After three decades serving crumpets and spotted dick to homesick expats and Anglophile Americans, New York’s most famous British tea shop is taking desperate measures to stay afloat in the face of Manhattan’s crippling taxes and giddy rents.
The owner of Tea & Sympathy this week launched a crowdfunding appeal to raise money to pay off debts and avoid going the way of so many other small businesses.
Nicky Perry, who opened the shop in 1990 so that she could get a decent cuppa as well as silence Americans who ridiculed English food, said her West Village neighbourhood had changed beyond recognition as developers bought up property and the city squeezed tenants.
“Real estate taxes that small businesses pay, even though they don’t even own their buildings, is absolutely ridiculous,” she said over a cup of tea – Typhoo – and a plate of scones. “Every year it goes up and up and up.”
Loyal customers have donated more than $17,000 (£13,000) in two days via a GoFundMe site to keep the beloved shop afloat and help pay off some of the $70,000 owed in back taxes.
Messages of support have poured in from the local police precinct, state politicians promising to introduce measures to help local businesses and from celebrities.
The actress Sarah Jessica Parker, who helped with a rent hike in 2014, has already been in touch.
“The support has been amazing,” said Mrs Perry, whose coarse wit and broad accent make her as much of an institution as her shops.
Sales in her small empire – which includes a grocery store stocked with Vimto, Coleman’s mustard and HP Sauce; and a fish and chip shop named A Salt and Battery – are good.
She has expanded to use online delivery services, and she says she had already cut costs as far as she could.
Famous customers include visiting Brits, such as Stephen Fry and Judy Dench, as well as anyone else looking for a good plate of English food and generous helpings of Mrs Perry’s risque jokes. Even the Dalai Lama has popped by.
But none of that goodwill is enough to keep up with the $28,000 needed each month to pay rent and taxes for the three shops.
Molly Carew, store manager, said they planned to work with financial advisers to plan a strategy to ensure a successful future.
“We can survive because of our loyal customers, the legacy that Nicky has built, but we just need a helping hand,” she said.
That still leaves a familiar story of small businesses facing the pinch as developers move through New York. “This was antique shops, bakeries, laundries, shoe repair, gift shops,” said Mrs Perry. “There’s none of it left.
“It’s nail salons and banks.” But she promises to fight on. “I’m doing it. I’m British. I have the Dunkirk spirit in me,” she said.