Yesterday, Corey Kilgannon at the New York Times reported that my favorite barber shop, the New Barber Shop on 9th Avenue and 18th Street in Chelsea, will be closing very soon. He mentions the closure on the fourth page of the slideshow and adds:
"the other small businesses on this stretch of Ninth Avenue between 17th and 18th Streets are set to close as early as May 31 to make way for a bigger tenant."
We first heard this terrible news in 2008. Back then, I reported on Morris Moinian's purchase of the building that spans nearly the entire block of 9th Avenue, from 17th to 18th, and his plans to replace all of the small businesses there with high-end retail.
Weeks after breaking that news, I attended a rally to save the block. Organized by Andrew Berman, Miguel Acevedo, and Gloria Sukenik, the rally attracted 200 angry locals. Senator Tom Duane and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer spoke to the impassioned crowd. Assembly member Dick Gottfried said, "A neighborhood is not a neighborhood if it's overrun by high-end boutiques, banks, and chain stores."
By November of that year, 30-year-old Chelsea Liquors had vanished, eventually replaced by a Subway franchise. One of the block's bodegas closed sometime after that, but the remainders held on--from the Tamara Dry Cleaners to the barber shop to the Chinese take-out joint to the wonderful Sweet Banana Candy Store.
Time went on and it seemed the block had somehow been spared.
Then this March a new sign appeared outside the residential entrance of the building that holds all these mom-and-pops.
"Distinctive rentals," it says. The building is now called Stonehenge 18--it was bought from Moinian by the Stonehenge group in February of this year. The Post reported that the new owners "will fix up everything including the hallways and lobby and will reposition the retail."
Soon after this sign appeared, the Moneygram check-cashing joint shut down, with angry signs in the window saying they'd been denied a new lease.
I got nervous. I wrote a profile of the Sweet Banana Candy Store and I went to the barbershop for what I feared would be a last haircut. Willie didn't mention closing and I didn't ask. I just wanted to enjoy the haircut.
This block means so very much to so many people, I cannot even begin to express it. For the past several years, while MePa and the High Line ransacked the neighborhood, it survived. When the Dream Hotel replaced a homeless shelter right next door, this block survived. As the blocks to the north and south of it skyrocketed to upscale, these shops survived.
The businesses on this block feed and serve and protect the rent-regulated tenants of their building, the residents of the Elliott-Chelsea Houses across the avenue, and many more people in the neighborhood. This block is exactly what Jane Jacobs believed a city needs to stay alive.
But now a "bigger tenant" is coming and we all know what that means. Take your pick: Bank of America, Duane Reade, Marc Jacobs...all variations on a theme, different flavors of death. Where are the protests now? Is anybody listening?
Death of a Block
Saving 9th Avenue
Sweet Banana Candy Store