Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Gentrification & the Poor

Recently, the Daily News reported on the existence of a city-sponsored ethnographic study entitled "The Effects of Neighborhood Change on NYCHA Residents." Published back in May, the study looked at three housing projects across the city and concluded what we all know: Gentrification is not good for the poor.


new park at Hudson Yards

This may seem obvious and not worth the time and expense of a study, but it's actually not obvious at all to many people. Journalists today are asking, "Is gentrification all bad?" They're urging, "Gentrifiers, hold your heads high." They go so far as to call gentrification "healthy for cities," decrying it as a "myth" that's "not as bad for the poor as you think." They even holler about how "Gentrification is good for the poor."

In conversations about gentrification, we're constantly hearing about how it brings in wonderful things for all to enjoy, like fresh produce to the corner grocers. (Always with the fresh produce!) And when it comes to the mass influx of corporate chains, we hear about how they might be a good thing for a neighborhood because they offer cheap food and jobs to lower income people of color. Well, that's what our small local businesses always provided. Until they were all evicted.

I understand. People of means don't want to feel guilty and ashamed about enjoying nice apartments, convenient pre-packaged salads, and $5 lattes. I sometimes enjoy those salads myself. But we all need to face reality, even if it hurts. Gentrification is bad for poor people. While crime in gentrified neighborhoods goes down (so it's not "all bad"), pretty much everything else sucks for the poor.

You know what else sucks? Bloomberg's plan, which de Blasio is continuing, to shove luxury towers onto NYCHA land. The Daily News says de Blasio hasn't even read the study. He should read it. And then think a little harder about whether or not this plan is really going to heal the "tale of two cities."



The study looked at three projects, but I'm focusing here on the Elliott-Chelsea Houses, located in Chelsea, one of the most hyper-gentrified neighborhoods in the entire city. I've written often about the High Line's negative impact and the mass evictions of small businesses here, including a cluster of little shops on 9th Avenue directly across from NYCHA housing.

The study is long, so I've pulled out some key quotes:

"there is an undercurrent of fear of being displaced. Even if their rents remain affordable, rising costs of everything around them can feel like pressure to leave the neighborhood."

"there are no mechanisms to help mom-and-pop establishments where NYCHA residents used to shop and services they use (like laundromats) stay in business, and few jobs at the new retail establishments seem to materialize for NYCHA residents."

"the closure of mom-and-pop establishments that catered to NYCHA residents—such as laundromats, Chinese restaurants, and delis—due to rising commercial rents and their replacement with art galleries was a major theme in how residents experienced the turnover in the neighborhood’s character. As one eight-year Fulton resident put it, 'with them removing a lot of the familiar businesses…and putting in these new high-end stores…and these useless art galleries, a lot of people in our community feel like there’s less options around them as far as being able to go out,' and 'interact with other people in the community that are outside our development.'"

Said one resident: “There’s a gallery on every block of Chelsea...they’re everywhere... It’s nice art and we get it but why like 25... Let’s put things in that the community needs. We don’t need galleries. There used to be a deli... The people who used to make it affordable for us.”

"Long-term residents (both NYCHA and non-NYCHA) perceive that Chelsea is losing its historic character of economic diversity, its local identity, and its political activism. Their perception is that it is becoming more of a global neighborhood and less of a local one. This means that new developments cater to tourists and new wealthy residents; residents acutely feel the loss of mom-and-pop shops that had been touchstones of the neighborhood for years and sometimes decades. These dynamics create a sense for NYCHA residents of being in their neighborhood but also being separated from it."

"NYCHA residents were excited about the cultural and recreational opportunities in the neighborhood but frustrated with the crowds of tourists and that many are inaccessible because they are too expensive."

Said one resident, “Chelsea Market, they [are] taking over the world so they got people come from all over the world and when they come, they get off these big buses that emit all kinds of just ugliness up in our windows... And they just stumble off the bus and bump right into you. They don't see you especially if you're black. They really don't see you and they just walking along into you and they'll stop dead in front of you and they start back. Oh, my goodness, I'm like, ‘let me in my house, please.'"



Many of us love the art galleries of Chelsea, but they do nothing for the poor. When Bloomberg rezoned the "Special West Chelsea District," he and Amanda Burden protected the galleries, while offering no protection for existing small businesses--almost all of which have since been evicted to make room for High Line and Hudson Yards luxury development.

