Wednesday, April 27, 2016

S&G Gross


S&G Gross pawnbrokers has been in New York City for over a century. Their building on 8th Avenue and 34th Street is an antique treasure for its neon sign and vintage symbol of the three golden spheres.

Now Gross is gone.

The gates are down, a sign in the window says: "We have moved" and "We've been purchased by Gem Pawnbrokers," up the avenue at 40th Street. Gem is a chain with over 25 locations around the city, Westchester, and Long Island.

"Thank you all the years as our dedicated customers," Gross says in their goodbye note, "it was our pleasure to serve you."

"Established in 1901 by Sol and Gus Gross," according to their website, "the business has continued under the leadership of Robert Gross. The succession has been continued by Robert's son Gary and Gary's daughter Randi. All three generations continue to work together to form a strong nucleus for the continued success of the business."

After 115 years, that's over. With no fanfare. Just an empty window with empty jewelry cases and a lonesome handwritten sign for LADIES MOVADO.

The pawnshop had been in this location since 1918.

How old are those golden spheres? They are dented in spots, like moons struck by passing asteroids but still defying gravity.

It is extremely rare in the city to find the medieval pawnbroker symbol, and in glorious three dimensions such as this. (The symbol dates back to the Medici Family.) I have always enjoyed walking by and seeing them, looking up to make sure they were still there.

The trio also appears atop the neon sign. I will hate to see them go.

What will happen to this piece of New York history now that the Gross family has left the building? What horrible frozen yogurt or cupcake chain will come to destroy them?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Avignone to Sweetgreen

Ever since the beloved Avignone pharmacy was forced out of its very, very long-time location on Bleecker Street, we've been waiting to see what would take its place.

And here it is. Sweetgreen.

It's a chain store. They make salads.

They have over 45 locations across the country. They have a "story" and "core values." Their number one core value, according to their website, is "win, win, win."

At this newly opened location, they held a "private tasting exclusive to NYU." Everyone inside looked really young and healthy and excited to be there. One young woman carried a tote bag that said "EAT PLANTS!"

at the private NYU-only tasting 

In the battle of Old New York versus New New York, I guess Sweetgreen won, won, won.

Avignone was the oldest apothecary in the United States. Family run, it had been in business in New York City for 183 years. Then its building was sold to a hedge fund called Force Capital Management. They tripled the rent to $60,000, essentially forcing Avignone out. The spot sat empty for a long while.

Here's Avignone on PIX 11 News from last year:

Monday, April 25, 2016

Lee's Art Shop


After 65 years in business, Lee's Art Shop on West 57th Street is closing sometime in the next four to six weeks.

from Lee's Art Shop

The building was purchased in 2013 by real estate investor Joseph Safdieh of Safka Holdings, after which he proceeded to sue the owners, David Steinberg and Jill Isaacs, according to The Real Deal, "for refusing to further extend the due diligence period on the property despite several outstanding issues relating to its certificate of occupancy."

That deal fell through--and Thor's Joe Sitt got in on the action. Safka then sued Thor.

Through all the fighting over the property, Lee's stayed open.

photo: NY Times

Steinberg and Isaacs are the children of Gilbert Steinberg, who died in 2008. With his wife, Ruth, Steinberg bought the original store in 1951 and moved it to this building in 1975. They purchased the building 20 years later.

"The building would likely be transformed into a high-end retail box," industry pros told The Real Deal three years ago. The distinctive structure was built in 1897 and is known as the Society House of the American Society of Civil Engineers. It was once home to a Schrafft’s restaurant. And it is landmarked.

Lee's is beloved across the city. "It never fails," wrote the Times in 2012. "You go into Lee’s Art Shop, half a block from Carnegie Hall, as a customer — usually for something prosaic like a couple of Pilot Razor Points from their amazing 215-slot pen rack — and leave wishing you were an artist."

The shop is currently having a major liquidation sale, with deals up to 75% off.

Market Diner Demolished

When we last checked in with the doomed Market Diner it was locked behind green plywood. Now reader Shade Rupe sends in photos of the gruesome remains.

photo: Shade Rupe

A bit of stone foundation still stands. A stairway to nowhere. The rest is dust.

photo: Shade Rupe

The Market Diner was here since 1962. It was beautiful and unusual. Developer Joseph Moinian's Moinian Group bought it, evicted it, and is replacing it with a 13-story building. If it matches their existing two towers across the street, it will be yet another dull, dead luxury box.

You can like those towers or hate those towers. But here's the thing: All the glass boxes around the city are making us sick--mentally and physically. They are literally killing us as they hasten our deaths.

Cognitive neuroscientist Colin Ellard studied what happens to people on the sidewalk when they stand in front of a bland glass façade. In one study, he placed human subjects in front of the Whole Foods grocery store on the Lower East Side, strapped skin-conducting bracelets to their wrists, and asked them to take notes on their emotional states.

He reported, “When planted in front of Whole Foods, my participants stood awkwardly, casting around for something of interest to latch on to and talk about. They assessed their emotional state as being on the wrong side of ‘happy’ and their state of arousal was close to bottoming out. The physiological instruments strapped to their arms showed a similar pattern. These people were bored and unhappy. When asked to describe the site, words such as bland, monotonous and passionless rose to the top of the charts.”

Moinian's two towers across the street

In his book Happy City, Charles Montgomery calls this “an emerging disaster in street psychology.” The loss of old buildings and small businesses, the homogenization from suburban chains and condo boxes, is more than an aesthetic loss. It is damaging us both psychologically and physically.

