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Madison Jewelers in NYC with Richard Cohan

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Episode #: 230
Madison Jewelers in NYC with Richard Cohan

Guest: Richard Cohan
Topics: RA Cohan Commercial Real Estate Services, eco development


Chris Ressa 0:01
This is Retail Retold, the story of how that store ended up in your neighborhood. I’m your host, Chris Ressa. And I invite you to join my conversation with some of the retail industry’s biggest influencers. This podcast is brought to you by DLC Management.

Are you a real estate owner or property manager looking to mitigate your risk? DL C’s insurance and risk management advisor Smith Brothers Insurance has you covered with access to major insurers. They offer day to day services that make your job easier. Contact Dave Sol at 860-430-3335 or visit to learn more about managing your risk.

Welcome to Retail Retold. Today I’m joined by Richard Cohan. Richard is the owner of RA Cohan Commercial Real Estate Services. Richard spends his time helping attract retail restaurant and entertainment users to businesses and improve two different markets on behalf of those business improvement districts and/or municipalities. Excited for him to be here. Welcome to the show, Richard.

Richard Cohan 1:13
Thank you, Chris. Also excited to be here. Very much appreciated. I know you said to give you a little brief intro here. So happy to tell you married the love of my life, Nadine, 37 years ago. My oldest son is Michael. His Bride is Hilary. They have two children, Ethan and Asher. Jake is my other son. He married Lindsey. They’re married about a year No kids yet. And blessed with some great friends.

I at 11 years old, delivered the news day, which was a steal their paper on Long Island. And it was 11 years old. But I learned a lot from delivering Newsday, you go once a week, you knock on the door, you’d say collect. And many times some some of the women would say to me, Gee, my husband’s not home. So I kind of learned at an early age that people probably are not all that truthful with you.

The whole what I was looking for was 30 cents with the tip might have been 50 cents. Okay. Then as I got a bit older in life, probably about 14 and a half I started working in wood Beach Club. I was a dishwasher. I was a busboy. I was a cabana boy. And at the beach club, I also learned in early age, some people treat you great. Some people don’t. I decided, gee, I want to go through the rest of my life.

You know, treating people great. And to this day, you know, that’s the way I treat people. Just as a quick segue, Danielle, your assistant, she treats me like I’m Steve Schwarzman from Blackstone. Obviously, I’m not, I know your company is very big on best places to work five years running. So it’s certainly not lost on people like Danielle, as far as professionally. So I graduated university in 1981.

I had a business law professor, back then was kind of where everyone went to start and retail store leasing started there at Over the years, over the years have worked with several level larger broker house brokerage houses in New York. About 15 years ago 34th Street partnership recruited me, the two dads Dan beat him or they recruited me be their retail consultant.

I prefer the word advisor sometimes consultant has a little bad vibe to it. I like the word advisor been with them about 15 years and again what do we do we look to attract retailers you know ideally Apple, Whole Foods, Lulu, Crumble, pickleball, paddle, do we get all of them? Of course not. Okay. And you have disciples of those type of brands. And then after working with the partnership, Lake Charles, Louisiana, brought me on.

I work outside of Nashville and Laverne, Tennessee, a couple of cities in New Jersey, downtown Somerville, Hackettstown, and again, all very different, I mean, the bayou of Southwest Louisiana, and midtown Manhattan, very different, Chris. That being said, a lot of common threads. When you’re a building owner, when you’re a landlord, you kind of look for the same thing in a in a retail or in the bio of Southwest Louisiana, as you do in midtown Manhattan.

Ressa 4:06
So, appreciate the insights. So today. So you were in brokerage for a while as an advisor. Today you’re advising municipalities, on how to attract retailers. What are some of the things you’re telling these municipalities to do? When you evaluate you go, you go to, you know, Lake Charles, and you meet with Lake Charles and Lake Charles tells you we’d like to do XYZ. So what do you then what do you do? Outside of just right, I think everyone knows that.

You’re, you might be, they’re calling brokers on behalf or calling retailers What do you do to make the opportunity more attractive?