The developers say that luxury housing on or close to NYCHA land will raise the pride and spirits of the poor, who should feel fortunate to be in such close proximity to upscale properties and their residents, as if riches could rub off. The new buildings, say the pro-development crowd, will attract new amenities to the nearby streets, including upscale boutiques, specialty coffee shops, and high-end restaurants. Won’t the poor appreciate that? The answer, clearly, is no.



The poor and working class can’t afford to shop in those places. They’ll be looking in from the outside at tantalizing goodies they can never have. How that is supposed to raise anyone’s sense of pride I can’t figure. Furthermore, as the study abundantly illustrates, an influx of wealthy new tenants has a negative impact on useful amenities in a neighborhood, like Laundromats, bodegas, and affordable grocery stores.

Luxury condos often come with their own private washer-dryers, so the new tenants’ money doesn’t go to the local Laundromat. Rents go sky-high and Laundromats close. So do the scrappy little bodegas and supermarkets, replaced by big-box Whole Foods markets and gourmet shops, loaded with overpriced items. Often, residents of the new buildings don’t even need to venture outside. “The kinds of upscale towers that are going up in once-blighted areas,” reported the Times, “can function as gated communities in the sky.” This is death to an existing community.



Now imagine glistening towers for the rich squashing the only open spaces available in the otherwise overcrowded housing projects of the city’s most disenfranchised residents, blotting out children’s playgrounds, baseball fields, and yards used for family picnics. The luxury buildings have been planned to face away from the projects, their backs turned to their neighbors.

What will that be like, to be a single mother living on food stamps and SSD, losing your favorite park bench, the one spot where you could breathe the air and socialize, to a luxury tower, a shiny glass box that blocks your window views, plunging your little apartment into darkness? What will it be like to watch the rich people, arms full of designer shopping bags, sipping Whole Foods “asparagus water,” as they go traipsing through the former garden where your tulips once grew? How is that going to feel in your gut?

Said one public housing resident to the Daily News in 2013, “Now they have this influx of yuppies who can afford these big rents. The people who already live in public housing are going to be resentful that you built this housing and left them in shambles.” Resentful, I am sure, won’t be the half of it should this ugly plan come to fruition.


Barber shop on 9th Avenue, across from NYCHA housing, evicted. The shop was part of the community, posting information about funerals, offering deals to senior citizens. In its place today is a bank.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Last Days of Market Diner

This summer I reported that the Market Diner would be closing. Later reports gave the place six months to a year to live. Turns out, it was only four months. We now hear the diner's final day will be this Sunday, November 1.


photo: Karen Gehres

Reader Karen Gehres sends in a photo of a notice put up in her building at Manhattan Plaza. "Enjoy it while you can and say goodbye," reads the sign. "Yet another excellent and reasonably priced neighborhood restaurant bites the dust."

I called the diner and was told they will go through the weekend. Their last day will be Sunday, November 1.

Yet again, it's not biting the dust because business is bad, or because it's not a viable business, as the folks in City Hall might want us to believe. Anytime I've gone by the Market Diner, the place was packed. People love it.

It's dying because of development. It's dying because of the Hudson Yards Effect. It's dying because Joseph Moinian’s Moinian Group bought the property and evicted the diner so they can put up a luxury tower. It's dying because small businesses in this city are completely unprotected and utterly vulnerable to the whims of landlords.



Karen adds that the Garden Center next door will also be destroyed. She says they're already "moving everything off the premises today."

The Market Diner has been on this site since 1962. It's a beautiful, unique piece of mid-century Googie architecture in a city filling up with banal, carbon-copy glass buildings. Another great loss--when we're losing too many diners as it is.

If you're sick and tired of the vanishing, write to the mayor and council speaker. It's easy, just visit #SaveNYC and click a few buttons. You'll feel better about yourself if you do.






Monday, October 26, 2015

Darwinian City?

Last week, the Municipal Art Society held their annual Summit for New York City. Entitled "The City We Want," the two-day event brought urbanists together to discuss and present on issues like improving infrastructure and affordability.

There was a flurry of information and ideas, but the talk that's been keeping me up at night came from Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen.

