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Early bird Steven Baker among retail real estate sector’s high fliers

By Holly Dutton

LAS VEGAS – Steven Baker doesn’t like to talk about himself, but his resume speaks for itself.
The Winick Realty president is back at ICSC RECon in Las Vegas for his 10th year, and like most of the industry, is booked solid with back-to-back meetings during the annual retail conference, and he’s got a lot of space to fill.

Steve Baker
Steve Baker

Baker is currently working on 1 New York Plaza, a downtown office tower with 2.6 million s/f and a concourse with 50,000 s/f of retail that was vacant since Hurricane Sandy. So far, Winick has signed tenants Retro Fitness, Starbucks, Chipotle, Schnipper’s and Chop’t.

Winick represents the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio’s building at 15 Union Square West, and is marketing the retail at that property. The firm is also marketing a number of properties for TF Cornerstone, in particular the retail portion of 387 Park Avenue South. Winick did 98 percent of the retail in TF Cornerstone’s Long Island City waterfront portfolio.

“There’s tremendous opportunity for retail,” Baker told Real Estate Weekly of the Queens neighborhood. “There are 13,000 residential units coming online in next 36 months. That market will be explosive from a retail perspective.”

One of his biggest projects is at 3030 Northern Boulevard in LIC, a massive 150,000 s/f building that he called “game-changing” retail. Baker said the firm is coming close to signing tenants for that project, with the ultimate of finding a tenant that will change the area.
But long before his plate was full with major retail projects, Baker was working in a different industry altogether.

A New York City native, he studied marketing at Pace University before starting a career in dental supply distributing. He eventually became the head of continuing education, and was in charge of hiring and bringing in famous dentists to conduct the continuing education seminars for dentists to renew their licenses. After seven years, he decided to make a change.

“I realized at that point in time that no matter how hard I worked, there was a ceiling of how much I was going to make,” he said. “I wanted to be in a business where my upsell was tied to my work ethic, and I didn’t want a ceiling on me,” he said.

Around that time, Baker had a friend who worked at Winick and sung the firm’s praises, just as he was leaving to work for a retailer.

“I said to myself now’s the time to take a chance,” said Baker. “I was 29 at the time, I wasn’t married, had no kids or a mortgage, and thought now’s the time.”

In 2000, he embarked on a new career retail real estate at Winick, starting off as a salesperson.

“At the time it was – here’s your desk, here’s your phone, get to work,” he said of his early days at the firm. When he first started, he was simultaneously working at his old job at a dental office.

He would work from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. in the dentist office before going into the Winick offices at 7:30 a.m. And it turns out, his habit of being an early riser proved to be one of the keys to his success.

“It was a great time to pick the owner’s brain because he was one of the first people in the office,” said Baker. Founder and CEO Jeff Winick and former president Corey Zelnik were both in the office bright and early, giving Baker the chance to get face time with the two.

“One thing I told myself was that If I’m not going to be successful, it’s not because I’m not working harder than anyone else,” said Baker. “I didn’t want my work ethic to have anything to do with my success or failures.”

In his first year, Baker “got very lucky” and closed a couple deals. But it was in his third year when he closed a 60,000 s/f deal in Midtown West that established him as a big player in the industry. “It kind of made my career,” said Baker.

That deal was with John Jay College, which took space at Related Companies’ The Westport building at 10th Avenue and 56th Street.

Some of the deals he’s most proud of in his career include his work with the Brodsky Organization on 34th Street and 9th Avenue, and a deal with Payless Shoes at 34th Street and Broadway.
He also lists the Nordstrom Rack deal at the site of the former Virgin Record Store as one of his favorite deals to work on.

A resident of Scarsdale, Baker still gets up early every morning at 6 a.m., works out, then heads to the office.

He spends his spare time on the weekends with his three children – aged twi, five and seven.
Baker credits hard work, personality, and being someone people can trust as attributes that have set him apart from other brokers and led to his success.

“Ultimately people do business with people they like and feel can get the job done,” he said. “I’ve been very fortunate.”

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