Is Boss Tweed spinning in his grave?
With balloons flying and mascots in feline and canine costumes nearby at the historic Tammany Hall Building, top dogs at Petco cut a ribbon Sunday June 4th to celebrate the grand opening of its new New York City flagship store, which moved from 860 Broadway to two floors and the basement of the building at 44 Union Square East.
Tammany Hall, 94 year-old building that opened in 1929 was the HQ of the influential Society of St. Tammany and Columbian Order but had stood largely empty in recent years. Tammany had fallen out of power and sold the building in 1946. Petco signed a long term lease with the current owner, Reading International to take over 33,000 sq ft spread over three floors in the six story structure.
Even on the first day of business at the new Petco on May 31, angry union workers manned a truck nearby that had banners attacking the top executives of Reading International, which is headed by Chairperson Margaret Cotter, the executive v.p. of real estate and development and her sister Ellen Cotter, the vice chair and president and CEO. “Bad for the community. Bad for business,” read a sign on the side of a union truck driven by members of the carpenters union that parked on the E. 17th Street side of the Tammany Building. “They just don’t care about us,” the truck driver said of the building owners and its shiny new tenant.
Union animosity may have been deeper here than on many other non-union construction sites across the city, because Reading bought the building from a labor union local of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union in 2001. Reading International is a Los Angeles-based conglomerate with real estate and theatrical holdings nationwide including the Orpheum on Broadway and Angelica Film Center downtown.
In 2015, the New York Film Academy from its Tammany Hall site and the Union Square Theater found roomier digs on the west side as Reading emptied the building in preparation for its overhaul that included demolishing the old auditorium where Franklin D. Roosevelt once spoke before he became an anti-Tammany crusader that helped unveiled a deep seated corruption scandal in the 1930s that broke Tammany’s hold on local Democratic politics.
The building itself was granted landmark status in 2013, but the Landmarks Preservation Commission still approved the installation of a $50 million glass dome atop the structure several years later that added three stories to the structure.
The small union protest days earlier was ignored by Ron Coughlin, chief executive officer of Petco who helped cut the ribbon with chief operating officer Justin Tiichy on June 4. Coughlin insisted the store‘s move to Tammany Hall, once a powerful clubhouse for Manhattan’s Democratic party machine, had personal meaning for him.
“I grew up a few blocks from here,” he said to a small crowd of store employees and supporters gathered before noon outside the new store’s entrance on the corner of East 17th Street and Park Avenue South on June 4. “This store is in a building that was Tammany Hall. I’m Irish and maybe there’s some significance to that, “ he added, alluding to Tammany’s long ago role in helping Irish and other working class immigrants in the city.
Coughlin noted that getting Petco into Tammany “took two years of planning.” Petco Union Square was designed by Petco in collaboration with global architecture, planning and design firm Callison RTKL and the architectural firm BKSK, which had also designed the $50 million glass dome that now sits atop the structure.
In Feb. 2022, Petco struck a multi-years’ leasing deal with Reading International Inc., to occupy three levels of the red brick and limestone neo-Georgian edifice.
COO Tiichy declined to discuss the union protest with Straus News. “No comment,” he said during the grand opening festivities.
He was more forthcoming about the design of the upscale flagship, which looks like a museum with its glittering staircase, chandeliers and trendy boutiques. “The design was meant to highlight New York and the green market in Union Square,” he said. Tiichy noted Peto’s part of the 73,000 square foot building covers first and second floors while the basement will serve as a full-service pet hospital, Vetco Total Care veterinary hospital. It’s not open to the public; people seeking medical care for pets must first apply on the first floor. Tiichy said.
The store operates from 9 am to 9 pm seven days a week. It offers a wide array of services and products for pet parents and pets, including a grooming salon, a “Wash, Dry and Wag” self-service station for cleaning dogs, and the Just Food For Dogs kitchen, an independent chain from Irvine, Calif. that prepares special foods for dogs, including disabled canines.
Petco officials declined to say what it spent on the renovation. “The cost had to be in the millions but it was worth it because this is our flagship and a role model for other stores,” said Mark Santiago, 26, general manager of Petco in Park Slope who was helping out at the newly opened Union Square store on Saturday June 3. “It’s the best of the best.” He said his store in Brooklyn was “much smaller.”
Petco, which was founded in 1965, operates 1,500 stores across the U.S., Mexico and Puerto Rico with annual revenue over $6 billion.
It’s anybody’s guess whether the ghost of Tammany Hall’s Boss Tweed of yore would frown on Petco occupying the domain of a former political powerhouse the relied heavily on the union workers for much of its muscle. Maybe he’d laugh. However, some politically inclined New Yorkers have suggested that Petco isn’t a heavy enough match for Tammany’s storied–and at times scandal scared–history.
Petco execs would likely dispute such such a notion and said so in welcoming remarks to new patrons at the Union Square store.
“We’re delighted to welcome pets and pet parents to this revolutionary flagship experience that embodies Petco’s fully integrated, omnichannel pet health and wellness ecosystem within a single pet care center,” Petco chief operating officer Tichy said in a prepared statement. “Its distinctly New York design coupled with Petco’s highly differentiated pet care offering brings to life the humanization and premiumization trends shaping the pet space in a way no one else can replicate. Every element is designed to cultivate a seamless experience that nurtures the incredible bond between pets and pet parents, making it a top destination for pet parents worldwide to experience the best in pet health and wellness.”
On Petco’s first day of business at the new store, a scruffy crew of young apparent travelers and their dogs sat for hours on the sidewalk seeking cash and food. People seemed eager to drop money into their bucket which was labelled “Ruff Times.” The group has since moved farther down the block.
After the Sunday ribbon cutting on June 4, Petco took over Union Square Park from 10 am to 6 pm with events such as a the “Paws in the Park” party and adoption event beginning at noon. Petco Love, the non-profit sponsoring agency, brought together more than 20 local animal welfare partners, including Muddy Paws and Animal Care Centers of NYC, to help hundreds of adoptable pets find homes. There was even a dog run and word of a fashion show, presented by BOBS from Skechers, featuring adoptable pets.