Joseph Aquino is a hefty guy from Brooklyn, the borough in which the blunt edge of his accent still resides.
Personable and generous with a smile, he’s a born-and-bred New Yorker who, when speaking, enlivens his words by slashing off their ends and replacing them with colloquial curls.
He’s also a retail broker for Prudential Douglas Elliman, so occasionally those colloquialisms and blunt edges tangle with words like Hermès, David Yurman and, lately, Kamaya, the haute couture fashion imprint from India that, last year, he signed to a 4,300-square-foot deal.
“People wouldn’t think of Indier as high fashion,” said Mr. Aquino, 54, his New Yawk accent bumping against an impressive knowledge of the fashion industry. “But in Indier, you’re either the 1 percent of the wealthy-there’s not much of a middle class-or your purr.”
We represent a lot of landlords exclusively, and when we saw the downturn coming, we saw on a global level that this was bigger than New York. So in order to react to the market, we recommended [that landlords] lower the rates. And we did this quite successfully.
The deal for Kamaya, which will open its first U.S. outpost at 717 Madison Avenue later this year, has earned Mr. Aquino a coveted nomination for the Real Estate Board of New York’s Retail Deal of the Year award. But it’s just one in a long frilly list of luxury fashion deals he and partner Faith Hope Consolo have signed in an otherwise iffy few years for retailers.
In January, the duo inked a deal at 681 Madison Avenue for Delaneau, the watch seller whose gemstone-encrusted timepieces fetch upward of $500,000. Then there were the transactions for California-by-way-of-South Korea clothing brand Who.A.U; women’s sportswear imprint Cache; and the cheap-chic clothier Roundabout, which signed a 4,000-square-foot deal in Soho less than four months ago. Rather predictably, the frenzy has kept the laid-back Mr. Aquino busy.
As an example of the rush of leasing activity he’s witnessed, Mr. Aquino pointed to a pricey stretch of prime Manhattan real estate on Third Avenue between 61st and 62nd streets where, he said, five storefronts had recently become vacant. By early this year, however, he had managed to lease four of those five spaces, in part by aggressively lowering the rents.
“We represent a lot of landlords exclusively, and when we saw the downturn coming, and as quick as it happened, we saw on a global level that this was bigger than New York,” said Mr. Aquino, an executive vice president of retail leasing and sales for Prudential. “So we advised a lot of the landlords that we felt there were fewer tenants in the marketplace, and in order to react to the market, we recommended they lower the rates. And we did this quite successfully.”
It’s precisely that kind of ingenuity that has led to a 25-year real estate career in which Mr. Aquino has inked an estimated $2 billion in leasing deals for fashionistas no less luminescent than Jimmy Choo, Yves St. Laurent and Thierry Raboutin, to name a scant few.
“I really pushed my memory bank,” he said of the long, fabulous list of deals.”
To understand Mr. Aquino’s pluck, it is worth noting his first incidental foray into sales. Born in Midwood and raised along a constantly revolving backdrop of similarly working-class southwest Brooklyn neighborhoods, the Baruch student fell into a job peddling perfume at a stand outside the school simply to fill a five-hour void between classes. Perfume soon turned into 32-piece glass sets and, finally, 36-piece kitchen knife sets.
Although he only fulfilled six credits before dropping out, in a roundabout way, Mr. Aquino’s brief time at the school taught him several sales techniques he still uses as a broker.
“I think the expression is ‘autodidact,’ which means ‘self-taught,'” explained Mr. Aquino in a lengthy email that also noted his short stint as a door-to-door salesman. “I was self taught.”
His arrival into the world of real estate came after an eight-year career as a general manager of the now-defunct Jack LaLanne fitness center franchise, where he oversaw nearly a dozen locations across Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey. The position, he said, gave him a taste of the duties a typical retailer faces on a daily basis.
Between peddling knives, managing fitness centers and canvassing homes door to door, Mr. Aquino had pieced together enough experience to forge a real estate career. After a brief flirtation with investment sales at several brokerages, he fell into retail leasing at Garrick Aug, the firm where, as a canvasser, he first forged a long-lasting relationship with Ms. Consolo.
“Faith was one of the managers back then, and she’d always be slipping me notes-‘Find this out for, bring this back for me, help me here,'” said Mr. Aquino, who stayed at Garrick Aug for 17 years until joining Prudential-along with Ms. Consolo-in 2005. “Normally, people would expect it to take 24 hours to bring some of these things back, but I was bringing things back to her in an hour. … I think she just kind of liked the good service.”
Since his early time at Garrick Aug, Mr. Aquino has continued to ink some of the biggest retail deals in New York, be it for fashion labels or, recently, a bowling alley at the Foxwood Casino in Connecticut. And with an expected uptick, the deals will no doubt carry on through the second half of the year.
But for the boy from Brooklyn, who held on to the accent of his neighbors and relatives long after he moved to Manhattan’s Upper East Side, success in real estate is, much like anything else in life, never quite constant. It’s a fact he knows all too well, he said.
“I feel like Babe Ruth, where I have 875 home runs and 3,500 strikeouts,” said the modest Mr. Aquino, making reference to both the retail deals that were won and lost. “Babe Ruth had the most home runs, but not many people knew he had the most strikeouts, too.”