‘It’s a piece of my soul’: Union Square artists worried they’ll be forced out due to rising rents

UNION SQUARE, Manhattan — If you are of certain age, you may remember a famous bargain department store in Union Square called S. Klein on the Square.

What you may not know is that the owner of the department store supposedly wanted to make sure artists always had a affordable place to work.

But the legacy of S. Klein may be in jeopardy.

“I’ve been in this studio since 1983,” artist Christine Cornell told PIX11 News. “It’s a piece of my soul."

For 35 years, courtroom artist Christine Cornell has called this artist’s studio on Union Square her refuge.

With its natural northern light from the skylight, it’s the perfect place to pursue her passion, painting, and giving her a break from her more lucrative profession of sketching scoundrels in court.

But now her rent of $1,141 a month is going up 110 percent to $2,333 a month for a 260-foot studio zoned commercial.

Something that the artist said would upset the original owner of the property, Samuel Klein of the famed S. Klein on the Square Department Store that was founded more than one hundred years ago.

“I’ve always heard that he wanted to keep space affordable for artists,” Cornell told PIX11. “But the family got together for the first time in ten years and since market rates are through the roof, they thought so what are we doing?”

There are more than 90 studios at 32 Union Square East in a building now owned by the grandchildren of Samuel Klein and artists say, one by one, as their leases are coming up for renewal, because they are commercial, there are no limits on how much they can charge.

PIX11 tried to get a comment from the descendants of S. Klein about the skyrocketing rent raises for artists, but they were unavailable.

Thomas Venturella is another artist who is worried.

He’s has had a stained glass studio, the only one left in Manhattan, on the 11th floor at 32 Union Square East since 1978.

And while he has another year left in his commercial lease, he, like his 90 fellow artists, has no idea about his future:

“If my rent goes double or anything more than 10 percent I’ll have to look elsewhere,” Venturella told PIX. “They’re driving all the arts out, the lifeblood out of this town, all for money."