I started in commercial real estate in 1986. I could have done it in New Jersey, where it would no doubt have been easier, since that is where I grew up. It would not have hurt, either, that my father had been a founder of Supermarkets General Corp., parent of Pathmark, Rickel's, and Steinbach's (all either defunct, or most likely about to be). My dad had passed away eight years before, so unfortunately would not have been able to help, but his reputation would have given me a jump start. Easy wasn't for me. Instead, I chose to work in Westchester County for N. Peter Burton. Westchester was drive-through country for me then, from when I was on my way to Brown University up in Providence. I didn't know the geography, I didn't know anyone.
But, I was a leasing grinder. I showed up in the morning, made my cold calls, did my foot canvassing. I started out doing office leasing, then pivoted to retail when the office market dried up in 1987. I had two goals when I started as a salesman. The first was to become a broker, and the second to become a developer. I didn't know what I wanted to develop, but, that is why I became a salesman, to learn about how value was created and where my affinity would lie. Lucky for me, I was able to reach both those goals in about three years.
Having made enough deals, and taken the additional course work required, I became an associate broker as soon as I could. Steve Ifshin became interested in retail development when the housing market bombed. We started working on the Drive-in theater site on Route 9 in Hyde Park, New York. In May of 1989, I brought all of the plans and projections with me out to the ICSC National Deal Making Convention in Las Vegas.
I ran into my first cousin, Ken Narva, while I was out there. Ken was a principal in an architecture firm, Planned Expansion Group, based in White Plains, NY, just a couple of exits along I287 away from the N. Peter Burton office. Ken offered to sit down with me to look over the development plan. Since I was a complete development neophyte, I was glad to have his opinion. The plan was to develop a center with a discount store and supermarket as the anchors, with satellite retail between the two.
The site was directly across Route 9 from The Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site. Ken was skeptical that a shopping center would get approved at that location. He suggested I talk to clients of his, that he was also partnering with on a development deal in Englewood, about possibly taking over their development that he had designed on Route 22 in Watchung, New Jersey. The Englewood project was very complex, involving condemnation and an assemblage from multiple property owners, leaving them little time for the Watchung site. I was intrigued, since the site was across Route 22 from the Blue Star Shopping Center, where we often went to the movies when I was a kid.
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