By Julie Shapiro
Bruce Sinder, a developer and broker who brought artists and trendy stores to Soho and Tribeca, died of A.L.S. at his Franklin St. home Thurs., March 13. He was 55.
Sinvin Realty, Sinder’s firm, crafted landmark deals Downtown, like bringing Dean & DeLuca to the corner of Broadway and Prince St. in 1987. Sinvin also brought Balthazar, Marc Jacobs, Mad River Post and Adidas Downtown.
“Bruce was one of the forefront creators of Tribeca and Soho,” said Carole DeSaram, who worked for Sinder for years. “You didn’t call them developers in those days. It wasn’t people who had all this money and ran around it was just people buying buildings, and hoping.”
Sinder also began buying properties in Soho and Tribeca 30 years ago when the neighborhoods were a far cry from what they are today.
“These were desolate areas they were wastelands,” DeSaram said. “From the tip of Manhattan up into the Village, you’d have to go up to Bleecker St. before you saw lights. There was nobody out.”
Sinder was one of the people who turned all of that around. He started off buying empty warehouses and converting them to artist lofts in the late 1970s, when he and Steve Levin founded Sinvin Realty. They created the company’s name by combining “Sinder” and “Levin.”
“We saw these beautiful, vacant buildings,” Levin recalled. “We just bought them cheap, $6 to $7 a square foot how could you not buy them?”
Some of the deals were unconventional, with Sinder and Levin writing the rules as they went. They leased large spaces to artists, who subleased to other tenants and lived free. They leased the top floor of one building to an eccentric who rollerskated around the perimeter.
When Levin spoke with his former colleagues in the real estate industry, who were still doing traditional deals, they didn’t understand.
“They’d look at me and say, ‘You’ve got to be crazy,’” Levin said. “But we did find unorthodox guys who really loved these deals.”
“No one wanted to be out here except pioneers,” said Chris Owles, principal at Sinvin. “As the neighborhood evolved, [Sinder] and the business evolved as well…. The class of retailer changed, the customers changed, and Bruce and the company changed with them.”
The key to Sinder’s success, Levin said, was that he knew how to negotiate a deal without pressing too hard.
“Bruce was the best,” Levin said. “He was honorable, honest, reliable and everybody liked him. He just got along well with everybody, unlike most real estate guys you knew.”
Born Sept. 9, 1952 to Raymond and Marilyn Sinder, Bruce grew up in the Bronx and on Long Island. When he was 9, his mother suggested that he take guitar lessons, and Sinder immediately immersed himself in the instrument.
“He was in love with the guitar literally in love with the guitar,” Marilyn Sinder said. The guitar slept on a white couch in the living room, a special couch that no one else was allowed to sit on. The first thing Sinder did when he woke up each morning was to pad downstairs, pick up the guitar and start strumming. Only after playing would he wash, get dressed and go to school.
Sinder graduated from SUNY-Buffalo in 1974 with a degree in psychology and a fervent desire to make music his career. But after graduating, he stumbled upon the passion that would ultimately become his career: real estate.
Sinder moved to what is now called Tribeca 33 years ago. He lived in Independence Plaza, and then bought a building on Franklin St., where his family continues to live. In 1983, Sinder and several partners opened Bon Temps Rouler, a popular Cajun Creole restaurant, on Reade St. The restaurant, run by Sinder’s brother, is now called Spaghetti Western.
About four years ago, Sinder started feeling numbness in his legs. Doctors confirmed what he had already suspected: He had A.L.S., also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a progressive illness that paralyzes the body while the mind stays intact.
As his body deteriorated, Sinder continued attending his son’s soccer games and going to work, long after he lost the ability to walk. He commuted on his motorized wheelchair along West St. and later rode a handicapped bus. By the time Sinder retired last Thanksgiving, he had difficulty speaking and communicated mainly through e-mail.
“It was just another indication of the same kind of persistence and consistency he exhibited throughout his career,” Owles said. “Even if he couldn’t do the same things he once could, he would always try.”
Ellen Gould, musical director at The New Shul, where Sinder attended services, remembered his lyrical guitar playing, and later, when he could no longer play the guitar, his strong singing voice.
“As he lost the ability to communicate with words, his tender-heartedness got louder, and it was palpable,” Gould said.
Sinder is survived by his mother, Marilyn; brother Robert; wife Stacie; and children Jackson, 18, and Reuben, 15.
The funeral and graveside service were held last Friday at the Beth Moses Cemetery in Farmingdale, Long Island. Though the community had only a day’s notice, close to 200 people turned out, including more than 50 of Sinder’s sons’ friends.