She spoke with MAS Director Carol Coletta in a conversation entitled "Fostering Economic Diversity." The discussion followed a recorded #SaveNYC presentation that I wrote and narrated, with photos by James & Karla Murray showing the devastation to our small business landscape over the past decade.



Coletta asked Glen if she thought the city should intervene in the vanishing of our mom and pops. (Maybe, as I had suggested, by passing the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, controlling the spread of chain stores, and penalizing landlords who create "high-rent blight" by keeping spaces empty until a corporation decides to rent.)

Glen replied that the city "should not be making decisions about what are viable businesses." She explained that the city should not be protecting businesses because “there are some small businesses that are probably going to just fail because they’re not very good businesses." She pointed to the outer boroughs, where there is still a "palpable vibrancy," and suggest we not be "so Manhattan-centric." Of course, Brooklyn is getting developed fast. This seemed to be a positive thing.

"Hey," said Glen, "it's nice to have a CVS" come in and serve a neighborhood like Crown Heights, "while we in Manhattan go 'Wah-wah, there's a chain drugstore on the block.'"

It sounds like, for Glen and others at City Hall, the corporate takeover of our city adds up to nothing more than Darwinism, survival of the fittest. But the truth is: The game is rigged. At the risk of going "wah-wah," I submit the following:

1. Countless small businesses are shuttering not because they're not good businesses, but because their landlords are doubling, tripling, and quadrupling the rent, or simply denying lease renewals. 

Time and again, over the past decade, I've talked with small business owners whose shops and restaurants are thriving. But it does not matter. They can't afford a rent hike of $4,000 to $40,000 a month. No business can, except a major corporation. Again and again, when another independent, usually upscale business moves in to the mom and pop's former space, they typically close within a couple of years (landlords are offering shorter and shorter leases). And then the space sits empty. Until a bank or a Starbucks takes it.

This is not just a Manhattan problem. What local character remains of the outer boroughs is also being wiped out. And fast.

2. The city government does get involved in who wins and who loses. It does make decisions about what businesses should survive. It does protect some businesses and not others. 

Let's talk about subsidies and other gifts. The city government hands out hundreds of millions of dollars to companies that it decides are valuable. Good Jobs New York keeps track of these subsidies in their eye-opening Database of Deals. They call special attention to Major Corporate Giveaways, those deals of a most "egregious nature." Corporations like Fresh Direct get millions. Banks and luxury developers get hundreds of millions. And Goldman Sachs (where Alicia Glen worked in real-estate finance prior to City Hall) got over a billion dollars in post-9/11 Liberty bonds, tax breaks, cash grants, and real-estate deals.

Corporations and developers also get the gift of eminent domain land grabs--taking private property away from small businesses and handing it over to big businesses. Today, in the Atlantic Yards footprint in Brooklyn, at least one man is still trying to hold on to the business his father built after surviving the Nazi concentration camps. He told the Times earlier this year, “I don’t want to trivialize what happened by comparing this to the Holocaust, but in the end, [my father] felt like here was the government again, coming to take everything from him.”

Many of these deals were granted by Bloomberg. But what, really, has changed? We're still living under a regime of neoliberal urbanism. Neoliberals claim to be against "big government," but they're all for government intervention when it comes to supporting big corporations, banks, and real-estate tycoons with taxpayer money and property. Ask them to protect the little guy--the middle and working class, the poor--and they'll tell you it's not the government's job. They'll tell you "the market" will work it out. They'll tell you this is just nature taking its course. But there is nothing natural about the city government's role in hyper-gentrification.


photo: J. Brash

After the discussion with Glen, MAS did a quickie, real-time poll of the audience, asking if New York City should adopt commercial rent control. An overwhelming majority -- 68% -- said yes.

The people of this city want change. We want protections for our local businesses. But our leaders in City Hall are not going to give it to us -- not without a fight.

Join #SaveNYC. Join the fight. Take action.



Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Vanishing New York: The Book

At long last, after many efforts, I am happy to report there will be a Vanishing New York book. From the official trade announcement today:

"Blogger Jeremiah Moss's VANISHING NEW YORK, a critique of the ills of hyper-gentrification and suburbanization of our cultural hubs, a rallying cry for how we can stop it (in New York and other cities around the world), and a lyrical look at why cities need souls."

