On Bleecker Street, there was a deep and narrow shop filled with collectible vintage toys. I remember entire armies of cast-iron men pouring over miniature war-torn hillsides, tin dirigibles and airplanes with spinning propellers, painted hobby horses, carousels, model trains. It was a wonder. But when I walked by yesterday it all was gone, a FOR RENT sign on the front.
In the window I saw the pale, boyish face of Van Dexter, the man who presided over the shop for the past 39 years. I waved to him and he invited me inside. In his late 80s, Mr. Dexter may be hard of hearing, but his skin is smooth, almost translucent, and his eyes are sharp. He stood in the ruins of his once-packed shop, now stripped bare, all the toys taken by a single buyer. He is putting his beloved carousel horses up for auction. "I hate to see them go, most of all," he told me. He won't open another shop, though, and hopes to get back into acting.
He gave me a souvenir pen that doesn't write unless "you lick it or light the end with a match." He licked the ballpoint to demonstrate and handed me a card. On it, I noted the scandalous rent increase that has pushed him out of his neighborhood: It's going from $7,000 a month to $15,000. When he first moved in, back in 1969, he was paying $150.