Monday, December 12, 2011

Brownfeld Auto

VANISHING

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."



Further reading:
Bear Auto
Goodbye Poppy's
The Upper High Line
New High Line
Eagle Under Siege
Folsom Under High Line

14 comments:

BrooksNYC said...

Reading this makes me heartsick. What a wrenchingly sad beginning to the week.

Anonymous said...

Bummer. There's a beginning, middle, and end to everything.

EV Grieve said...

The New NYC: Characters NOT welcome

JAZ said...

I knew this one was coming, just as you did Jeremiah, but wow this is painful to read. Alan Brownfeld, and his family before him IS New York; his comments show a very accurate understanding of what exactly is at work here; there is no more room in this city for people like Alan; to the powers that be, the existence of Gasoline Alley, an actual Meat Packing District with the smells of beef (and underground Fetish clubs), and Peep Shows are nothing but a blight on their over polished sensibilities. It is space better served by artisanal cupcake shoppes, Marc Jacobs popups, and the world's largest Applebees.

This city is now a sandbox for tourists, the extremely wealthy, and the so called ultra-hip looking to hit every rooftop party, while occasionally 'slumming it' without getting their hands dirty.

In a perfect world, city mayors all the way down to community boards would serve the interests of the people who made something from nothing on their blocks, defined what it means to be a New Yorker, and gave it life, instead of jamming hyper-gentrification down the rest of our throats like bad medicine.

Anonymous said...

Alan rocks...a good hearted man just trying to carry on his family tradition and run a business. He will be missed.

chris flash said...

No offense to Alan, who to me is a wonderful guy, and an example of the REAL New York that I've loved all of my life, but WHY, after being in the same spot for 100 years, didn't anyone in his family just BUY the fucking building?

Before the current hyper-gentrification when the market was on its ass because of the perceived notoriety of NYC, real estate was realistically priced and affordable, especially before the 1980s.

We've lost so many REAL New York businesses and venues, but the old-timers that remain are those who bought their buildings so that no matter what the economy, they couldn't be booted by a greedy landlord or get their rent jacked up.

Take the Poseiden Bakery on Ninth Ave (at 45th Street) -- they're in their third generation of operation. The grandfather was renting a place at Ninth + 41st Street when the block was razed to accommodate the Port Authority. As his daughter told me, her dad said "This will never happen again." He simply walked up Ninth Avenue and found a building for sale (this was the late 40s-early 50s) and used his savings to buy it. They've been there ever since.

Alan Brownfield's story is heart breaking -- the demise of his business is another nail in the coffin of New York City....

ellen g said...

Reading this makes me really angry. Alan is an incredibly kind hearted soul who has given so much of himself to friends and total strangers alike. I don't see how we can call this progress. A very honorable man has been put out of business long before his time, simply in the name of tourism. City planners don't seem to get it - tourists want to see movie-calibre evidence of old-time New York,.... small family run businesses and old-time restaurants, places that have stood the test of time, trusted merchants that have become as comfortable as family. My New York is rapidly evaporating. Thank God for the memories....

Alan, I wish you the all the love, joy and success life has to offer. I know your life will be amazing wherever you are and whatever you do.

xxxooo
ellen

Goggla said...

Excellent post, Jeremiah. When people ask me why I care about the recent dramatic changes that have come to this city, I'll send them this article. It's people and businesses like Alan that are the soul of the city. This is a great and sad loss.

DGI said...

I'm completely on Alan Brownfeld's side in this, and I despise Michael Bloomberg. But it's important, when fighting the good fight, to keep things straight and clear. The High Line isn't Bloomberg's project. I'm sure he thinks it fits his agenda, but it started long before him and out of decent intentions. And it's not for glamorous people. I know that's the rap it gets, but let's face it - anyone can go there, anyone can enjoy it or not, equally. I just want to avoid assigning enemy status to the wrong things, as doing so will never make the fight easier.

John M said...

'In a perfect world, city mayors all the way down to community boards would serve the interests of the people who made something from nothing on their blocks, defined what it means to be a New Yorker, and gave it life, instead of jamming hyper-gentrification down the rest of our throats like bad medicine.'

It wasn't perfect by any means, but I remember that world. It was pretty nice.

Shawn Chittle said...

My storage unit is right next door and I always loved stopping by this place. I'm originally from Flint so I'm an old car guy.

Awww man. This is such bullshit.

All the best to you Alan!

Jeremiah Moss said...

Shawn, i have a feeling your storage unit may be next to go. the High Line does not like storage units.

Spyro Poulos said...

Criminal is what it is - we NEED Auto Shops and gas stations! Seriously! I would give up 100 Highlines for more mom and pop businesses.

BabyDave said...

I nominate

"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."

for quote of the year