Progress has not always been kind to artists. Habitually cash-strapped artists often fall prey to tone-deaf developers or aesthetically challenged landlords who transform artists’ colonies into condos or shopping malls.
About a year ago, Hershy Weiss’s Basad Realty took ownership of the Monroe Center. This artists’ enclave at 720 Monroe St. had fallen on hard times, and tenants were nervous.
A lot has happened since then. Last fall, one of the lobbies was renovated, and four new retailers are coming online. Iggy and Frieda Sciancalepore are opening Affamato, an Italian pizzeria with a wood-burning oven. Prime Markets, with seven locations in Jersey City and Hoboken, will be opening an upscale market with organic products and produce. Finally, La Isla restaurant on Washington Street is opening a new place at the Monroe Center in the former Shades space.
The center’s current retailers include Pleasant Road Spa, The Cheese Store, and Hoboken Bootcamps.
“Our vision is for a vibrant, active arts center,” says Weiss. “We want to make it a destination with a mix of retail, restaurants, businesses, and artists’ events.”
Events include the Digable Arts Festival, Hoboken Book Fair, and performances by one of three theater companies on site.
“We have events every week,” Weiss says. “There’s always something happening.”
Among the theater tenants are Mile Square Theatre, Hoboken’s Children’s Theater, and The Theater Company.
The center houses about 25 artists’ studios, as well as some spaces that are shared by as many as eight artists. “I was trying to come up with a way to make artists’ space more affordable,” Weiss says. Last winter, the Hob’art gallery finally found a permanent home in the Monroe Center. For years it had been a nomadic cooperative, moving from one place to another.
At press time, another gallery called the Palette was poised to open.
“We’re getting a lot of support from tenants, and there is a great sense of community in the building,” Weiss says. “Our vision is materializing.”
There’s synergy between the center and the town. “Hoboken is a very vibrant, young, and hip community,” Weiss says. “It’s absolutely the right place for the center, and the center is the right thing for Hoboken.”—Kate Rounds