Wednesday, May 27, 2020

In my dealings as a real estate broker, and in the entirety of my life in Manhattan, I have interacted with many doormen. No matter their personal feelings, most of them present as amiable and efficient workers. To some New Yorkers, they are the almost-unnoticed holders of doors as residents, guests and others whiz in and out of buildings. Yet, when doormen are not there, their presence is sorely missed.

This is because a doorman  does not merely open and close doors. Many doormen  of my acquaintance also function as concierges. One large New York City management company lists doorman  responsibilities as the providing of a high-level security presence; meeting, greeting and directing residents and guests; verifying and recording visitor information; answering calls professionally and assisting callers with directions to and instructions for the building; receiving and processing incoming and outgoing laundry, shipments, mail and packages; monitoring lobby traffic and alerting residents to arriving guests and deliveries; maintaining logbooks for visitors and contractors; and performing other responsibilities as requested.

What might these other responsibilities be? Requested or not, I have observed doormen sweeping the lobby, polishing the entry doors and minding little children while their parents were otherwise occupied. Doormen  hail taxis. They monitor security cameras. They load and unload residents’ cars: groceries, luggage, bicycles etc. They are the keepers of the duplicate apartment keys for the maids, caretakers, nannies and real estate agents. They have been known to walk dogs, park cars, change light bulbs, check on elderly residents, move furniture, run errands for tenants and even find deceased residents when concerned relatives call and ask for someone to check on a resident who has not been heard from for a few days. Note that the union contract states that the doormen  must man the door at least 50 percent of the time; there is no other official job description nor are specific tasks  prohibited in the contract—it is the building management that determines the parameters for each building. 

Best of all, doormen  know everything that is going on in the building. Even though there is a tacit understanding that they must keep residents’ lives private, some doormen are chatty. My favorite story is of a long-time doorman in a prestigious Riverdale building. When I came to his desk to pick up keys for an apartment showing, he asked me to congratulate one of my office associates on the brand-new pregnancy of her grandson’s wife; the young couple were subtenants in the building. When I called my associate to congratulate her and to pass on the message, she thanked me and immediately called her grandson to verify the doorman’s information. Of course, the doorman knew before Grandma did!

New York City doormen who are unionized belong to the 32B SEIU (Service Employees International Union) and are the highest-paid residential building service workers in the United States. Base incomes depend upon a variety of factors but appear to be based on hourly wages or salaries. Reports vary but salaries may be about $35,000-$50,000 per year. Union members receive medical and dental benefits, vacation days, 10 paid sick days and pensions. There may also be additional income from overtime, bonuses and tips. Thus, the literature of doormen experiences in New York City is replete with tales of the stinginess of the exceedingly wealthy at Christmastime and during the year, best and worst buildings in which to work, the difficulty of existing in Manhattan on a doorman’s  salary (which is why so many live in the outer boroughs) and the foibles of building residents.   

In all of my dealings with doormen, I have encountered only two who should never have gone into this line of work but who were, as co-op board members told me, impossible to fire.  One doorman/concierge at a lovely building was always sullen and uncooperative. Ask him for an apartment key and he denied that the owner left it at the desk. He was constantly frowning and was overly suspicious of anyone who approached his desk, be that person a resident or anyone else. When pressed to cooperate, he grudgingly did so. The other doorman/concierge’s sins were more serious. He refused to dress nicely: The first time that I saw him at the desk, I mistook him for one of the janitors. Eventually, the co-op board was able to persuade him to wear a clean dress shirt and pants. Worse, he apparently believed that Riverdale is only for folks with his own skin color and he was also choosy about which ethnic groups are suitable. He was not, however, a religious bigot. (For this, I suppose that we should be grateful.) Thus, prospective tenants whom he deemed to be acceptable were greeted with a poker face and the handing over of the apartment keys to the real estate agent for a showing; all others were frowned upon while a hunt for the keys that were right in front of him ensued. The good news is that in 27 years of my Riverdale doormen interactions, these are the only two in Riverdale who I have found wanting.  That’s a pretty good record!  

Finally, I want to express my appreciation to the two female Riverdale “doormen”  with whom I have had the pleasure of interacting. It can’t be easy to keep a smile on one’s face when someone walks in the door, looks you in the eye and asks for the doorman!

By Vivian Oleen



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