Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Newspapers - Tobacco

The Village has lost a great old sign.

For many years at 233 Bleecker, above one newsstand or another, there hung a vintage sign that read NEWSPAPERS - TOBACCO.

Today, with the space for rent, there's nothing but the ghost. The letters and Coca-Cola shields have been ripped down.

Here's how it looked until recently. And, before that, back in 2007.

I always liked seeing it as a I walked by, a piece of the past that had somehow, against all odds, persevered. It was a survivor. Maybe I identified with it. Seeing the sign, I would feel a sense of relief--I'm still here--thinking, "It's still there."

And now it isn't.

They call these signs privilege signs (thanks Tom). David Dunlap at the New York Times wrote about them--and their vanishing--last year:

"What is lost along with privilege signs is a sense of modesty and history. They speak of a time when store owners did not emphasize who they were as much as what they sold: fruits, vegetables, stationery, toys, candy and sandwiches. They are a visual link to the years of the Great Depression and World War II."

Several privilege signs appear in James and Karla Murray's Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York. Most have already vanished.

As Karla told the Times: “The loss of these old signs and the stores signifies a loss in the neighborhood."

Monday, November 24, 2014

NEWSical for Cafe Edison

Big thanks to Tom and Michael D'Angora, producers of NEWSical the Musical, for this terrific short film in which "Liza Minelli" and "Larry King," played by Christine Pedi and Michael West, along with the real Jackie Hoffman, plot ways to #SaveCafeEdison. They're sending "twats" to SJP and Matthew:


Hooters has arrived where Peep World once was.

In 2012, good old Peep World shuttered right across from Penn Station. We soon learned it would be replaced by a Hooters.

Now the big neon signs are up on 7th Avenue and 33rd, the green-shingled Peep World facade (formerly a Burger King, and before that an Automat) has been replaced with glass, and the Help Wanted signs are in the window, announcing "Everyone Looks Good in Orange." (Does that include the heavy-set, the small-breasted, the male? How does Hooters get away with discrimination in hiring?)

There is a large Hootie the Owl inside, its wide eyes a pair of not-so subliminal boobs gawking out at the street.

And the place is enormous. It didn't just take up the entire 33rd Street Peep World space, it looks like it runs straight through the neighboring building, across a whole floor, with windows on the avenue. It is making its presence known.

In 2012, I wrote about the shift from Peep World to Hooters. I'll say again what I said then:

Hooters is a watered-down, suburbanized version of Peep World and all the other XXX joints that have been erased from the city. It's worse because it's a "family restaurant" that's really all about big tits.

Unlike Hooters, Peep World didn't pretend to be family friendly, it didn't have a children's menu, and it didn't have TV commercials where a dim-witted blonde said, "Hey kids, wanna do your dad a really big favor? Tell your mom you wanna go to Peep World."

Peep World didn't sell creepy branded merchandise to kids, either, like "I'm a Boob Man" onesies and "Your Crib Or Mine?" bibs. And it didn't market to children with the slogan "Life Begins at Peep World."

Peep World was a nasty place for adults. It was raw and dirty and funky, like the city used to be. It wasn't an airbrushed sexcapade for tired, middle-aged frat boys to get their kicks during "family time" after a game of golf.

Peep World was New York. It wasn't Tampa or Dallas or Knoxville. It wasn't a bland international chain.

And I'll tell you something else--at Peep World, you could find all kinds of sex: straight, gay, transgender, plus every brand of kink. It was an all-inclusive smut experience. Hooters, on the other hand, sells one flavor of sex: vanilla. And does New York City really need more vanilla?

This swap, with all of its cruel irony, encapsulates the city's cultural colon cleanse. Greasy burger joints have to be replaced with sanitized Shake Shacks. Grubby bodegas must be transformed into soulless 7-11's. We can't have a Peep World, because it's too dirty, dark, and weird. Instead, we get a corporate suburban chain that peddles sex disguised as all-American hot wings.

In the end, which is more degrading?

Peep World Closing
Peep World to Hooters
Peep World Remnants
Paper Magazine

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Dance Manhattan


After 22 years in Chelsea, Dance Manhattan is no more as of this Saturday. Their landlord decided not to renew their lease.

Once again, the closure is not due to a lack of customers. The dance studio was thriving. Their popular salsa night with Jimmy Anton recently attracted 450 dancers. But the landlord doubled the rent and is seeking another kind of business.

Co-owner Elena Iannucci told me, "New York is not kind to dance studios any longer. It's the real estate market. They want a tech company here."

Back in the spring, Elena told DNA, "you have the Googles and the Yelps and the Yahoos…who are looking for space and they become the people that buildings like this one want to rent to and not necessarily to those of us in the arts who are providing dance to the public.”

She tried to find a new space, looking everywhere in town, but there was nothing affordable to be found, so she is forced to close. Many of the instructors will be moving over to the You Should Be Dancing studio. Some are flying solo, hoping their students will follow.

Tomorrow night is Dance Manhattan's final Open House Guest Night, a free social dance party from 9:00 p.m. until midnight. The dance showcase starts at 10pm--and there are free snacks. For $5 you get a dance lesson at 8:00.

On Saturday, it's the drop-in tango workshop. And adios.