Cohan 5:04
Sure. I really love to peel back the onion. So on my last trip to Lake Charles, we visited the lake mall, which I’ll tell you, I mean, that mall, it’s hurting, it’s hurting. And we went into Dillard’s, you know, with my executive director, George Swift, we went into Dillard’s and his lieutenant Eric, and they introduced me to Paris. Paris is in Dillard’s in men suits and ties, which I think, Chris, you’ll agree with me in these post COVID years, men’s suit and ties, you know, not exactly Lululemon and meeting Paris, and talking to him.

He told me what you want on what everyone knows, he says, Look, Richard, I work really hard. He says, I work really hard. And he says, whether you’re in Lake Charles or Paris, France, there are weddings, and there are funerals. And he says, so the weddings and the funerals, that kind of keeps the men’s suit business going. And, again, he works really hard. So I’m able to then take that story from Paris, with the executive director, and tell the story of Lake Charles.

Because today, obviously, everyone’s interested in the data, the data, the data, everyone needs the data. And they do and they do, Chris, but it is important to meet the gentleman like Paris, who works in the diligence department store in the mall, and to get his insight, relate that to other people in retail, in the restaurant business, give them the flavor of a place like lakes drawers.

Ressa 6:50
Okay, so you let some other people focus on the data and you focus on the story.

Cohan 6:56
I have to I have to I have to, I can’t I cannot ignore, I cannot ignore the data. But we were both just in Las Vegas. So we had a meeting in Las Vegas with Chick fil A. And Chick fil A made a great point. They said look the data and obviously, they’ve got their own data at Chick fil A.

And then they can use some outside data. And that they made the great point at the meeting, that perhaps Lake Charles is the right market for us that the data shows that they still need to visit Lake Charles, kick the tires. And they love talking to people like Paris in men’s suits. Because Chris is you and I both know, he’s on the front lines. Seven days a week, 365 days a year. Sure.

Ressa 7:49
In what’s been from the business you’re in today, where you help business improvement districts. What’s been your biggest success story?

Cohan 8:02
Okay, sure. So as far as success, a few of them that just come to mind. So when Alta when Alta opened a couple of years ago at 34th Street in Herald Square, okay. And after the deal was signed, the broker called me and he says, Hey, Richard, I got a thank you. He says, because the data, you know, the data that you gave me some of the market intel that you gave me.

Ressa 8:29
Were you working just real quick. And I don’t mean interrupt, but you were you working on behalf of the 34th Street district to bring it out. Is that what you were doing at that?

Cohan 8:38
Well, we work at the 34th Street partnership to help all the brokers they have all the landlord’s help all the tenants. So in that case, yeah, I was helping the broker, but I do not. I do not broker the deal. You know what I mean? We leave that to the brokers that were there were there to be advocates for the district. So that that was you know, a big win. I’m happy to tell you that my people outside of Nashville, Laverne, Tennessee, on early next week, the very first BJs wholesale warehouse club will open in Luverne. And we were ahead of Nashville there.

This is the very first BLs he’s in the state of Tennessee. They’ll they’ll open early next week and where I get a lot of just gratitude there. Bill is at BJs. He singles out my people in Eco development. Thomas Broker, Julie Wilson, they’re a great team, the mayor singling them out saying that look when you’re at BJs they work on a lot of deals. And granted, some of them don’t close.

This one not only did it closed, its opening next week, and he singles out my pee Pull, because they really, they all they pretty much act as if, as a broker, they’re not brokers. They’re an economic development, but he really appreciated what they did. And just one last quick one, I think we all know across the country, Crumble is a very successful brand today, everyone seems to be intrigued by Crumble.

I’m happy to tell you that my people in Lake Charles, when crumble opened, I don’t know, five, six weeks ago in the history of crumble which granted is not you know, 100 year history, but in the history of crumble had the greatest grand opening week ever. And Lake Charles keep in mind a couple of years ago, decimated by the two worst hurricanes to ever hit the mainland. So we’re very thankful that Lake Charles, things are coming back strong.

