Thursday, March 27, 2008

Death of a Block

The eastern block of 9th Ave between 17th and 18th is filled with thriving small businesses. They have the look of an older New York, a hodgepodge of neon signs and scruffy awnings, and they're always crowded with neighborhood people. I've been wondering when the block would begin to vanish, but I didn't know it would happen with just one real estate deal.

8 of 10 businesses on the block are on the first floor of one residential building, #112-126 9th Ave. In November 2007, Morris Moinian's Fortuna Realty bought the building for $31.4 million. According to the Observer, Moinian planned "to renovate and upgrade, hoping to lure high-end retail to the storefronts on ground level." The renovating and upgrading has begun--and all 8 businesses will (eventually, quickly) be wiped out.

The first to vanish will be Chelsea Liquors. In business since about 1940, under the current ownership for over 30 years, they've been given 30 days to vacate the premises. The rent has jumped 300% and the lease is up. I went in to talk to the bereaved owner and a steady stream of regulars came in to grieve and express their anger. One guy told me, "I've known this man since I was a kid!" Another feared the sale of his home in the Fulton Houses projects across the avenue--he also told me that Donald Trump just bought his mother's home, the Lillian Wald Houses on the LES: not true as far I know, but this is what you call a case of "reality-based paranoia."

Second in line to vanish is the New China take-out joint next door. Their lease ends in September. The 9th Ave Gift Shop bodega has a lease extending until 2013, but neighbors suspect he'll be bought out before then. There's also Tamara Dry Cleaners, a Moneygram check-cashing place, Famous Deli, and the Sweet Banana Candy Store--hailed by NY Press as the best in town and "the only NYC candy shop that still makes 'candy shop' a term full of sinister meaning."

But the most heartbreaking loss will be the New Barber Shop.

I went in for a haircut and was warmly welcomed by Willie, one of the three barbers who man the shop's antique chairs. He told me their lease will end in a year and a half, but they may to go sooner, perhaps in the next 6 months, as soon as they can find a new place.

Run by Manuel Manolo for the past dozen or so years, the New Barber Shop is an unofficial social club, a community center, a home. Men sit in chairs silently or chatting in Spanish, surrounded by pictures of baseball players, boxers, and John F. Kennedy.

A friendly, talkative guy named Marshall ("but people call me Flaco--it means skinny") introduced himself. A wealth of information and a sort of barber shop ambassador, he knows everything that's happening up and down the block. He told me that the building is already being renovated to install a gym in the basement on one side and a parking garage on the other.

Flaco emphasized how special the shop is, saying, "You can't find another barber shop like this. It's full of characters, like me. In the day, we got the daytime characters. At night, after we close, we got the nighttime characters--the homeless guys come in then--and we all just hang out." When the barber shop and all the other businesses here are gone, Flaco said, "We'll have no place to go."

No, they won't, because whatever replaces the New Barber Shop, Chelsea Liquors, and the rest of those small businesses will be financially out of reach for Flaco and the many other lower-income neighborhood people. New retail in those spaces is "expected to reflect the trendy neighborhood," and it seems the new owner hopes to extend the super-luxury of the Meatpacking District and neighbors Maritime Hotel and Vikram Chatwal's soon-to-come Dream Downtown hotel (occupying a former homeless shelter).

According to Mr. Moinian's Fortuna Realty website, he owns 5 hotels, including the Dylan, a "lifestyle hotel...with all modern amenities," where he partnered with Britney Spears in the restaurant Nyla. Mr. Moinian looks for "hipness." He likes places "to see and be seen and all that good stuff."


Anonymous said...

What they will do next is convert the public housing projects across the street into glass sheathed condos.

What a nauseating place New York has become. Especially all of these california transplants trying to turn it into Los Angeles with places like "Red Mango"
and Pink Berry. How many freakin' frozen yogurt places do we need?!

Anonymous said...

It's really a sad, sad affair to see all these establishments that made NYC, and gave NYC character, disappear.

I went to grad school, away from NYC thinking I needed a break from NYC, for a couple of years, and when I returned I have seen so much change and felt marginalize and a stranger in my own city.

These "rapid, ubiquitous, luxury condo developments" is no different than the McMansions built (and, for some reason are still being built) in the suburbs. How long do you think this Vongerichtification by the Yunnies will last before it becomes the next sub-prime crisis? Any recommendation on how to get rid of this Condoschmerzmism I am having?

Anonymous said...

It's absolutely relentless. This is my general neighborhood, and I've seen Chelsea turn from a place with a lot of working class people (like myself) to what it is now. Last week I stopped into the barber shop with my dog Pilar, who is an old dog now. I push around in a stroller. Years ago I used to take her to Jackie 60, and she loved going. She had a reputation, she was called The Leather Dog. Anyway, I was pushing her up 9th Ave and we went into the barbershop to see if they had any mustache wax. They didn't, but the barbers thought it was nice that we asked. Pilar has a mustache, and one of the guys said that if only they did have it we could make her look like Salvador Dali. They told me that I was the only person who had asked for mustache wax in a very long time.

