MANHATTAN – Wankel’s Hardware has been a Yorkville fixture for more than a century– located at the corner of East 88th Street and Third Avenue, the big bright blue building with red and white trim is unmissable. Now, the future is uncertain for one of the few mom-and-pop hardware store’s left on the Upper East Side, as the building that houses Wankel’s goes up for sale, Upper East Site has learned.
Though, this is not a case where new building owners would be pushing out longtime tenants, the beloved neighborhood shop that’s been in the same family, the Wankel’s, since 1896, as the sign out front reads. The founders of the hardware store’s great-grand daughter, Katherine, is the current owner of both the store and the building.
According to an excerpt from the book The Historic Shops and Restaurants of New York, Katherine’s grandparents, bought a building at 1571-1573 Third Avenue, which sat just a block away from the Third Avenue elevated train stop (subways wouldn’t operate in NYC until 1904) and opened their hardware store 125 years ago.
The best-selling items at the hardware store back then were plain wooden buckets, which according to the book’s author, would be filled with beer by thirsty laborers in the primarily German-American neighborhood of Yorkville.
Fast-forward more than a century, as the Covid-19 pandemic began to take hold in New York City, Wankel’s would pivot to stock as many N95 respirators as possible in addition to tools, hardware and small appliances— even offering delivery through the Cornershop App.
Cushman & Wakefield, which has been retained to organize the sale of the 20-unit apartment building housing the hardware store— listed for $10,400,000— confirms to Upper East Site that Wankel’s Hardware would be leaving the building following the sale.
Air rights to the property have already been sold— so a high rise won’t be taking the place of the twin five story walk-up buildings on Third Avenue.
It’s not clear what the sale would mean for tenants of the apartments above the store— though, sales documents indicate only half the units in the buildings are currently leased— with two units in the apartment building rent stabilized and one rent controlled.
Originally a very quiet building for tenants, noise and vibration from idling tractor trailers and beeping from the forklift being used by the Whole Food’s loading dock, at the corner of East 88th Avenue and Third Avenue, forced some to seek apartments elsewhere.
When Wankel’s Hardware will end its 125 year run in Yorkville is still not known. Reached for comment by Upper East Site, Wankel’s management said “nothing is definite at the moment as far as store closing,” but didn’t elaborate further.
An Upper East Side institution, where countless New Yorkers sought and received advice on do-it-yourself repairs, Wankel’s Hardware may now go the way of all to many of New York City’s mom-and-pop shops— a fond memory we mention to friends as we walk by the store’s former space in the future.