727 Hardware

For 80 years, 727 Hardware has been serving the neighborhood around its location on 6th Avenue and 24th Street. They even survived the arrival of Home Depot just a block away. But recently, their landlord told them to go. The Heart Vein medical office upstairs, with the blinding, flashing LED billboard, is expanding.

So the hardware store is going.

Luckily, they found a new spot at 328 8th Avenue, between 26th and 27th. They've already got the shop mostly packed up.

I like an old hardware store. This one's not my local, but I've picked up a few items here in the past.

As an old shop, it has some nice features, like the vintage lettering on the windows--and inside, too.

When I visited, a very accommodating young man gave me a tour of the place. He showed me an ornate staircase leading down to the basement, and a weird bathroom window that, he said, led to a secret passageway between the buildings.

The hardware store's building is neighbor to a building that had once been Koster and Bial's "The Corner," a saloon connected to the famous music halls of the day. Eagle-eyed urbanists are often drawn to that cornice up above.

In the 1939 shot below, from the NYPL's archives, you can see a sliver of the original hardware store on the far right. Next to a Playland arcade, it was then called "Sol's" hardware store. You could get two keys made for 15 cents.


In the following 1936 photo, also from the NYPL archives, the shop is some kind of "bargain bazaar," and not a hardware store. So maybe it didn't quite make it to 80 years.

I share this photo for the great shot of Playland--and the description of the arcade on the back of the image, which reads: "It is provided with a rifle range, many slot-machine games, and cheap recorded music, as a diversion for people with not too fine an appreciation for good entertainment."


Well, I suppose the same could still be said today of that spot, occupied as it is with a XXX shop selling DVDs and rubber goods. And thank goodness for that. Sadly, we lost Billy's Topless from the Koster & Bial spot in 2001.

And now this old hardware store is going, almost 80 years, gutted for vein treatments. I'll miss seeing it there. I liked walking by and thinking, "Now there's a survivor."

Please find them at their new space on 8th Avenue, between 26th and 27th, after December 1.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Johnson for Cafe Edison

First, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer wrote a letter supporting a new lease for Cafe Edison. Then New York State Senator Brad Hoylman stepped up with his own letter. Now Manhattan District 3 Council Member Corey Johnson offers the following:

He writes: "The Cafe Edison is more than just a restaurant; it is part of the fabric of New York City...one of the last remaining bastions where people from all walks of life can meet and enjoy an affordable meal in Times Square."

He cites recent losses to Times Square--including Colony Records and McHale's--and says, "We cannot afford to lose the Cafe Edison now." He asks Edison Hotel owner Gerald Barad to grant the restaurant a lease.

Thank you to Mr. Johnson for this beautiful letter.

Don't forget, if you've missed our last three Lunch Mobs, or just want more, this Thursday (tomorrow) night we're having a Dinner Mob to Save Cafe Edison with a great klezmer band. Don't miss it. (Click here for details.)

Honest Boy Fruit Stand


"The dirty, polluted, overpriced, but iconic fruit stand at the corner of Broadway and Houston is no more," writes in Joe. "For some reason, I already miss it terribly."

Maybe they're on a long vacation, but they've been shuttered for at least 10 days and the stand has become littered with empty coffee cups and other detritus, so it certainly appears to be gone for good.


When the Wall Street Journal announced in 2013 that the fruit stand's parcel had been sold by the MTA to a real-estate developer for $26 million, they called it an "unglamorous pocket on the northern lip of luxurious Soho."

Maybe that's why Joe, and many others, miss it--it was a scrappy holdout from another time, a reminder of the neighborhood that's been wiped out.

April 2014

Its name was the Honest Boy fruit stand, and it was opened by Louis Arenas in 1980--the letters that spelled out "The Honest Boy" had that New Wavy '80s look, but the cast-iron stand dates back to the 1950s.

At least three times the stand came close to shutting down. In 2000, the MTA wanted to kick them out so they could convert the space into a lot for vehicle maintenance. People fought back. The Times reported, "In 1984, when the Metropolitan Transit Authority refused to renew the lease after it purchased the plot, community groups saved the business. When an electrical substation was proposed in 1992, hundreds of protesters derailed the project."

At that time, New York magazine reported that the stand had "become a Community Board 2 cause celebre, replete with petitions, street protest, a mean letter-writing campaign, and, of course, agitprop posters and murals."

New York magazine, 1992

This time around, no one came out to fight for Honest Boy. Or, if they did, they didn't make much noise.

Maybe it was Mr. Arenas that everyone loved so much. Around 2004, he became ill, reported The Sun, and transferred the lease of the stand to Pan Gi Lee.

April 2014

In 2006, the MTA and Mr. Lee proposed to transform the corner with a "two-story glass, steel, and aluminum building," incorporating the fruit stand into something larger and more permanent. But Community Board 2 fought against it.

According to The Sun: "The director of the SoHo Alliance, Sean Sweeney, called the proposed design 'absurd,' and said he is worried the stand would evolve into something more. 'It will be a coffee scene. All the cool people are going to go in there and it will lose its charm,' Mr. Sweeney said."

April 2014

What's coming next will be big and glassy--of course. Charmless and created for all the cool people, it has already pissed off the neighbors.