Many thanks to my agent, Anthony Mattero at Foundry Literary + Media, and to my editor, Denise Oswald at HarperCollins' Dey Street Books, for taking a chance on a cranky blogger. And endless thanks to everyone who reads this blog, and keeps reading it (even though it's depressing), for all your support over the years. I'm grateful that we're all in it together.













ZP Auto

VANISHING

Elayne Kling of ZP Auto, previously of Noho in Manhattan and now in Williamsburg, wrote in to let us know that her shop will be closing its doors on October 30, after 30 years in business. Previously located on Lafayette and Great Jones, ZP moved out 2011 when a new condo development moved in.

I asked Elayne a few questions about her situation.


photo via EV Grieve, 2011

Q: You've been in the city for 30 years. What caused you to relocate from Noho in Manhattan to Brooklyn?

A: We relocated in 2011 after years of threats to put up a building on our location. The reason why we lasted as long as we did is that the subway runs under that building and any new structure would have had to be reinforced which always seemed to be a deal breaker, much to our relief. Finally someone came along and agreed to spend that money, although close to 5 years later that building is still not finished. Work didn't even start for a couple of years after we left, which was so frustrating to watch.

Q: Why are you having to shut your doors now?

A: When we first moved here to Brooklyn we did so with the agreement that if the real estate market was good then they would not renew our lease. Since we almost went out of business at that time for lack of a decent location we agreed to the 5 years. Obviously, they can't wait for us to leave now.

Q: What's it been like searching for an affordable new space?

A: It hasn't been much work because there is really nothing to find. Auto repair, which requires a license from the DMV, can only be housed in a building with certificate of occupancy for auto repair. These buildings are few and far between and are so cool looking that other business who can afford to pay much more money are happy to take them over. This leaves auto repair shops with very limited choices, i.e., Queens and the far reaches of Brooklyn.


Brooklyn shop

Q: How's business been in Brooklyn?

A: Business has been really great out here in Brooklyn. We had a thriving shop in Noho but less and less car owners live there and people in Brooklyn rely more on their cars so we've really been booming. It's bizarre to be shutting down a successful business, but if you don't have a location to run it out of, it's worthless.

Q: What would you like to see change in this city to help small businesses like yours?

A: It's difficult to answer this question since my issue is so specific. It is frustrating to see so many empty storefronts all over the city (tons in the village) and not be able to utilize any of them, even for those the rents are out of control.

I'm starting up a new business, Projects Unlimited, a project management company, and looking for small office space is daunting. I'll be using one of those share spaces like everyone else to start because they seem to be the only affordable choices. I guess the real answer is that it would be nice if the city seemed to care about the little guy enough to do something about it but when I hear about some of the proposals it just makes me shake my head--and not up and down.


Check out Elayne's blog, Don't Get Wrenched, where she gives auto repair advice to women. And, while you're at it, #SaveNYC.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Evicting Gowanus

Artists have had their studios in Gowanus since at least the 1970s. For decades, the industrial no man's land between Park Slope and Carroll Gardens was otherwise "undiscovered," known intimately only by the working class people who lived there, the working class people who worked there, and a handful of artists.

All of that has changed in just the past few years, as Brooklyn has become an unaffordable, international brand of luxury and hipness--making every inch of the borough potentially "the next Williamsburg."

Developers have descended on the shit-filled canal.



This past weekend, during Gowanus Open Studios, a group of artists protested their upcoming eviction. More than 250 painters, sculptors, and others are getting the boot from their studio buildings, some of the longest-running artist spaces in the area.

Reported the Daily News: "Developer Eli Hamway, who is involved in condominium projects in Williamsburg and Prospect Heights, leased the three buildings for $21.2 million in April 2015."



But this end of Gowanus is not zoned for residential -- yet. The artists I've talked to suspect the new tenant will be some sort of "maker space." (What is it with New York today that we've got "makers," "artisans," and "creatives," but none of them are artists -- and they're getting all the prime real estate?)

So where will these Gowanus artists go? Many say they'll migrate to Sunset Park, which is also experiencing the first touches of hyper-gentrification. (The Brooklyn Flea gentrification machine has arrived.) I'm also hearing chatter about artists moving to Bay Ridge, one of the last non-gentrifying neighborhoods in the entire city. Ultima Thule.

