Monday, February 27, 2017

Mon Petit Cafe

VANISHING

Mon Petit Cafe, a 1980s-era French bistro on Lexington and 62nd Street, says adieu. The climate for small businesses in New York, they say, is "a crushing force."


Wall Street Journal

From their Facebook page:

"It is with very heavy hearts that we inform the community that Mon Petit Café has closed after 32 years in business. We are so deeply grateful to all of our customers, many of whom have been with us since we opened our doors in 1984.

It has been our family’s (and extended family of staff’s) way of life to run our little restaurant and serve favorites like croque monsiers, quiche and steak au poivre every day (closing just on Christmas day every year). MPC’s owner Daniele raised her children behind these windows and managed even to stay afloat in 1990 after the passing of her husband/business partner. Her eldest, Alessandra, stayed on and eventually filled the empty shoes of co-owner with her mom.

Nevertheless, the climate for small business like ours in New York City has become a crushing force. Mom-and-pop stores of all kinds are now an endangered species in our city. Small business are all but disappeared in our neighborhood, giving way to massive Duane Reades, banks and Starbucks on seemingly every corner. Despite our best efforts to keep MPC alive, our reality is that we carried on 'in the red' for quite some time.

With each closing door, is the beginning of a new chapter. If you miss us as much as we miss you, good news: we will come to you! Alessandra is now concentrating her efforts on her catering and private chef business. Keep in touch and email her at alessprivatechef@gmail.com.

Our most sincere thanks once more to all of our patrons. We hope you will remember us, and think fondly upon this corner each time you pass as we will do."

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Waldorf Astoria Hotel

VANISHING

The historic Waldorf Astoria hotel is about to vanish. Not physically, but spiritually. It was purchased last year by the Chinese corporation Anbang Insurance Group. They plan to take 1,100 rooms and convert them into condos. The remaining few hundred rooms will be upgraded into a "high-end, boutique hotel that appeals to international (and Asian) travelers," according to The Real Deal.

The hotel will close March 1, making February 28 the last night you can stay there for the next three years. And, of course, it will never be the same. Prices will certainly rise (it's reasonably priced right now). As Kim Velsey recently wrote in "The Death of New York’s Grand Hotels" for Surface magazine, "a condo and a hotel...occupy vastly different positions in the emotional terrain of a city."

So I said goodbye to the old Waldorf by spending the night.



I checked in at 3:00 p.m. and didn't leave the hotel until 10:00 the next morning. Checking in, the clerk saw my New York address and laughed, telling me that many New Yorkers are reserving rooms, coming to say goodbye. She gave me coupons for free drinks, "from one New Yorker to another." I dropped my backpack in my room, a small and serviceable space with a soft bed and a deep bathtub.

I had a free drink at the Peacock cocktail lounge, with its pianist playing Cindi Lauper's "Time After Time" and its American tourists doing nothing of interest, and then I went wandering.



Wandering the corridors and staircases of the Waldorf is a great pleasure. You don't have to be a guest to do it--they're very permissive of the curious public--but it helps to feel like you belong. There are no locked doors here.

I drifted through rooms for conference meetings and wedding parties, lined in mirrors and topped with chandeliers, the art deco details filled with flowers and women's faces. I went down into the Marco Polo room, a dark and abandoned club, and up into the empty Grand Ballroom with its red velvet balconies and tattered stage where I once saw Buzz Aldrin tell the story of his walk on the Moon.



I looked through the shop windows of Elliot Stevens, an antiques and art gallery recently accused of selling knock-offs to tourists in the grand old New York tradition. Amid the wares, with their massive price tags, were signs proclaiming "Going Out of Business" and "End of an Era at the Waldorf Hotel."

I walked the empty South Lounge corridor, where no one goes, and where there's a plaque for the National Mothers Hall of Fame, dedicated in 1970 by the American Mothers Committee and filled with names you've never heard, like Mrs. Elizabeth Poe Cloud and Dr. Mary Martin Sloop, those once celebrated mothers.



The halls of the hotel are filled with Waldorf history--photographs, artifacts, an old telephone with the old exchange (ELdorado-5), a program for a Frank Sinatra concert (at the Wedgwood Room), fancy soup spoons and door knobs and ledger books rotted with age.

I kept wondering: Where will it all go? The place is one big museum. Will the Chinese corporation take it all? Will they dump it the way workers once dumped the apartment of my dead neighbor, the wreckage of his long life piled on the sidewalk?



I had another free drink at the Peacock lounge and ate the obligatory Waldorf Salad, listening to the great lobby clock chime each 15 minutes, noting the rapid passage of time. What will the Chinese businessmen do with that clock?

Made in the 1800s, it is topped by the Statue of Liberty and ringed with the faces of American presidents, plus Queen Victoria, along with a bunch of bulls and bears, and bas relief scenes of suspension bridges and athletic men with curly mustaches.



Will the public still be welcomed into the lobby to enjoy that clock?

Once the place is converted to condos and upscaled, will average New Yorkers still be free to roam the halls and ballrooms? Or will the Waldorf die under glass, domed beneath a bell jar of chilly international capital? At the Peacock lounge, the hostess said, "I heard the condos will go for $6 million apiece." Or did she say $60 million? No price surprises anymore. New York, the city that Mayor Bloomberg called a "luxury product," is going to the highest bidder, to international billionaires who buy it up then leave it empty, a vertical ghost town that no one enjoys. All of its treasures are being taken from us. All the life drained away.

When I woke up at the Waldorf the next morning, I could not wait to leave. I'm tired of funerals.





