Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Steve Stollman's Place

Yesterday Curbed reported that a former bike shop at 49 East Houston is to become a giant, 14-story, tumorous, cantilevered, residential building. Awful to contemplate, especially considering that the bike shop was not just a bike shop.


photo: Richard Perry/New York Times

The building, built in the 19th century, was owned by Steve Stollman who used the space to sell antique bars as well as original Automat machines. It was always fun to go inside and see Steve's Automats, along with a strange collection of people, posters, and other unusual things. He originally had 85 Automat machines--Abe Lebewohl even put one in the entrance of the Second Avenue Deli.

As they say on Passover, "It would have been enough," but 49 E. Houston was about even more than those lovely Automats.



Stollman used the space to provide a refuge for bicycle activists, including Time's Up and Critical Mass. And, as a former newsstand vendor himself, he also gave "aid and comfort to news dealers who are fighting the city's plan to replace their stands with little more than tricked-up billboards," according to an extensive New York Times article, aid and comfort that was--and still is--much needed as the city continues, like the big bad wolf, to blow down those houses of sticks and replace them with condo-style glass boxes.

Said Stollman to the Voice, "There is a kind of mall pall, a horrible gray uniformity," those glass boxes bring to our streets.

Steve sold the building earlier this year. I don't know why. According to the Times article, he had promised his partner, Melissa Miller, he'd someday sell and move upstate. Maybe that's what he did.


today, #49 ready for demolition

Said Miller, "It used to be you could walk around the city and see these little stores and you wondered what they did inside...It was curious. It was whimsical. Now there is no whimsy. There is only hard-edged business. Steve's is one of the last places of whimsy that I know of. It's a dying breed, places of whimsy."

Now Steve's place, too, must be counted among the city's bitterly regrettable dead.

12 comments:

meccows said...

crap, i really loved walking by that place.
:(

Anonymous said...

J, how do you find the strength to write obituary after obituary? This one evoked buried memories of my only visit to an Automat (they'd gone when I moved to the city): my mom & my aunt took my cousin & me. To kids, the Automat was a world of whimsy! Mom, Auntie, and Cuz are gone but the memory of that lunch remains, along with a spoon I swiped! Why is the world intent on killing whimsy, on destroying the magic in our lives?

anon. said...

I can't stand it anymore! I wish I never came across your blog (ignorance is bliss), but now I'm hooked (it's like a car crash you see that you don't want to see but just can't seem to avoid. I don't know what to do, where else to go/live. I miss NY, yet I'm here.

Jeremiah Moss said...

writing these obits is depressing, so i must get some masochistic gratification from it...and i can't stand it anymore either!

i look forward to the day when i won't have to write this blog--hopefully when the vanishings cease, hopefully NOT because everything good is gone.

Jill said...

My husband's band used to rehearse in that space in the 1980's. It was one of the last of its kind standing, but people get older and need to cash out I guess... too bad.

Anonymous said...

"Why is the world intent on killing whimsy, on destroying the magic in our lives?"

Very well said!
I remember Horn and Hardart, too... I ate there in the '70s and '80s, and believe the very last one closed down circa early '90s.

I'm what you might call a "big tough guy" but I literally get a tear in my eye when I see what's becoming of New York. I was born here, have lived here all my life and now I feel like its soul is literally dying (and a big part of my own history along with it).

Carol Gardens said...

The last automat was at 42nd and Third and it closed in 1991. I ate there quite a bit in the last days because I worked down the block. By that time, the machine were mostly for show; you got the bulk of your food steam table style.

Anonymous said...

One's NY experience is closely tied to a spectrum of little businesses & services; when they are taken away, a certain death occurs, again & again. Think of a beautiful rug with one after another of its threads removed. Is this why yunnies are attracted to threadbare lifestyles? They can admire their reflection in the shiny floor. It's as good as seeing ones self reflected in the neighbor's wall.

Anonymous said...

I'm extremely sad to see the loss of that space and the continuing loss of whimsy in New York. You should also mention that Steve used to run a museum on Puck Magazine (one if his great interests) in the lot next door to his building and then inside of it. It was amazing. Steve was one of the original distributors of Underground Comix in the E.vil. I used to talk toSteve a bunch. Last fall we discussed him having to sell, and how he's held out for so long. He really didn't have much money, and at his age he needed to do something to prepare for when he couldn't make a living with his hands, etc... He tried very hard to negotiate that any new building have community space set aside. As far as I know, there is supposed to be basement space for community use in the new building (although maybe I'm wrong...) ANyway, Steve was a great New York character and while it is sad to see him go, this was somewhat inevitable. It's too bad the real estate forces are what they are currently, preventing an equally whimsical new yorker from buying the space from Steve.

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks anon for the inside info on steve's decision to sell. sounds like it wasn't an easy decision to make. in general, people may talk about "selling out" but there's also the issue of simple survival.

and you're right, there are few choices for interesting newcomers looking to buy. what replaces the old, the "whimsical," is inevitably the vapid.

paul said...

one problem was that steve wasn't a salesman, he was a museum curator. he never wanted really to sell anything, only to look at it and discuss it, preferably with a smoke in his hand. he was/is a collector of nyc memorabilia including olde subway signs, street signs, original iron gates, vending machines, etc. his way of maintaining his collection was to put a price straight out of the collector's brochure, a price you most likely could not afford. steve is a great personality and quite a character, but not much of a businessman. he would most likely be proud of such a sentiment...

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