyer.
He began his hunt on his Dumbo street. A move to No. 25 Washington, the newly opened Gair2 building, where one-bedrooms start around $2,400, would be a cinch. But when Mr. Rethemeyer was told that dogs weren’t allowed, he replied, “This is ridiculous, because the whole point of being in Dumbo is either to have kids or have dogs.” Ongoing construction on the street was another argument against the building. (Gair2 had a change in policy and now allows dogs.)
Friends suggested he could rent in Manhattan for around the same price. Online, he found a new high-rise tower in Chelsea advertised by Baris Tuncer, who was then at the Level Group and is now at Keller Williams. That building didn’t allow pets, but Mr. Tuncer showed him several similar buildings that did.
Glass-and-steel Mercedes House on 53rd Street near 11th Avenue was sleek and lovely. But the amenities wouldn’t be completed for a year. There wasn’t much of a neighborhood, either. Though DeWitt Clinton Park was nearby and had a dog run, it had little green space. (All of the building’s studios are now rented; remaining one-bedrooms start around $4,000 a month.)
Mr. Rethemeyer moved on to the soaring tower called New York by Gehry, at 8 Spruce Street in Lower Manhattan. He had watched the building rise from his place across the river at the ClockTower. Starting prices for studios and one-bedrooms are $2,630 and $3,580, respectively. But the neighborhood had too much traffic for Topeka. “I began to compare and contrast things,” taking into account price, size and neighborhood, he said.
MiMA, on West 42nd Street, included Dog City, a dog spa with a full array of services. But traffic was also a problem there. “Topeka takes her sweet time crossing the street,” Mr. Rethemeyer said, “and I thought, she doesn’t have it in her.” He crossed Midtown off his list.
Charmed by the notion of moving from Main Street to Wall Street, he then checked out some places in the financial district, purposely visiting on a Sunday. “If it’s going to feel desolate,” he said, “I want to know that now.”
The neighborhood felt more vacant than he liked, and he wondered where he would shop for food. Though traffic was not going to be a problem for Topeka, the neighborhood included too many concrete sidewalks and not enough grass.
A friend suggested that he consider some of the new buildings in Williamsburg. “I had a thing in my head where it is a lot of 20-somethings and I didn’t think I would fit in there,” Mr. Rethemeyer said.
But he changed his mind once he visited. “There were some older people, and artists,” he said. “I felt: I can come here and be happy and there’s life going on.”
By this point, he had just days to move. If no suitable place presented itself, he had more than half a mind to put his stuff in storage, rent a car and go on a long road trip with Topeka.
Then he saw the Edge, a twin-towered building on the waterfront, and was instantly taken, both with the apartments and with the amenities — plenty of fitness equipment, spa facilities, game rooms, movie rooms, even a swimming pool.
The Edge is a condominium, but an owner with nine units had just put them up for rent, said the agent, Rachel Altschuler of Prudential Douglas Elliman. All went quickly, including the 490-square-foot studio with a sweeping view of Manhattan that Mr. Rethemeyer took for $2,200 a month, plus $50 a month for the dog.
He arrived last month. His floor is largely vacant. “It is like the beginning of the semester and nobody had shown up yet,” he said. (The Edge is now 65 percent sold, a spokeswoman said.)
There are a few new-building glitches — he had trouble, for instance, obtaining the stickers necessary for storing his two bicycles in the bike room. But Topeka, with plenty of grass nearby, is contented there and so is he. Only now does he realize how loud Dumbo was, with its ambient traffic noise. “Being away from that,” he said, “it is nice not to hear that all the time.”
His photography equipment is in storage in New Jersey, which he reaches via Zipcar, the car-sharing service.
Granted, his new apartment has far less space than its predecessors. “But,” he said, “it has much more of what I enjoy.”