Monday, January 14, 2019

Westsider Books


Located at 81st and Broadway, the great Westsider Books has just announced they will be closing. Another heartbreak for New York City bibliophiles.

Owned by Dorian Thornley and Bryan Gonzalez, the shop opened in the 1980s. They call it "the last used bookstore on the Upper West Side." But the neighborhood keeps on changing, filling up with more money and more chains.

“It’s all different now," Gonzalez told Narratively a few years ago. "There’s more money here, and the people have changed, and so have their tastes. Not that long ago, the city gave you a sense of belonging to something unique, exciting, cosmopolitan. Now what you find here, I can find in a Jersey mall."

Westsider is a wonderful, authentically New York shop, packed from floor to ceiling with books. When I was taking classes in the neighborhood, I would stop in every week and always walked out with a book in hand. Recently, Westsider had a cameo in the excellent and very New York nostalgic film "Can You Ever Forgive Me."

via Medium

The employee I spoke with doesn't know the reason for the closure, but "I can guess," he said. I can guess, too.

He told me they'll be open until February. Until then, everything is 30% off.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Cornelia Street Cafe

After more than a year of speculation, Cornelia Street Cafe has announced they will be closing.

PRLog reports the cafe "will close its red doors permanently on January 2nd, 2019."

Owner Robin Hirsch wrote, "I am sad to say that I am losing my oldest child. Cornelia has brought me both joy and pain, and it is with a broken heart that I must bid her adieu."

The reason for the closure has not been revealed. Last year, the Times reported on the cafe's troubles: "Their rent for the restaurant and basement space, at $33,000 a month, is 77 times what it was when the club opened (that’s not adjusting for inflation — but, in the name of consistency, they’re not charging $77 for a croissant)."

DNAInfo noted that the cafe was struggling--especially with landlord Mark Scharfman, "a frequent fixture on various 'Worst Landlord' lists." Hirsch told the blog at the time, "If I'm 10 minutes late with my rent, he threatens me with eviction."

Cornelia St. Cafe opened in 1977 and is beloved for its poetry readings, music, and other cultural events. As PRLog notes:

"The CafĂ© has been the site of many firsts – it is the place where Philippe Petit ('Man on Wire') strung a wire from the tree outside the cafe and danced across it juggling, where The Roches, a vocal group comprised of three Irish-American sisters started out; where Suzanne Vega sang her first songs, where Eve Ensler launched The Vagina Monologues."

Monday, December 10, 2018

Moishe's Bake Shop

Earlier this year, I shared a real estate listing on Moishe's Kosher Bake Shop in the East Village. At the time, a call to Moishe Perl got a laugh and the statement, "People always put up these things." He said he wasn't closing.

Now the reader who sent me that listing has sent in a report far more alarming.

The Real Deal states: "Investor Jay Schwimmer just inked a 21-year lease for the entire three-story East Village property that’s anchored by neighborhood institution Moishe’s Bake Shop... The lease begins in March and includes an option for Schwimmer to buy the building."

Moishe's owns the building and has been in the East Village since 1974. As the Times once reported, "he hasn’t changed his menu or his recipes one iota in 42 [now 44] years — everything kosher, no dairy except for the cheese Danish and strudel. His bread slicer, which was there when he bought the place, a former bakery that had been closed for a while, is 80 years old, Mr. Perl said. It rattles like a gas-powered lawn mower."

When I heard the real estate news I went by Moishe's and bought some hamentaschen. Mr. Perl was not in. When I asked the women who run the place about the listing--and the bakery's possible closure--they laughed.

"Where'd you hear that?" one asked. On the Internet. More laughter. "People put all kinds of stuff on the Internet," said the other. So everything's fine? "Yeah, yeah."

But you know how these things happen. If I were you, I'd go enjoy the great Moishe's while you can.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Uncle Sam's Army/Navy

VANISHING (for now)

Richard Geist has run Uncle Sam's Army/Navy store on West 8th Street since 1998. The shop feels even older, a place reminiscent of the lost Village, the lost city, when people thrift-shopped and so much more felt scrappy and surprising, before it all became so sanitized and predictable. And boring.

This week, Uncle Sam's is closing shop.

Geist told me the closure is by choice, mostly, and that 8th Street just isn't 8th Street anymore.

It hasn't been for a long time. High rents wiped out the shoe businesses here, leaving a blighted ghost town about 10 years ago. The storefronts sat empty for awhile, and then a few mediocre restaurants moved in, along with a bunch of nail salons. Geist says there's no foot traffic. The street is dead.

As he told the Times last year, "Gentrification is killing us. Eighth Street has lost the magic and we want to bring that magic back, and bring traffic back to help business.”

With his former neighbor, the artist and small business owner Storm Ritter, Geist tried to rename the block for Jimi Hendrix, who had his Electric Lady Studios there, but the BID wouldn't go for it.

