Carol Shuchman still counts her blessings that she was late to work on Sept. 11. As manager of the retail leasing of the World Trade Center Mall for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, she could have been stuck in an elevator on her way up to her 88th floor office in Tower One when the first plane hit.
But that morning, she was delayed with the needs of three children and arrived at the World Trade Center just after the plane's impact. Stunned, she escaped across the street to the Millennium hotel dodging falling debris, and made a phone call home before city phone lines became overwhelmed. From the hotel she watched as the second plane hit Tower Two, then evacuated the block with the river of people pouring out of both buildings.
Though there was no longer retail activity or a place of business in the weeks that followed, there was no shortage of work. Shuchman spent two months assisting tenants of smaller businesses in the World Trade Center Mall to find new retail space. Perhaps more important were her efforts to identify and help small businesses apply for federal and state grants and loans that would help them stay afloat in the difficult transition ahead.
Then the time came for her own transition. In December she accepted the position of Director of Commercial Leasing and Development with the Office of Institutional Real Estate and she moved uptown.
Trading the World Trade Center's subterranean mall for her new office with a peaceful parkside view was not an easy transition for Carol Shuchman, largely because of colleagues lost in the fall of the towers and others she left behind after 18 years with Port Authority. But now at Columbia, it is the sense of community in Upper Manhattan that is helping Shuchman find her niche.
"Carol comes to Columbia with an extensive background in retail leasing and also brings the unusual perspective of someone who has worked with broader public issues, which is a combination of work experiences that is very hard to find," said Bill Scott, deputy vice president for Institutional Real Estate (IRE).
It was after receiving a Brown University master's degree in sociology with a concentration in demography that she took a job as a demographer and population analyst in the Port Authority's planning department. After almost 13 years working on a variety of projects, she moved into retail management.
Over the past five years she helped to turn the Mall at the World Trade Center into one of the nation's top grossing retail complexes. This combination of experience, understanding and analyzing the diversity of neighborhoods, a solid track record in identifying and attracting retail that fits an available space, and a genuine knack for developing solid relationships with business owners is what Shuchman brings to Columbia.
"When I am managing a property, I find that I become personally connected to the business and come to feel very strongly about it," said Shuchman. "That is one of the things I like about Columbia University. Here people have a feeling that the University and the neighborhood belongs to them and that they have a stake in what is happening in its future."
Columbia manages about 100 small retail spaces and offices in Upper Manhattan. Most are located on major thoroughfares such as Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue above 110th Street, running north to the Health Sciences campus at 168th Street.
As Director of Commercial Leasing and Development, Shuchman will add new businesses to vacant office and business spaces, act as property manager and help guide ongoing storefront renovation projects. She is poised to build upon the recent retail and streetscape improvements that have contributed to the revival of upper Broadway street life.
Over the past couple of years, new businesses such as Naussbaum and Wu bakery, Milano market, restaurants Le Monde and DeLuxe, and most recently the new adventure gear shop Windy Corner, were brought to Columbia retail space in response to needs expressed by the community. The influx of new neighborhood goods and services and a series of historic storefront renovations that brought back elements of turn-of-the-century Broadway have contributed to the growing popularity of residential Morningside Heights.
As Shuchman learns more about the neighborhood and the goods and services that the communities need and want, she also hopes to extend the Broadway retail revival to the Amsterdam corridor, which she says suffers from a lack of retail energy and diversity. The result is a streetscape that shuts down past 6 p.m.
She will also be working with the community and University to help select retail for the new Social Work School building on the rise at Amsterdam and 121st Street.
"What I like about this area is it is really a community. People above 96th Street shop and eat locally, and they all seem to have some connection with Columbia," said Shuchman. She thinks that more food establishments, dry goods stores, a bakery and clothing shops are possible businesses to bring to the area. "People want to shop locally and they need to be able to get what they are looking for in their own neighborhoods."
Looking out her office window at the bare trees of Morningside Park, Shuchman mused on the whirlwind of the past five months.
"I've realized that if the unimaginable can happen in this city, then anything can happen," Shuchman said. "Coming to Columbia is an exciting new opportunity for me. I've gone from one end of the island to the other, but people here have been wonderful and already I feel that I belong."