The Soho of today is a far cry of the Soho of yore. When he began his career at Edward S. Gordon, and later when he was at Helmsley-Spear, the ground-floor spaces across Soho were often used as apartments for artists, and often illegally, as the spaces were not zoned for residential use. There was also a good deal of manufacturing in the area.
“I remember walking into some of my first stores back in the mid-’80s and seeing steel plates in a lot of the hardwood floors to support the floor load for a lot of these machines that were there,” said Mr. Cohen.
But peeling back the metal floor plates and the industrial facade revealed beautiful Corinthian columns and 18-foot ceilings—even skylights that seemed ideal for commercial use.
His first clients shared his enthusiasm for the neighborhood: They were either Soho-based or wanted to relocate south of Houston Street. When he first started at Helmsley-Spear, he set out to learn that market inside out. Around that time, a wave of up-and-coming designers who considered themselves artists showed interest in basing their showrooms and stores in Soho, itself an artists colony.
Mr. Cohen said he cut his teeth learning the real estate business by working with these designers and helping them find new spaces.
“That’s what got me started, and 27 years later I have done over 75 deals in the Soho market as well,” said Mr. Cohen. “I have worked all over the city and all over the country, but I have such a great sense of pride for Soho and love that market and any chance I get to work there is very exciting.”
From Soho, Mr. Cohen graduated to bigger deals, like helping Old Navy land in all three of its city locations, putting Diesel in its largest flagship store on Fifth Avenue, and leasing 25,000-square-feet to Prada for its Rem Koolhaas-designed Soho store.
He’s worked with Ralph Lauren Polo for 20 years, the Gap for the past 18 years, and Estée Lauder for the past 15 years. He worked with John Varvatos in the designer’s first deal, and helped bring the designer to the former CBGB club space on the Bowery.
Last year he estimates that up to 40 percent of his deals were done in Los Angeles, where Mr. Cohen has lived with his family since 2002. But the deals are not as lucrative as the average New York City deal.
“In L.A., you need to make twice as many deals—three times as many deals—to make nearly what you make in New York,” he said.
Mr. Cohen is now focused on helping Robert K. Futterman, a chairman at the eponymously named RKF & Associates, increase the firm’s reach throughout the United States.
“We feel there is a lot of legs with our brand to help it grow across the country,” said Mr. Cohen.