8 of 10 businesses on the block are on the first floor of one residential building, #112-126 9th Ave. In November 2007, Morris Moinian's Fortuna Realty bought the building for $31.4 million. According to the Observer, Moinian planned "to renovate and upgrade, hoping to lure high-end retail to the storefronts on ground level." The renovating and upgrading has begun--and all 8 businesses will (eventually, quickly) be wiped out.
The first to vanish will be Chelsea Liquors. In business since about 1940, under the current ownership for over 30 years, they've been given 30 days to vacate the premises. The rent has jumped 300% and the lease is up. I went in to talk to the bereaved owner and a steady stream of regulars came in to grieve and express their anger. One guy told me, "I've known this man since I was a kid!" Another feared the sale of his home in the Fulton Houses projects across the avenue--he also told me that Donald Trump just bought his mother's home, the Lillian Wald Houses on the LES: not true as far I know, but this is what you call a case of "reality-based paranoia."
Second in line to vanish is the New China take-out joint next door. Their lease ends in September. The 9th Ave Gift Shop bodega has a lease extending until 2013, but neighbors suspect he'll be bought out before then. There's also Tamara Dry Cleaners, a Moneygram check-cashing place, Famous Deli, and the Sweet Banana Candy Store--hailed by NY Press as the best in town and "the only NYC candy shop that still makes 'candy shop' a term full of sinister meaning."
But the most heartbreaking loss will be the New Barber Shop.
I went in for a haircut and was warmly welcomed by Willie, one of the three barbers who man the shop's antique chairs. He told me their lease will end in a year and a half, but they may to go sooner, perhaps in the next 6 months, as soon as they can find a new place.
Run by Manuel Manolo for the past dozen or so years, the New Barber Shop is an unofficial social club, a community center, a home. Men sit in chairs silently or chatting in Spanish, surrounded by pictures of baseball players, boxers, and John F. Kennedy.
A friendly, talkative guy named Marshall ("but people call me Flaco--it means skinny") introduced himself. A wealth of information and a sort of barber shop ambassador, he knows everything that's happening up and down the block. He told me that the building is already being renovated to install a gym in the basement on one side and a parking garage on the other.
Flaco emphasized how special the shop is, saying, "You can't find another barber shop like this. It's full of characters, like me. In the day, we got the daytime characters. At night, after we close, we got the nighttime characters--the homeless guys come in then--and we all just hang out." When the barber shop and all the other businesses here are gone, Flaco said, "We'll have no place to go."
No, they won't, because whatever replaces the New Barber Shop, Chelsea Liquors, and the rest of those small businesses will be financially out of reach for Flaco and the many other lower-income neighborhood people. New retail in those spaces is "expected to reflect the trendy neighborhood," and it seems the new owner hopes to extend the super-luxury of the Meatpacking District and neighbors Maritime Hotel and Vikram Chatwal's soon-to-come Dream Downtown hotel (occupying a former homeless shelter).
According to Mr. Moinian's Fortuna Realty website, he owns 5 hotels, including the Dylan, a "lifestyle hotel...with all modern amenities," where he partnered with Britney Spears in the restaurant Nyla. Mr. Moinian looks for "hipness." He likes places "to see and be seen and all that good stuff."
- See more pictures of the block and the barber shop on my flickr
- The building is being managed by REM Residential
- The Times explores the disparity between rich and poor on 9th