Ressa 10:55
Got it. Bring me back to the BJs Wholesale Club. That one was interesting to me. What? So BJ, I guess you’ve met with that the Laverne Tennessee hires you, right? So you get on a call or you get on a plane and you meet with over in Tennessee.

Cohan 11:15
Right? Both? Well, you know, I’m in I’m in Laverne, easily once once a year. And what I’m really doing, Chris, because before, before I got involved in this advisory business, have about 35 years of brokerage. So you know, we use the word advisor, we use the word consultant, what I really am, I’m a coach, I’m in the background, as a coach, working closely with the people and ego development and on our phone calls.

I encourage them cursing at me, scream at me, lose your patience with me. And we role play and then when they’re working with the respective developer or the retail or they have the remain to remain calm to remain calm. So I kind of coached them in the background.

Ressa 12:18
Give me some perspective in time. How long have you been working with Laverne?

Cohan 12:24
Been with Laverne? Probably four years.

Ressa 12:29
Okay. How and talk to me about how PJs came to be there.

Cohan 12:38
Long Road, long road. It’s a long road. I’m Laverne has not one, but two Amazon fulfillment centers. So again, not one to Amazon fulfillment centers. You’re a dealmaker. That the main the main thing I get from working with my clients and eco development, most of them tell me they don’t get respect.

Okay, they don’t get respect. And I go back to your story recently, where I think in Connecticut, you drove a few hours twice a few times, I encourage my people and eco development, I said, Look, if you want respect from the Chris wrestlers of the world, and from the BJs of the world, you have to earn it, you have to earn it. And you have to do the type of things that you may not want to do.

So that the the BJs deal was was a was, as you can imagine, a long process, the developer, the city DJs, again, very happy to tell you it’s done. The other thing I do let all my clients know and eco development because they say of course, of course the BJs deal is very difficult to do. And they’ll say but what we’re doing if we’re doing, you know, a cookie deal with some 19 year old’s just starting. That’s a simple deal. And I always tell them, I said no, no deal is simple.

Because the priorities of a large corporations like BJs are different than someone who’s just starting as a sole entrepreneur and I let my people know because many times they’ll say to me, how when the 11th hour, how in the 11th hour, Richard, can all these problems be happening? And they’re shocked? And I always tell them? I’m not. That’s where all the use of filmmaking comes in. Because then the 11th hour, that’s when issues you know can pop up

Ressa 14:41
For sure, I think I think ego development one of the challenge is is that it’s so different municipality to municipality, so as an as an as an owner of property in multiple markets. They behave, act differently from place to place. And they have different responsibilities. So I think the larger, the larger the municipality, the more impact they typically have.

Or, you know, because they have bigger budgets they have, they have things to help them. The small ones might might not, I think one of the things that what what any businesses looking for from economic development is the ability to actually either compress time or to help them navigate the water that they might not know how to do in that specific market. If economic development can do those two things, they would go it would go a long way.

Cohan 16:48
Fully, fully agree with you and a market that I do not represent that I do not represent. But in the Palmer Square, in Princeton, New Jersey, era maze is under construction. I believe that construction period is going to take about four years, and I think you hit the nail on the head.

And I understand an air maze is an elaborate design. Okay. Still, you could build an entire retirement community in South Florida with a golf course in four years. So I think there is some time to disconnect with the retailer with the building owner, and hopefully, the business improvement district the economic development people can help that logjam.

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Ressa 18:18
Okay, well. I appreciate a lot of the context. One of the premises of this show our stories about how deals came together. You have a story about Madison jewelers in New York, New York. Take it away, Richard.

Cohan 17:16
Thank you. Thank you. So when I was still, you know, active in brokerage, probably a good, you know, 15 years ago, um, I met the owner of Madison jewelers. And, you know, it probably took a week or so to connect. Because I walked into the store called he called me, we got to know each other.

Well, it took us a while, and he secured a space of 400 Madison Avenue, which was a 500 square foot store. It’s a few blocks south of where JP Morgan is building a world corporate headquarters today. Okay. And we did that deal. And then we went on to probably do about another eight or nine deals.

Ressa 19:23
Tell me how that happened. Don’t just skip over the details that how did we get to? How did we get that store Madison?