Tuesday, February 14, 2017

High-Rent Blight at 4th & Bank

There used to be a laundromat on West 4th and Bank. I often took its picture because it seemed like a particularly poignant laundromat, especially at night. The laundress would stand working in the window, folding clothing. She had a habit of hanging the peels of clementines to dry on the window's grillwork, creating flowery shapes. At Christmastime, she'd hang candy canes.



One day, her window was gone. The Marc Jacobs children's store next door expanded into it. And then, this past spring, the whole laundromat vanished.

Its boutique replacement is called Le Labo, manufacturers of fine perfumery.



Everything is faux rustic and old-timey artisanal, right down to the "lab technicians," who wear waxed canvas aprons imported all the way from Brooklyn.

They've got a scent diffuser made from an Edison bulb and a hunk of wood that's been "forged from the reclaimed wood of New York’s water tanks." It sells for $590. Everything in Le Labo is pricey. Like their Concrete Candle, "another result," they say, "of our obsession with craftsmanship. It has been poured in our lab in Mississippi and its concrete vessel has been handcrafted in California." It comes in a shipping crate "inspired from shipping crates." It sells for $450.

If you find the prices shocking, you can't say you weren't warned. On their window, Le Labo sports the following quote attributed to Thomas Edison: "We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles."



Yankee Candle proves that wrong, but it's not the actual quote. Edison wasn't trying to elevate the candle's socioeconomic status. What he originally said in 1880 was: "After the electric light goes into general use, none but the extravagant will burn tallow candles."

P.S.
Since I wrote up this post a couple of months ago, the Marc Jacobs children's store--the one that encroached into the laundress' space--has shuttered. It sits empty with windows blackened.

Across Bank Street, a space that was most recently--and very briefly--Hamilton's soda fountain also sits empty and for rent.



And next to that is yet another empty space. This one was a coffee place that took over when the great Left Bank Books got the boot, along with its laundromat neighbor. Now the coffee place is kaput.

Left Bank moved a few blocks away, but couldn't make it and shuttered that spot last year, just like many displaced small businesses. They've been replaced by a designy shop "born out of a palpable void in the lifestyle market for quality, accessible, home goods." And how long do you think that's going to last before high-rent blight comes to claim it?

So, to circle back, we once had a bookstore and a couple of laundromats that served a necessary function and had been around for ages. And now we've got three empty shops next to a shop full of extravagance that will likely be empty in another year or two.

Meanwhile, I miss the bookstore. And the woman with the orange peels. 





Monday, February 13, 2017

Liberty House

VANISHING

Liberty House, at 112th and Broadway, is vanishing after 49 years in business. And it's no ordinary local shop.


photo: Jed Egan, New York magazine

It is the last of its kind, a small chain of New York shops first organized in 1965 by Abbie Hoffman and other civil rights workers in Mississippi to sell goods made by poor women of color, with the profits going back to the original communities, and to support the Civil Rights Movement.

I talked to co-owner Martha who told me the shop will shutter at the end of April. They'll be having a sale until then, from 20% to 50% off.

This time, it's not the rent. "People aren't shopping," Martha said. "They're going online. It's convenient. They tell me, 'I can sit at home and shop in my pajamas.' But people have to shop local or else there won't be any stores anymore."


photo via Liberty House Facebook page

The second-to-last Liberty House shuttered in 2007, also on the Upper West Side. It was a victim of rising rents.

Back then, a customer told the Times, “I don’t know how you stop these people. They’re throwing everyone out right and left, and it’s going to be a neighborhood of Duane Reades and Godiva chocolates. This store should have made it.”

Said one of the shop's partners, “The diversity of people, both incomes and interests, has lessened and we have more of what we used to call upwardly mobile people, who shop online or drive to malls, or get in cabs and go to Barneys.”

At this last Liberty House, Martha asks everyone to go up, buy something, and say goodbye to this piece of New York's history, a shop dedicated to liberation and economic justice--something we need now more than ever. They say farewell on their Facebook page:

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Andre Opening

Recently, I watched "My Dinner with Andre" for the first time. It begins in the most promising way. The camera follows Wallace Shawn as he walks downtown, along Canal Street past the old electronics and junk shops, past vanished Pearl Paint.



He gets on the grubby old subway and heads uptown, all while voice-over narrating the daily challenges of the actor's life--no work, no money, just a mailbox full of bills and a lot of errands involving stationery and xerox shops.

Then he gets to the actual dinner with Andre and it's a different movie (the restaurant scene was filmed on a set in Richmond, Virginia), which is fine, but I found myself wishing the whole thing was more like the opening, which you can watch right here:




P.S. Here's what Pearl Paint looks like today--the sign has been completely removed:

Monday, February 6, 2017

The New Quad

A couple of years ago, the great little Quad cinema closed, sold to real-estate developer Charles S. Cohen--but with plans to renovate and use it to film selections from the Cohen Film Collection.

In this month's Surface magazine, there's an interview with Cohen about what's coming for the Quad.



According to the magazine, the cinema will reopen in April, after an extensive renovation that includes a wine bar, and it will be co-run by C. Mason Wells, the former film programmer for IFC.

“I always wanted a theater,” Cohen told Surface. “I tried to buy several different chains, but I was never successful. It was an opportunity to do something and use different skills—design, real estate, film."

One of the four screens at the Quad will be dedicated to classic films. The whole thing will be "a curated experience," with "soul."

“I think it’s going to be a game changer,” said Cohen. “I think it’s going to be one of the best places to see film in New York. The programmers will create a new standard. It’s what New York is missing.”

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Carnegie Deli Sign II

Yesterday, we watched the Carnegie Deli sign get taken apart.

Today, Tweet Ulrich tweeted this heartbreaking shot of it being carted away.



The building is coming down. Mega-developer Extell is buying it.

On and on and on it goes.