Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Park Deli


"I stay here," says Krystyna Godawa. "I'm not moving."

For the past ten years, Krystyna has run the Park Delicatessen at the edge of McGolrick Park on Nassau Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The deli has been here since the 1930s. But the landlord recently doubled the rent and Krystyna can't afford it. She's looking for another spot nearby and plans to stay put until she finds it.

Customers come in and out of the shop, ordering meals to go from the refrigerated case of home-cooked pierogi, potato salad, chicken cutlets, cole slaw, and beets. They stop to ask Krystyna, in Polish and in English, "Any news? When's the last day?" They promise, "I'll keep my fingers crossed."

And then they touch Krystyna--they all touch the woman they call Babcia Krysia, "Grandma Krystyna"--on the shoulder, the arm, the back of the neck. Their touches are tender and familial. They are family.

Krystyna holds their histories--the births of their children, the deaths of their parents--as she holds the history of the deli, still making German dishes that hearken back to the days when the place was Mullenbrock's delicatessen. Back in Poland, Krystyna worked as a librarian, another kind of preservationist, another holder of memory.

"I'm only ten years here and this is sentiment to me," Krystyna says, looking around the shop. "If you like your job, you put the heart." Losing the deli is like a death. "It is like you take out your heart from your body."

She feels powerless to stop the loss, "like kids who cannot do nothing, like tied my hands."

Her lease expired in April and she'd been on a month-to-month since. But once her landlord found a new tenant (rumored to be an ice-cream shop), she gave Krystyna until August 1 to vacate. It's too soon. Krystyna has no place to go--and she's having trouble finding an affordable rent in a neighborhood that is gentrifying.

"I will try to do everything to stay with my people," she says, referring to her customers, the people who give her "heart and happiness." Her blue-green eyes fill with tears. As she feels the grief of her own loss, she also feels her customers' grief.

"If I have to close, okay. But I see how much people want this place, how much people like me, and it's very tough to me. That is the worst. How can I live if I don't have my customers?"

Heart and sentiment are important to Krystyna. It's the stuff that keeps people connected, that keeps neighborhood communities together. But she sees these positive forces diminishing in the world. The new generation, she says, is cold. The newcomers to her apartment building don't say hello, don't hold the door. They all seem disconnected and disinterested.

"Life is too tough," she says. "If we're not nice to each other, what kind of life is it? The sentiment is second now."

What's first?

"Money. Everything is about the money."

photo by Yulia Zinshtein

If you visit the Park Deli before it's gone, you'll find a neon sign in the window that reads: VANISHING. A few of the letters flicker.

It is the work of artists Troy Kreiner and Brian Broker of Shameless Enterprise, in collaboration with "Vanishing New York" and built by neon artist Patrick Nash. This is the second installation, after Cake Shop earlier this year.

People walking by see the sign and come in to talk to Krystyna. "It's a shame," they say. "Soon all the small businesses will be nothing."

photo by Yulia Zinshtein


King Ning said...

I'm a born and bred 'Pointer. Aside from six years in the Army, The Garden Spot Of The Universe has been home for all of my 57 years. It never was a slick, fancy neighborhood, like Brooklyn Heights. It might have been a post-industrial wasteland of hard working blue collar families; but, it was my post-industrial wasteland. It was home, friends, family. Everybody seemed to know everybody. There wasn't a moment, while walking down "The Yavenya" when you wouldn't run into a friend or acquaintance and engage in some small talk about something completely irrelevant in the grander scheme of life. It could take an hour to walk four blocks because you'd stop, or be stopped by literally a dozen people you knew who were ready to share the latest news about this, that or the other. This custom is quickly disappearing. The surge of transplanted urban pioneers who want to experience life in an "authentic" New York neighborhood have seen to that. What happens is that these new residents don't follow the practice of assimilation. Contrary to their supposed desire to live in an "authentic" neighborhood, they attempt to completely transform it into what they left in the first place. They want homogenized, bland and vanilla familiarity. They want Little Wisco, like what parts of Park Slope have been turned into. They view the locals with a combination of condescension, pity and disdain. It's the type of attitude that cultural elitist showed toward the latest aboriginal tribe discovered in the Amazon. They are disgusted with the natives' supposed backwardness and wish to introduce them to their vision of civilization by eradicating everything that these "primitives" valued. The sad thing is that a large number of the new residents, mostly millenials, don't even bother to get to know the people in the buildings where they reside, let alone those in the neighborhood. A neighborhood was considered a community where everyone literally knew your name. People might live in a neighborhood; but, they no longer wish to be a part of the larger community. Places like Greenpoint are desirable solely for the current popularity of its zip code, not for what it has to offer in terms of quality of life.

Anyway, once the exchange of local intelligence was completed, you'd continue on your way and stop at the shops and stores. There were so many stores selling so many varieties of merchandise, one rarely had to go outside the neighborhood to find what was needed. From grocery stores, bakeries and butcher shops to furniture, hardware and clothing stores, it was all there. Then, there were the delis. Places like the Park Deli were to be found throughout the length and breadth of the Republic of Greenpernt. You knew that once you walked inside, you would get food like nowhere else. You knew the owners and employees. They were more than friends. They were family and they treated you as such. There never was any doubt that you were about to get the best homemade food bar none.

King Ning said...