"They told me, 'What did Jimi Hendrix ever do for 8th Street?'" Geist said, incredulous. That was the last straw. He realized that he and 8th Street had to part ways.

On the scaffolding that blocks his shop, Geist has hung a banner that reads:

"Small businesses are more important than we all realize. Employers (first timers), employment tax payers, social security contributors, sales tax collectors, property tax payers, service and product providers, community builders and merchandisers, and new & old customer appreciators."

He wishes the city and state would do something to help small businesses to thrive.

This week the shop is in its final days and everything is being sold at deep discount -- up to 90% off. 

As for the future, Geist plans to take some time off and then look for a new space for Uncle Sam's on the Lower East Side. He says there's plenty to choose from there and fully expects to return. Until then, you can find them online at Army/Navy Deals.

Friday, November 30, 2018

A Plea to Protect the Strand

The Strand Bookstore has just issued a plea against the landmarking of its building. I spoke to Leigh Altshuler, Communications Director for the Strand, who explained the unusual situation.

"They're building these big, new tech hubs," she said, describing the tech building boom south of Union Square that is threatening the historic neighborhood, driving up speculation and demolition. "And in a trade-off, the Strand and a few other buildings along Broadway are now being calendared for landmarking." But the bookstore and building owner Nancy Bass has not been part of that decision. She didn't receive the LPC's draft designation report until after Thanksgiving, giving the Strand little time to prepare for the public hearing on December 4.

Leigh explains that the building is already protected--by the Bass family. "The building is already overbuilt," she says, meaning it has no air rights to sell and it cannot be expanded upon. "There is no danger of it being torn down. Nancy has no intent to sell the building. She just wants to keep running the store without added cost or pressure."

Below is the full text of the Strand's press release, with information about the public hearing and a request for help.

Friends of the Strand,

I'm writing today to ask for your support.

The Strand's building is currently calendared for landmarking by the city. The Strand currently runs on thin margins as a bookseller and retailer in New York City, fighting to survive in the era of Amazon. We have over 230 employees -- most whom are unionized -- and unlike large online retailers (like Amazon), have never asked or received tax breaks or other economic assistance to insure business profitability.

All this designation will do is cost us with bureaucracy in time, frustration, money and uncertainty. We will be forced to wait for approvals and debate what is the right thing to do-- both inside and outside of the store for changes like putting in a coffee shop, repairs from a flood or fire, etc. We need to have the flexibility to change with the needs of our customers and community.

Nancy's family worked for six decades to be able to buy this building and is dedicated to continuing the Bass's 91 year legacy forward. The building is already overbuilt -- with no air rights -- and at no risk for becoming a high rise, glass office building, hotel or luxury apartment. Nancy just wants to insure the security of the Strand, giving her children the opportunity to become 4th generation owners.

There is a public hearing on:

Tuesday, December 4th at 9:30am

at LPC's office in the Municipal Building

located at 1 Centre Street, 9th Floor

This gives the Strand the opportunity to make a case against the landmark status. Nancy will be speaking, joined by authors Gary Shteyngart and Hank O’Neal, and long time Strand employees. Will you please join us on December 4th to show your support? Strand tote in hand, your attendance is what will make this a success. To share this information with your friends, please use this link:

While well-intended, landmarking the building will undermine the Strand, a place that is already considered a landmark by the community, and ultimately put in peril.

Thank you for your support and we look forward to seeing you there.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Bleecker Bob

Robert "Bleecker Bob" Plotnik has died.

99snapshots_berman posted the news on Instagram yesterday. Academy Records wrote this farewell:

"RIP to Bleecker Bob, a true legend on the NYC record store scene and probably the most singular character among that very idiosyncratic bunch. I first got to know Bob and his wise cracking sarcasm as a teenager in the late 70s as I soiled my fingers flipping through his grimy reused record sleeves. I also quickly learned that he loved an equal dose of sarcasm in return and our interactions were some of my first tastes of what it meant to be a real New Yorker. When I first opened my store in 2001 it was a real badge of honor when he came to check it out and told me it didn’t suck too bad. Catch ya on the B side."

Bleecker Bob's Golden Oldies was a legendary record shop in Greenwich Village. In 2013, after 46 years in business, Bleecker Bob's closed, unable to pay the rent hike. While they discussed relocating, they never found a space and never reopened.

RIP Bleecker Bob.

Integral Yoga


People keep telling me that Integral Yoga Natural Foods on 13th Street is closing after 45 years in the Village.

@MarkMelnick10 shared a photo of the goodbye sign on Twitter. I believe they own the building, but as they say "the retail climate has changed" and "small local stores keep losing ground to big corporate chains." Owning the building doesn't always save you.