Meanwhile, at the other end of Gowanus, the Lightstone Group is bringing a bland-looking, utterly massive mega-complex of 700 units, along with amenities like yoga and valet parking, plus a waterfront “esplanade park” complete with boat launch and “water access point.” You know, so you can access that shit-filled water.



In the developer’s renderings of the site, the canal is wreathed in green vegetation. Shiny happy people walk along the verdant paths and ply the blue waters in kayaks. The developers are banking on a clean-up of the canal.



But it's not clean yet. The Superfund site is full of human feces, dead animals, and an array of toxins and diseases, including gonorrhea. A brown goo periodically bubbles up through the sinks, toilets, and shower drains of buildings here.

Christopher Swain knows that goo well. This weekend, while the artists protested, the environmental activist swam the entire length of the canal. 



He wrapped himself in layers of waterproofing, plugged his orifices with wax, and took the plunge. He did it to raise awareness and call for the clean-up of the canal. Which, by the way, he said tasted like metal, gasoline, detergent, and shit.



Gowanus now has a souvenir shop (where you can buy coffee cups that say "Some asshole developer"), a wildly popular ice-cream shop called Ample Hills, bars, restaurants, and a shuffleboard club that seems to cater to hipsters and young investment bankers.

Editors at the Daily News took issue with those who oppose luxury development here, those who "seem to think that a few vacant casket factories are worth going to the barricades for." (For the record, South Brooklyn Casket is not vacant--it's doing a brisk business. People keep dying in Brooklyn.) The editors wrote, "We respectfully send this message the enemies of Gowanus gentrification: You’ve already lost."

Well, they're right about that.


More on Gowanus:
Whole Foods Gowanus
Eagle Clothes
Kentile
Gowanus Wilderness

Monday, October 19, 2015

Cafe Borgia II

VANISHED

A few people have written in to say that Cafe Borgia II has closed.

Opened in 1975 by Philip Cardaci, the cafe was located on Prince Street, in that hot-pink building across from what used to be Vesuvio and what used to be Milady's. After more recently losing Caffe Dante and Cafe Figaro, all we had left of the classic Italian Village cafes were Cafe Borgia II and Caffe Reggio.

And then there was one. (Am I missing any?)


photo via Complete Performer

The first Cafe Borgia was opened by Mr. Cardaci's parents in 1959 on the corner of Macdougal and Bleecker Streets. It was forced to close in 2001 after losing its lease.

At the time, the Times wrote, "In the 1960's and 1970's, Cafe Borgia was a bohemian's dream. Styled like an Old World cafe with medieval decor, it drew Beat poets like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Edward Albee and Andy Warhol also spent hours there, as did Joan Baez, Joe Gould and James Dean."

A regular of the first Cafe Borgia noted that "gentrification had outpriced many of his favorite neighborhood haunts. (Mr. Cardaci, who was paying $4,100 a month, was not offered a new lease when his old one expired.) ... 'All those places with texture and character have disappeared.'"

Has the same fate befallen Cafe Borgia II? According to Soho Strut, it has. They've lost their lease.

When is City Hall going to step in and protect our culturally relevant small businesses? Before we lose another one. I don't want to be writing a post like this for Caffe Reggio. It can be done. #SaveNYC.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Academy Records

In a city rapidly losing its record shops, Academy Records is alive and well on West 18th Street. It's actually crowded on Saturday afternoons with giddy music collectors.

(I've been holding this post, unpublished, for quite some time because I'm afraid to jinx the place. But I don't have that kind of power, right? So here goes.)



Inside, it feels like New York. Like the real New York we used to know, not so long ago. And it should. Academy's been around since 1977.

Here you will find actual New Yorkers. It's as if some giant sifter has panned across the shopping mall of Fifth Avenue, weeded out the tourists and the dullest newbies, and deposited the gold right here. You can tell these people are New Yorkers because they feel like New Yorkers, even if they don't live in New York. They've got an edge to them. An energy.

How to describe this? If you don't know what I mean, well, you either know or you don't.



I'm telling you, it's like walking into the pre-Bloomberg city. If you're feeling sick and sad and fed up with it all, with everything this city has become, go into Academy Records and you'll feel better.

You might even feel hopeful as you listen to the frantic click, click, click of CD jewel cases snapping as fingers flip through the selections in their bins.



Shoppers walk through the crowd with armloads.

These people are passionate. They're not fooling around.