Continuation of my previous post:

Unfortunately, the ones who pull the strings have deemed it necessary to transform my beloved community into an eastern colony of Manhattan. Sucking up to developers and associated interests through rezoning and tax abatements, Greenpoint has been inundated with ugly, dystopian, Stalin era-like brutalist architectural monstrosities which are nothing more than overpriced storage units for parentally subsidized transplants which result in serious overpopulation straining the already overburdened infrastructure and destroy the neighborhood's quaint, historic atmosphere. All done to "brand" the neighborhood as "cool", "hip" and "happening".Greenpoint didn't need interloping transplants to tell us that this is a great neighborhood. We already knew that. This is accomplished at the expense of the local residents and businesses and is no more evident than in the loss of these local businesses because of greed on the landlords' part. This might sound simplistic and naive; but, if a landlord was earning a decent rental income from a long established and profitable business, what sense does it make to force this business out by doubling or tripling the rent in order to bring in a new one with no track record? Most of these places close within three years because their "cool and quirky" novelty factor has run its course. It comes down to biting your nose to spite your face. Pani Godwa has continued the tradition started over 80 years ago by providing delicious, affordable food to appreciative and loyal customers. It truly would be a tragedy if she is forced to permanently shutter what she worked so hard for in order to achieve the American Dream. She has a difficult, if not impossible, task ahead to find a space at a reasonable rent. Hopefully, there is a landlord who can see past obscene profits and can accommodate her.

What is also too sadly apparent is that Greenpoint is turning into Bedford Falls we longtime and lifelong residents are becoming George Bailey. Everything we knew, remembered and loved will soon disappear because of greed.

Greg said...

Here is a more nuanced take on it

King Ning said...


Nuanced take? Not very. Poorly researched and factually inaccurate? Absolutely. First, there is no street named McGuinness Avenue. If you are a writer for a neighborhood blog, the least you could do is be knowledgeable about the area on which you are reporting.

Ms. Wallace writes:

Like that rezoning, property taxes in this city have skyrocketed, further complicating both commercial and residential rents. The rent Hildegard allowed as rent for a decade is simply unsustainable for the property. When it came time to renew the lease, she did what any landlord would do who cannot make ends meet and doesn’t want to sell: she asked for more money.

Hidegard ain't hurtin' financially. Her gross income from rentals (4 apartments plus the store) for this year will be almost 115K. That is almost 20K more than 2015. Her property tax for this year is $12432, eight dollars more than last year. The mortgage (40K) had been paid in full by 1993 and, aside from the property tax, water bill and insurance, she is far from poor. Ms. Wallace's comment that the rent charged for the store as being unsustainable for the property is, in itself, based on what her personal definition of "reasonable" is. The rents have been hyper-inflated by speculating owners who think they'll hit the lottery every time a vacancy in their property becomes available. That is simply not sustainable and, in my opinion, just plain greedy. Don't assume I'm some free-stuff-for-everybody socialist. I'm a firm believer in capitalism. I just don't believe in profiting at the expense of another's livelihood in order to make that extra buck.

Greg said...

Wallace has lived in the neighborhood for a decade, so I think it is fair to grant that the avenue vs boulevard thing is a typo and not something that discredits the whole article.

Hidegard has to pay taxes, water, insurance, and she also has to maintain a very old building. $2500/mo is a very low commercial rent for the neighborhood by any standard, and she is still offering a pretty big discount over the market rates with the new lease. There is only so much she can be expected to subsidize somebody else out of the goodness of her heart. None of that made it into the reporting, nor did the fact that she and her husband ran the place themselves for many years.

King Ning said...

My family has been patronizing the store for over sixty years. I remember when Hidegard and her Husband Rudy owned the store. She sold the business to Pani Godawa about ten years ago. That information was also included in another, more detailed story about the closing.

Nobody would continue to own rental properties if they weren't profitable. If she were suffering such hardships, she, or her children, who control the property in trust, would have already sold the building. "Market value" is an artificial standard. It's based on what one is willing to pay, not necessarily what it's worth. It's like raising stakes in a property-based version of poker. You keep upping the ante until somebody folds. Just because a landlord thinks that a space which was previously rented for $2500/mo. is now worth twice, or three times, that amount doesn't mean it is. For every longtime business which was forced to close because of massive rent increases, there are two to three subsequent occupants of the same location who couldn't survive more than two years for the same reasons. There are numerous storefronts in Greenpoint which attest to this. That end of Nassau Ave. is far off the beaten path from the main shopping areas of Manhattan Ave. The foot traffic around that part of the neighborhood isn't enough to sustain a business which has to pay a high rent. Even Hannana Frozen Yogurt, which was located at 99 Nassau Ave., went belly up after a little more than three years due to high rent and almost non-existent customers. The ice cream shop which is reported as the new tenant will no doubt share the same fate, as did the ill-conceived resurrection of Von Dohlen's Ice Cream Parlor, on Bedford Avenue, as a quirky frogurt emporium. Perhaps, Pani Godawa can get a reasonable deal from the Ryan/Curtin family who own 206 Nassau Ave., across the street, for the former location of the Palace Cafe.

Greg said...

Market value is the least artificial standard. What people are willing to pay IS what the property is worth, nothing more or less.

I wish the Palace had stayed open, but I respect their right to cash out after all these years. It's their bar and their building.