Writes Montgomery, “The big-boxing of a city block harms the physical health of people living nearby, especially the elderly. Seniors who live among long stretches of dead frontage have actually been found to age more quickly than those who live on blocks with plenty of doors, windows, porch stoops, and destinations.”

You have to wonder if the developers and corporations putting up these buildings and facades actually want anyone around. Montgomery points out that many corporate towers are built to be “deeply misanthropic,” intended to actively repel people with repellant street-level design. In a city where people are reconceived as consumers, not citizens, it is best to keep everyone moving and disconnected.

Market Diner in happier days

The opposite is true when people walk along a diverse block of small businesses and buildings. As Ellard found on the Lower East Side, they feel “lively and engaged.”

Visually interesting architecture and human-scaled, idiosyncratic storefronts enliven us. I would bet that they stimulate our brains to produce happy chemicals, warding off stress and the damage it causes. It's not far-fetched to say that buildings like the Market Diner, with unusual shapes and inviting facades, don't just make us feel alive, they keep us alive. And yet City Hall continues to encourage developers to kill them off.

More and more, we are living in a zombie city, its aliveness murdered by politicians and developers. It's only a matter of time before all of New York becomes the undead.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Gene's Coffee Shop


A few weeks ago, while wandering around the east side of midtown, I found myself for the first time in Gene's Coffee Shop on 60th Street between Park and Madison. One of those overlooked treasures of the vanishing city, Gene's felt like a real find. An endangered species. A good old New York City coffee shop. Excited to be there, I thought: Now I have a place to eat in this neighborhood.

Well, call me a jinx.

photo via Yelp

Reader MM writes in: "On Thursday, there was a sign that they were closed for the day because of a gas cut-off. This seemed plausible, there's a huge building going up directly across the street. Today there was an eviction notice in the door."

Is this yet another case of death by gas cut-off? It almost happened to the B&H Dairy. It did happen to The Stage restaurant in the East Village, La Taza de Oro in Chelsea, Mariella's Pizza in Gramercy, and possibly several other small and older restaurants.

Businesses struggle without gas, lose money, and fold. Or the landlords take advantage of stricter gas codes, tightened since the Second Avenue explosion, and use them to evict. We don't know if that's the case here, but it's a growing problem in the city that no one in the mainstream media is reporting on -- and it is killing local businesses.

For some time, Gene's has been buried under scaffolding, which may have been a contributing factor to the closing.

Writes MM: "I work in this neighborhood, a lot of the diners have been dispossessed, usually because their buildings are knocked down. In this case, Gene's was suffering a little from the construction, but I figured they'd do okay when the new building went up. You could order and have things delivered in less than 10 minutes. The restaurant was always sparkling clean, with friendly staff of Greek and Spanish guys, dishing out food for people who worked nearby and for tourists. Eviction papers indicate the lease goes back to 1983, though the restaurant may be older."

Unless there's hope for Gene's, another authentic New York coffee shop vanishes--in a city where we are losing them by the day.

via Facebook

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Missing Mural

Peter Missing is at work on a new mural at the First Street Green Art Park -- a giant, golden, cyclopean version of his infamous upside-down martini glass, a.k.a. "The Party's Over," with scenes of toppling buildings and flowers.

On his Instagram page, he writes:

"We have started a new mural at Houston and 2nd Ave Peter Missing and Cyril Mazard at Art Park, NYC ... Happy to be back in the ghostland and my hood of the Lower East Side. Stop by over the next week and spin the art and politics around and grab me a mud coffee with milk and sugar from 1st and 1st - the nexus of the universe. See you soon and bring good vibes."

To which he adds, "Missing Foundation performance in front of mural May 21, 2016."

Mark your calendars. And let's hope the performance will include witches, yuppies, and mysterious satanic rituals. Just like in the old days.

(h/t to Alex)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Showman's Jazz Club

Showman's jazz club has been in Harlem since 1942. They've hosted many of the greats, including Sara Vaughan, Eartha Kitt, and Duke Ellington. With 74 years under their belt, they are Harlem's longest running jazz club -- after the wasteful and tragic destruction of the elder Lenox Lounge.

Last week, Showman's posted the following "farewell" announcement on their Facebook page:

Reader Carrie Butterworth sent in the tip and followed up with some questions for the owners. She reports: "Mona Lopez and Al Howard are selling the business so they can retire."

Lopez and Howard have been running the club for the past 38 years. (Howard was one of the NYPD detectives who took the call when Martin Luther King was stabbed by a woman with a letter opener. He was also a supervisor on the hunt for Son of Sam.)

Showman's has moved three times since 1942. Their original building, next to the Apollo, was destroyed by fire. "After playing at the Apollo," writes Butterworth, "the musicians used to go next door and play their own music, hence the name Showman's."

They were pushed out of their second location by the Harlem USA mega-development. And they've been in their current spot on 125th since 1998.

Washington Post photo

Butterworth says, "What I and so many other people enjoy about this bar is the sense of community and family. It's full of regulars--Harlem old-timers and people who are friends with the musicians--who show up every time to support their friends. If it's your birthday, they'll have a cake and some chicken and rice.

A lot of the new jazz clubs charge you a cover, then you have to buy dinner or drinks, and then they throw you out after the set, unless you want to buy another table charge. At Showman's, there's only a 2 drink minimum per set. You can stay all night. The barmaids, or as they call them 'star-maids,' know what you drink, and have it ready."

She does not know who is buying the building. However, she adds, "they claim they'll keep it as a jazz club."

Let's hope they do. Rezoned by the Bloomberg administration, 125th Street is being destroyed by chain stores and other developments. Let's hope the new owners keep Showman's accessible, affordable, and welcoming to all, just as it has always been.