Cohan 19:26
Sure. Well, it was interesting. If my memory serves me correctly, we didn’t know at the time. We did not know at the time that that particular landlord had lost three consecutive deals. So they had lost three consecutive deals and we all know timings everything. They had lost three consecutive deals, Allen, Allen mom, Ruth, the owner of Madison Jewelers, he made crystal clear to the ownership of the building.

You know, I’m ready to go put a lease in front of me, and I’m going to sign it. And you know, from a landlord’s point of view, that’s, that’s very good to hear from a tenant. How many tenants actually do it? That’s debatable. He did it. We negotiated in a very timely manner. The store still there today. Okay. And so that deal got done.

And then once that store became successful, obviously, at that time, there were other markets in Manhattan to go after they took a mentality, let’s kind of cluster the stores in Midtown. And, um, pretty much, you know, went on from deal to deal from there.

Ressa 19:33
How many stores did they end up putting in Manhattan?

Cohan 19:36
Probably at the high at the high end. He probably had about eight or nine stores.

Ressa 19:43
It’s so interesting. Because we’re starting to get back to that saturation retail concept, which had been a successful strategy for many REITs for years and then kind of went away because we have this word called, you know, cannibalizing stores the “c” word. And I think now it’s starting to come back. Why did he and I don’t know if, you know, why did they want to put so many stores clustered around Midtown.

Cohan 20:28
And he, again, he just believed that he had learned that someone that is on Madison Avenue and 47th street doesn’t necessarily get to Sixth Avenue and 45th Street, okay. Or, or Lexington and, and 50s. Or he had a store, he had a store on Third Avenue and 50th I think it’s similar to the Starbucks.

What Starbucks, you know, they’ve always told me is in a place like Manhattan, Chris has his Starbucks. And he goes to that Starbucks all the time. And they realize to capture the other people. Chris only goes to his Starbucks. That’s why you have so many Starbucks, obviously, in Manhattan, Allen took a similar position in in Midtown, which needless to say, the last three years with the impact of COVID. Um, it’s not the Midtown of back of back then.

Ressa 21:41
Got it? Well, and this person did some interesting stuff after the stores, why don’t you talk about what Alan did, you know, after he started to open some retail stores, right?

Cohan 21:54
Right. So keep in mind when I met Alan, he was 22 years old. And so as the retail business continued to evolve, he got more and more involved in the E commerce business. You know, the, the opposite end of the brick and mortar store, he got more and more involved as a manufacturer. Okay, wholesale or in the E commerce world. And unbeknownst unbeknownst to me, you know, we would always keep in touch the phone, email. I don’t know that 2019 When am I grabbing coffee?

We’re having coffee. And I mentioned to him that I had to fly to Ontario. I said, I don’t fly to LAX at some business out in Southern California. And I said, I flew to Ontario airport, not an airport. Most people know about, he jumped in. He says Ontario, he says I rent warehouse space and Ontario. He says I love you. I’d love you to help me out there. So keep in mind again, this is 3000 miles from New York.

And I’m certainly not licensed in Ontario. But I have a friend who is a pretty prolific player. And he introduced me to another Allen, who is a top broker in what they call the Inland Empire of Southern California. Okay, the Inland Empire. And he introduced me to Alan. It’s ironic both of them the name Alan. And I said to the broker, I said, Look, I’d like you to meet, you know, this gentleman. He’s now leasing.

He’s now leasing a warehouse space in the Inland Empire. They met. It took about six months, which I know you’ll say gee, that’s not long at all. It took about six months. And he ended up purchasing 130,000 square foot warehouse in the Inland Empire in Southern California. So that worked out well, you know, for the principle, worked out well for the broker, and I’m a collaborator. That’s what I do.

So I made the collaboration there, from the for the principal, people that sold the building, and obviously, the broker. And while all this is going on the Industrial Marketplace in the Inland Empire, it just kept getting stronger and stronger and stronger and as they say, kind of became white hot. It became white hot. So last summer, last summer around this time, the same broker approached Allen with a buyer for the 130,000 square foot warehouse.

