Regretfully, I report that Movie Star News in Chelsea is closing down. Once owned by the infamous Irving Klaw, photographer of the legendary pin-up queen Bettie Page, Movie Star News has been a Manhattan original since 1939.
I went in to speak to owner Ira Kramer, nephew of Mr. Klaw, and he answered a few questions in person and over email. He told me that their reason for closing is an all too common one--the rent is going up. They'll be gone before the end of the month.
Originally on East 14th Street, Movie Star News moved to West 18th on Memorial Day weekend in 1983, Ira told me, "with 800 boxes and 90 file cabinets" filled with movie star photos, pin-ups, and posters. He remembers being a kid in the 14th Street shop, going to see movies for free at "the old Jeff," the demolished Jefferson Theater, when the adults got tired of him hanging around.
Ira estimates that the shop's deep and tall shelves held 3 million movie star photos--until he started packing them into cardboard boxes--and he still has Irving Klaw's original negatives on-site.
It's from these negatives that Movie Star News prints photos of vintage pin-ups like Bettie Page to order. However, says Ira, "We decided that the public would have trouble pronouncing her name, so we spelled it Betty."
I asked Ira where Movie Star News will go next. He said:
"I believe my situation changed with the world of digital photography. Many people choose to download photos from websites, free of charge, then have them made up at labs or on their own ink-jet printers. So while I continued to sell posters in the shop, the few photo sales I have are made primarily through my website. With this in mind, why take up over 2,000 square feet of New York City real estate, when only a small portion of this space is actually producing an income? If all goes as planned, I will re-locate to a warehouse in New Jersey, as yet undecided where exactly. I must decide by the end of July and will post this update on my website."
packing up the inventory
And so the city is spitting out another piece of its colorful history--and its soul. What will take its place?
Right now, Movie Star News has the high-end Michael Aram boutique on one side and a slick condo showroom on the other (one of the tiny people in their architectural model is walking while texting on a smartphone--she's a very important, self-involved 1/8"-scale person). Anyway, I'm sure we can expect more of the same.
old shop on E. 14th