Do not get in their way.







Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Hudson Yards Holdouts

A few holdouts have left the ever-expanding footprint of the Hudson Yards Luxury Zone. You can't blame them for taking the money and running from the nightmare to come.



Two guys living on 10th Avenue and West 35th just scored $25 million to leave their tenement. We've been following the fate of the two buildings here. They were only left standing because of these holdouts, stubbornly thwarting Tishman's plans for what once was called the "tallest tower in North America," a.k.a. "Hudson Spire," originally rendered at 1,800 feet -- 4 feet taller than One World Trade Center. With the men moved out, and Taxi Parts gone, the buildings are empty and set for demolition. Does this mean the Spire is back on?

A block south, a McDonald's has been acquired by Related--to be demolished and folded into a 3.3 million square foot mixed-use development. (I don't cry for McDonald's, but we're talking about a piece of low-rise property that was a lynch pin for a mega-development going through.)

Little by little, these developers are taking over a huge chunk of Manhattan. Across the street, Veterans Chair Caning (since 1899) and the little flat-fix shop will soon stand alone between multiple luxury developments. As the Hudson Yards Effect keeps steamrolling, what will become of Study Areas A, B, and C? How long will they hold out? And what about the two horse stables just north of here?



Let's face it. Nothing of the old world will be left standing. As the Times just reported, "Virtually all of the businesses that operated in the neighborhood — mostly light industrial and manufacturing shops — have been displaced. In their stead, developers plan to install fancy department stores, boutiques and restaurants."

Take a walk by Hudson Yards. You've never seen so many cranes in your life. They represent hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks--free gifts to developers from former Mayor Bloomberg--all for a glittering city within a city that will not be a welcoming place for most New Yorkers.


Monday, October 12, 2015

This Land Is Not For Sale

Opening October 15 at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery is Brett Amory's "This Land Is Not For Sale: Forgotten, Past and Foreseeable Futures."


Brett Amory, CBGB

From High Fructose: "Amory describes his latest series of works as a sort of protest against the transformation of New York’s Lower East Side into a 'gentrified wasteland,' which is changing the social character of the neighborhood."


Brett Amory, Bleecker Bob's

From Juxtapoz: "Amory will install a faux construction site underpass leading to the gallery to parody the constant sledgehammering of gentrification."

In addition, there will be a panel discussion on October 20 that will "bring together some of the legendary figures and activists of the Lower East Side to explore the gentrification and cultural attritioning of this historic district," according to the press release. "This discussion will be moderated by author Alan Kaufman. Sitting on the panel will be Brett Amory, artist; Lincoln Anderson, Editor-in-Chief of The Villager; Clayton Patterson, LES-based photographer and activist; Jose “Cochise” Quiles (author of the forthcoming Street Gangs of the Lower East Side), the founder and former leader of the notorious Satan's Sinner Nomads, the last gang to fly colors in LES. This event is free and open to the public."

The gallery is located at 557C West 23rd Street.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Bway and 88th in 1970

Some time ago I came upon this black and white film taken in 1971 (or, more likely, 1970) from a traffic island on Broadway near 88th Street. It was filmed by Nicholas West.



It's in slightly slow motion, so it feels underwaterish. Nothing much happens. People walk across the street or they sit and watch the traffic. Cars go by. The neon sign of the New Yorker cinema blinks off and then on again. On the marquee, a double bill: Pudovkin's "The End of St. Petersburg" with Hani's "Bwana Toshi," subject of a lukewarm 1970 review in the Times.

Wrote the reviewer, "In its emotional density and its cool compansion [sic], Hani's eroticism seems a good deal more humane than his humanism. It is also, of course, more erotic."

There is nothing apparently erotic about Broadway and 88th Street in the winter of--not 1971--but 1970. It is, however, loaded with humanity.







Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Elpine Revisited

For a while, I've had a thing for the Elpine drinks stand in Times Square. Long gone from its spot on 46th Street and 7th Avenue, it appears in the background of many old photos and had its big moment in the film Sweet Smell of Success.



There's really no information out there about Elpine. They served fruit drinks and hot dogs, among other items. They had two locations, but did not achieve the success of Papaya King and Gray's Papaya.

The story of the little stand remained a mystery. Then I got an email from a guy named Al Streit.


