Charlotte Kullen doesn’t even have a dog, yet she found it odd that the building managers at her East 15th Street co-op sent a letter to residents informing them doormen could no longer offer treats to their canine pets. Apparently, the dogs were rushing the front desk, a show of enthusiasm that could turn calamitous should they knock down a tenant someday. “It’s sad,” says Kullen, vice-president of marketing at Bellmarc. “It’s one of those warm, friendly things [that] doormen do.” And that’s not all: In a West 86th Street building, doormen are no longer able to sign for prescriptions or large packages; at another, they’re forbidden to keep watch over double-parked cars while tenants ferry their stuff into the lobby. Some aren’t allowed to speak any language but English, or, as in one East Sixties condo, even sit down on a stool.
It’s all part of a steady “de-skilling” of doormen, an attempt to “formalize” their duties that ends up depersonalizing the service they offer, says Peter Bearman, a Columbia University social-sciences professor and author of the recently published book Doormen. Never mind that extra attention is what makes a good doorman, or that personalized service is precisely what New Yorkers expect. They want them to run interference with food-delivery guys (some residents don’t like to tip, says Bearman), know to announce some visitors and not others, and even watch babies while parents feed the meter or do laundry.
In some cases, as with the doggie treats and doubled-parked-car duties, perks are jettisoned to avoid lawsuits and breached security. (If they’re busy keeping an eye out for ticketing cops, who’s watching the door?) In others, rules are imposed so doormen appear more professional, regardless of whether they already are. “It’s unfair that that’s happening to some buildings,” says Jose Gonzalez, a Central Park West doorman who’s glad for the familial atmosphere at his building; it’s an easy rapport strengthened by friendly interactions like, yes, being able to coddle pets with goodies. UrbanDigs blogger and Citi Habitats broker Noah Rosenblatt wonders if all these limitations are “a case of paranoia gone to the extreme. I like interacting with my doormen.”