And again, the market appreciates so much. He ended up selling that building that he had bought, basically three years later, for a record price in the Inland Empire, okay, I ended up selling that building last summer. He then took the proceeds from the sale of that building last summer, and made a really bold move. He said to me, Richard, I want to deploy that money in midtown Manhattan, in an office building. And again, you know, this was a kind of a bold move.

Ressa 25:38
First of all, he’s a retailer, not a real estate owner.

Cohan 25:42
Right, right. But he Well, he is, he started as a retailer. He’s today, he’s not only a retailer, he’s a real estate owner, he’s diversified. He’s in several different businesses. So I said to him, Okay, again, I can collaborate, I can introduce you to a top broker of investment cells. In New York, I introduced him to Eric, I introduced them to Eric, and I’m happy to tell you the week before Christmas, this past Christmas, he closed on an office building in the West 30s, you know, in midtown Manhattan.

And I would just say, because a lot of people scratch their head. And what Allen believes, is if you buy the right building, at the right price, at the right time, and you have patience, which I think you and I both know, most people don’t have Alan today’s probably about 36 years old. And throughout my career, I kind of had this, when you’re 36 years old, you do have more patients than someone that 66 years old. So, you know, he believes in the, in the office building connected them there.

So what I just find interesting, this all started, this all started with a 500 square foot store. We went across the country, 130,000 square foot warehouse, bought, then sold, and then and then the the office to the office building in Manhattan. And as much as Michael Douglas said, in Wall Street, if you need a friend, get a dog, I remember that from the movie Wall Street.

Happy to tell you built a great, great friendship. You know, with Alan, obviously, the two brokers. It’s all about collaboration. And just one last quick piece on collaboration. Because I think that’s such a critical word. In my advisory business, when someone tells me, hey, I need that the heavy cell phone data, I need to have an architect on on on premise. I need a hotel feasibility study.

I’m able to tell them, Okay, I have my strategic partner, my good friend, Casey Kidd, NaVi Retail, based in Fort Worth, and Memphis. And when a city needs the items I just mentioned, the hotel feasibility study, and the heavy cell phone data and the architect on premise, we can bring in the whole team there with NaVi retail

Ressa 28:28
Got it? I think it’s a it’s an interesting story, you know of success starting with retail store in this entrepreneur ended up with multiple retail stores then, and, you know, industrial warehouse to wholesale some product, then decided to leverage that into an office building and and that’s a dicey market right now. So we’ll see what happens there. But really cool story. Thank you for sharing. I think.

I don’t I haven’t been to Madison jewelers, I’m gonna go check out their store, for sure. It’s a really cool story. I think you do bring up a good point on the collaboration. It’s an I would characterize it as you’ve done a good job of, you know, once you’ve made a relationship with staying in touch and keeping tabs on that relationship, and always being there to help and that has led to opportunities for you.

And I think that’s a really good point. But listen, Richard, I really appreciate the time today. I want to take us to the last part of the show called retail wisdom. I got three questions for you. Are you ready?

Cohan 29:43
I’ll try. All right. Question one.

Ressa 29:46
What extinct retailer Do you wish you’d come back from the dead?

Cohan 29:50
That’s easy blockbuster. used to love taking my kids to Blockbuster. Um, they love also getting the candy and I would Do I would love to get into candy at Blockbuster?

Ressa 30:03
Great question too. What’s the last item over $20 You bought in a store?

Cohan 30:10
Had to head to Las Vegas, like yourself a few weeks ago for ICSC want to buy myself a new pair of shoes? What store? Store? Go Armani and Red Bank.

Ressa 30:25
Got it? Last question. If you went over shopping Richard in Target, and I lost you what I would I find you and

Cohan 30:36
That’s the easiest one of all. I am a two time grandpa. And I’m proud to say I’m a vibrant to time grandpa. And when when when you’re a grandpa, the most important aisle in target is the toil

Ressa 30:53
Certainly is. Richard, thanks so much for your time today. Really appreciate your insights and sharing your story. Stay in touch man.

Cohan 31:03
Thank you very much. I appreciate your time.

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