Decades ago, when Cubans began emigrating in large numbers to West New York and vicinity, many of the newcomers found employment at a handbag manufacturer with locations throughout the area. Today several of those locations have been repurposed into affordable housing for the local community.
Located at 5609 Jefferson Street, Jaclyn Heights is a five-story, 32-unit rental building built to exacting environmental standards. With its rich cultural history, the building houses mostly residents of Cuban or Latino descent.
“This is classic of what you’re going to see, what you should see throughout the country,” said Dean Mon, president and CEO of Mon Group Properties, the building developer. “Particularly in New Jersey in the urban areas. The industrial areas that are now underutilized are redeveloping into residential properties, which is what people need. The ability to provide good shelter and affordable shelter is really key.”
The name Jaclyn Heights comes from the former manufacturer, Jaclyn Handbags, established by three relatives. Allan and Howard Ginsburg, grandsons of two of the founders, attended the ribbon cutting for the new building on January 10, where they spoke about the history of Jaclyn.
“My grandpa and Howard’s grandpa Jacob came over in 1930 and started a wallet and little handbag business,” said Allan Ginsburg. “And then Martin, who’s my dad, and Abe, who’s Howard’s dad, and a cousin, Alex Chestnov, who were in Union City, they moved the business to West New York.”
In West New York the business thrived. “When they moved over, which I think was 1958 or 1959, they bought what was called the Hoffman Machinery Building, which was the building on 59th Street,” said Ginsburg. “From there they bought other properties around and expanded. It started with one building and then my uncle and my dad built another building, an executive building. And then we had I think about 140,000 feet of property within the area. All in West New York. West New York was very good to us.”
“It’s a classic example of revitalizing industrial areas that are underutilized, turning it into residential.” –Dean Mon
“We were very, very competitive because of the labor market here,” added Allan’s cousin Howard Ginsburg. “That was the key. We were one of the largest handbag companies in the world.”
“Sometime in the seventies or maybe early eighties we had somewhere between 1,100 and 1,500 people working in West New York,” said Allan. “And I have to tell you, they were fabulous.”
Altogether Jaclyn purchased a number of properties in the area, putting up factories, offices and more. The location of the new Jaclyn Heights building was previously used as a parking lot for employees.
“We didn’t have enough parking up there for the amount of employees, so we purchased this lot so they could park here,” said Allan Ginsburg. “That was, I would say, in the seventies, the eighties. We started culling down at the end of the eighties and doing some imports. But then we still used it as a warehouse.”
Eventually the nature of the business changed and manufacturing moved overseas. “Imports came in and we had to get into it and it ended up that we were employing less and less and eventually the property was much too big for us,” Ginsburg explained.
Several of the former Jaclyn properties were subsequently purchased by Mon Group Properties and repurposed into housing units for the local community. Dean Mon is passionate about turning disused urban locales into affordable living spaces.
“I can drive you around and show you property after property that’s underutilized,” said Mon. “Because what happens is as residential areas develop, they surround an old embroidery factory or a warehouse that is no longer usable. It’s hard to get the trucks in and out. That’s what happened here. It’s a classic example of revitalizing industrial areas that are underutilized, turning it into residential, which people want.”
Units in Jaclyn Heights rent for an average of $1,850 per month with the goal of remaining affordable for local residents and helping to preserve the area’s culture. “West New York is such a dense city and there’s so much here for the Hispanics,” said Mon. “I mean, you can be born here, go to school here, retire here and die here and never speak a word of English.”
Art Schwartz may be reached at email@example.com.