1943: John Vachon, via Shorpy

Mr. Streit writes:

"Elpine Drinks was a business owned by my wife's grandfather and his two brothers. Yes, Elpine: 'el pine' as in pineapple. The name has nothing to do with the Swiss Alps.

The Varons were a Spanish-speaking Sephardic family. Originally spelled with an accent mark over the 'o' (Varón), the pronunciation was anglicized to VAIR-un. Three brothers, Joe, Frank, and Morris came to NYC from Gallipoli before World War I.

One of the businesses they founded was Elpine Drinks. The signature drink was based on pineapple juice, and being Spanish, they decided to call the business 'el pine' as in 'the pineapple.' Yes, I am very much aware that the Spanish word for pineapple is 'la piña,' but that point was lost, I'm sure, on English-speaking Americans of the day. It was, I guess, an inside joke.

And given that pre-Castro Cuba was a popular vacation spot for east coast Americans back in the day, perhaps they hoped to conjure up images of relaxing under a palm tree while drinking the pineapple mix?"


1955


circa 1960s, Aaron Signs, via Lost City

The Varon brothers also went into the liquor business and had a large liquor store near Wall Street.

Mr. Streit sent along a photo of his wife's grandfather, Frank Varon, co-founder of Elpine. Here he is advertising the Schenley line of alcoholic beverages.



Elpine lasted at least into the 1970s, according to photo records. Below is a rare color shot of the spot in 1971.

It is the latest dated photo I have found yet. After that, Elpine just vanishes.


1971, Michael Jacobi

Monday, October 5, 2015

On the Stroll

After 20 years of working on Wall Street, Chris Arnade walked away in 2012, disillusioned with the business. He kept walking, all the way to the Bronx, with a camera in his hand. In Hunts Point, he got to know and photograph the other humans of New York, the ones at the margins--prostitutes and drug addicts, living in poverty. Collected in a series called "Faces of Addiction," the images are both beautiful and heartbreaking.

Arnade has also photographed the pigeon keepers of New York, the people of Brownsville and East New York, the tricked-out bikes of New York, and much more, including the transgender sex workers of Jackson Heights, Queens. When we look to the Meatpacking District and wonder where did all those girls go -- they went here.


all photos by Chris Arnade

The following text is excerpted from an essay by Chris Arnade, from his flickr page:

At 4:00 am the 7 train over Roosevelt Avenue provides the rhythm for Jackson Heights, Queens. Each train spills out people from the late shift and fills with others going to the early shift.

The closing of the bars brings another rush: Drunken men to the sidewalks and hack cabs to the streets.

It is also the time the transsexuals start working, selling sex. They stand out: Tall, heavily made-up black and Hispanics dressed for show. They cluster about one intersection flirting with passing men and dodging the desperately drunk ones.

Their corner has two all-night bakeries where they rest. The young women working the bakeries know all of them; they have their drinks ready without the need to ask.



Jessica sits and sips her coffee. “Why 4:00 am? Because the men are so drunk they can kiss me and still pretend they are not gay.” Across from her is Claudia dabbing makeup on her face. “Hispanic men have to be all macho. Being gay is a no-no. This late, perhaps nobody will know, not their family. Even they can pretend.”

At the next table sit two men in dirty work-clothes eating plates of rice and meat.

None of the Johns say they are gay. “The men out here are in the closet or they don’t want to believe what they really like. They look for us to say they’re looking for a woman, but they know what it really is. There are more closeted gay people than we know.”

The transsexuals do not consider themselves gay. They are women who like men. “I am not gay. I am a woman. I just want what every other woman wants, a tall white handsome guy like you. Do me a favor, forget that camera and give me a big kiss, honey.”



They almost all come from very modest backgrounds and from places where homosexuality is not only shunned but a sin. They knew they were different early.

Desire, from Jamaica, knew when she was six. “My dad hated who I was. Jamaicans hate fags.” It took until the age of sixteen, when she went to jail and was happy for the attention of the other men that she was able to come out. “Guys started liking me in jail.”

Jessica from Puerto Rico had the same story. “I always knew I was different, from five. I did not want my penis. I wanted what the girls had. I came here because it’s better to be this way in New York than where I come from.”



Chris Arnade has since left New York City. He wrote an essay for The Awl about what he'll miss about Brooklyn. You can find his photos on Flickr.