The High Line has just claimed another victim. Since the luxury park opened into the upper reaches of Chelsea, the existing long-time businesses have been under siege. The 10th Avenue Tire Shop was pushed out. Poppy's shuttered. Bear Auto was forced to close. And now Brownfeld Auto Service, after over a century in business, will be gone by Christmas.
When I walk into the Brownfeld autobody shop, a noisy garage surprisingly decorated with a gallery of paintings, I am greeted by its third-generation proprietor, Alan Brownfeld. A biker with a thick handlebar mustache and oil-stained hands, he's warm and welcoming. You can just as easily imagine him drinking with Hell's Angels as putting on a Santa suit for a roomful of needy kids--which he does every year on his motorcycle with Toys for Tots.
Alan is a busy and popular man. He answers my questions in between catering to customers and greeting the many friends who come by to spend time with him. As Alan says, "This is more than just an autobody shop, it's a social club for friends, family, and customers to hang out morning, noon, and night. People don't go home after work." They'd rather be at Brownfeld's.
A businessman on his way home to Jersey stops in, then a firefighter in uniform and a biker in leathers come by. A young woman customer visits after her dentist appointment and opens a beer. Her name is Amy and she says, "You come here and feel like part of a family. Alan is a New York City icon. Everybody knows his name. He's got a big heart and what's happening to him is an injustice. The neighborhood will suffer greatly."
"Even people without cars will miss us," says Alan. "They'll miss our Friday barbecues. I feed the whole neighborhood--homeless people, anyone who comes by." But this Friday will be the last of the famous Brownfeld cookouts.
Alan's landlord can get much more money for this spot, thanks to the High Line. Alan has been fighting in court for seven months--"as a true New Yorker, I don't go down that easy"--but he knows he can't win and he's decided to take a deal. While he has hung his garage with found paintings, "to be part of the trendy art block," his type of business is no longer welcome here by the powers that be.
"This business has been a landmark since the 1890s," he tells me. "When my grandfather built it as a horse and buggy business, we were fixing wooden wheels and the springs on stagecoaches." He pulls a chain from his neck and shows me the gold replica of a stagecoach spring he wears in honor of his heritage.
"The New York City streets have been good to me," he says. "The potholes have been good to me. Things were great until Bloomberg came into office. He fixed the streets, he took away my prostitutes, he raised the tolls--and that all meant less business. The he decided to build his own fucking park and he called it the High Line. It's for the city's glamorous people--and it's pushing Gasoline Alley out of Chelsea."
"It's gotten so bad," he adds, "last week the son of the guy who ran Bear Auto killed himself, jumped from a seven-story window."
Alan is a survivor--and a real mensch. He has placed every one of his employees in new jobs and he's looking to the future. "I'm leaving on my terms," he says, "not being pushed out. To hell with Bloomberg. I'm leaving with my head held high."
He hurries off to take care of a customer--they don't all know he's closing and he hasn't had the heart to tell them. A big guy named Harvey, Alan's friend and sometimes business partner, says he's not sure what's next, but he knows Alan will figure out something. He tells me how they planned to open a roll-your-own cigarettes shop called Okee-Dokee Smokee. They got the licenses and everything, but then the city cracked down and the plan fell through. It's hard to think about the end.
"I'm sad," Harvey says, his eyes tearing as he looks around at the place. "Alan puts on a good face, you know, 'life is good' and all that, but--it sucks. It's just really sad."
The Upper High Line
New High Line
Eagle Under Siege
Folsom Under High Line