Wednesday, November 26, 2014



You've probably heard by now that, after 110 years in business, DeRobertis in the East Village will be gone as of December 5. It wasn't the rent this time. The family decided, with great pain, to sell the building.

This one hurts like hell.

I'd like to say something more eloquent, but that's all I've got right now.

That and who took the antique coin from the floor?

For a million years--or 193--a half-dollar from 1821 sat in the very center of the cafe, embedded in the tiles, in the middle of a flower, in the middle of a star. Some said that a mobster put it there, maybe Lucky Luciano, but it was likely just the guy who put in the floor.

photo from a few months ago by Kyle Supley

Today there's just an empty space, an imprint of an eagle in the cement where the coin used to be. Soon, that's all we'll have of DeRobertis, a ghostly remnant of something wonderful and real, something connected to history, something with a story to tell.

As John DeRobertis described the place to Bedford & Bowery, "When people came in here, they knew the people working behind the counter. We felt a closeness. That’s what I’m going to miss the most. You go into any of these chain coffee shops, you’re just a person and they’re robots. Everybody has a job to do. You give the order to this person, this person makes it, this person gives it to you, that person cashes you out. Here, I think people felt at home."

What will move in next? God help us if it's a fucking Starbucks. Of course, as Annie DeRobertis told me back in 2007, that's what today's stunad East Villagers want.

She said: “People come in and tell me I don’t know how to make cappuccino. They tell me, 'Starbucks makes it this way.' I tell them, 'I’m here before Starbucks.' They want flavors. I tell them, 'I got flavors. You want a flavor? I’ll put it in.' Put it in? They look at me. Do these people really think the coffee bean grows in flavors? Like it comes in hazelnut and mint? These are people with college educations. But they want Starbucks. So I tell them, very nicely I say, 'So go to Starbucks.'"

Eventually, that will be the only choice.


JAZ said...

'Starbucks makes it this way.'

Both the cappuccino and the city.

I would say it never ends, but unfortunately we both know that is not true; there aren't enough places with character and history left to make this an indefinite march. At some point in the next 5 years, there will be no need to update this blog anymore, and if you choose to keep it up, it will serve as an encyclopedia on the death of NYC exclusively in the past tense and nothing more. I hope you will because even now while there are scraps left, I find myself needing constant re-affirmation that it wasn't all a fucking figment of my imagination.

Mitch said...

That half-dollar is from 1821, not 1921, so it wouldn't have been in the floor for 93 years. From what I read, the building was built in the 1850s so it's not unlikely that it was put in there when the floor was put in.

Jeremiah Moss said...


Anonymous said...

I wonder: does the author of this blog support the family's right to sell the building for $12m?

I ask in the context of proposing a regulatory framework to save small businesses - because, of course, these small business are folding under the crushing weight of real estate values that come about from family's selling their old buildings for $12m.

This gets to the ugly truth of our era of hyper-gentrification: for every TD Bank & Starbucks going in, is an old-line NYC landlord who's making $$$ thru escalated rents or selling for a massive profit.

Specifically: if the people selling this building did not also run the shop, wouldn't they be excoriated here?

Anonymous said...

I have been moaning about the closure of DeRobertis but the poster at 5:24 makes an interesting point I hadn't considered. So many of the small landlords who own buildings in the neighborhood are selling out for big bucks. I guess the money is tempting and most of them don't live in the neighborhood so maybe they don't care what happens as a result of them cashing out.

Questinia said...

I certainly love DeRobertis. For personal sentimentality Venetos would also be a big hit.

DeRobertis is like a jewel box.

I will pay them a visit this week.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with the poster at 5:24. It's hard to listen to the owners of the store as they lament the homogenization of the neighborhood when they themselves are contributing to the unfortunate process by cashing out on high property values. If, in another case, a landlord did this in spite of the store owners, we would all stand against their decision

Anonymous said...

The population culture is changing. They don't care about old, mom/pop businesses. Also the middle class will disappear because, people will sell out to the high end developers to make a quick capital gain or the 'poor' will take over and make a 'ghetto', then gentrification comes in. Either way no middle class.