I just hate what is happening to our city. These doofuses wreaking havoc on it don't even know what the word hip means. They need to be forced to listen to an hour of Penny Arcade. Hipness is really just smarts. There is no such thing as a "hip restaurant" because the word was always used as in "let me hip you to a great place to eat" as any smart person knows. Being hip to what matters used to matter. Even the word has been sullied.

Anonymous said...

This just makes me want to go home! Oh, right, I am home--it's just gone.
Rarely has one of your reports made me so angry.
I have no desire to "see and be seen," I just want to live my life in my native city. Apparently, we're not allowed to do that; we're in the way and must be torn down, moved, and otherwise disposed of.

Anonymous said...

Give me a break most people see that row of slummy little businesses and the hideous apartment buildings around them and would be glad to have anything else there. The reason things change is because most want them to...

Anonymous said...

i don't call this gentrification as much as bastardization. i.e. the process where actual, needful, functioning businesses catering to working people with real lives are being replaced by ersatz, soul-less enterprises run by conglomerates and designed to serve the vacuous newcomers and passers-by who do not actually live in this city in any functional sense of the word. they take car service, play in their indoor playgrounds and only have a passing acquaintance with the very notion of a city, let alone this one. my only consolation? when they pull out, the grit will re-surface and things will get back to eclectic, imperfect, ab-normal around here. i personally can't wait. and i hope the skidding economy doesn't hit them in the ass on the way out.

Anonymous said...

Is that Mayor Bloomberg hiding behind the second anonymous comment? Peek-a-boo, Bloomie!

amarilla said...

Love the photo with the clock and black and white pictures.

Sorry to see more stupidification happening.

Anonymous said...

those stores are filthy...why are you sad to see a dirty liquor store that provides alcohol to the poor and destitute, a moneygram store that charges huge fees to cash checks, and a bodega that sells cigs to minors, disappear??? Those are not helpful to society...just because something is old, does not mae it good.

Anonymous said...

I live in the neighborhood. I pay a lot of money to live there. When I walk by 17th st on my way to the MePa I wonder how a row of ugly low income businesses could survive. I'm glad to see them go.

That block used to be really unsafe. A group of kids tried dropping a glass bottle on me and my friends for fun. They laughed their asses of. It totally killed my ecstasy high.

I won't shed a tear when they go.

"where are we going to go?" who cares man. East Brooklyn.

Anonymous said...

If you want ugly brick buildings and old stores move to Trenton.

Anonymous said...

People need to get off this kick of speculating and rumor-spreading that the "Projects" (NYC Housing Authority) are going to be sold. They were built with federal money and cannot simply be sold off... even if they wanted to the process alone would take years for a single development and the local resistance so extreme that it would be a non-starter. All it does is spread fear.

Anonymous said...

One good thing about the yunnie is that one never has to ask “what are these people thinking” in a rhetorical manner. Criticism tends to offend them so much that they tell you themselves. Not that we couldn’t tell, but it’s nice to hear some honest admissions from their own mouths every now and again. That old “we move in en masse because we’re poor too, so YOU leave” excuse could get old fast (especially when you found out how much they made that they considered themselves “poor”). It makes things much easier when they put it out straight.

--Yes-we are actively trying our best to displace you; both because we consider you to be beneath us and because we find it profitable to do so. No-we don’t give a shit how this impacts your life.--

See? It’s less insulting to one’s intelligence than that “building mixed communities” crap they occasionally try to hide behind, and it saves time.

Unknown said...

To anonymous who wrote "the reason things change is because most want them to..."
I'd like to know how you are defining "most," exactly? Most people who live on the block? Most New Yorkers? Most Americans? Most humans? Most real estate developers? Most corporate CEOs?

I've lived in New York all my life, and lived two blocks away from 18th and 9th for four years. And I can tell you that huge numbers of my neighbors are probably not members of the "most" as you seem to be implicitly defining it. But we are the "most" affected by these kinds of changes to our neighborhoods.

Anonymous said...

To quote Luc Sante quoting Rem Koolhaas: "New York is a city that will be replaced by another city."

And it is being replaced, block-by-block.

If you have the time, Sante's essay, "My Lost City," is worth a read:

Anonymous said...

Our local mom & pop stores are being priced out of the neighborhood and this forces the people that live in the neighborhood to worry that they will not be able to afford to shop in their community. As concerned as we are about affordable housing we also need to start advocating for commercial rent stabilization!!!!

Anonymous said...

That’s exactly it, us “losers” have to understand our collective peril and work toward the creation, strengthening, or reinstatement of our legal protections against whim-based displacement, both for residential and commercial space, since moral appeals to sociopaths (see above) are wasted breath.

Wonderful article as always, Jerry!

Anonymous said...

People seem to forget with capitalism you will have working class picking up after the upper class. You cannot have capitalism without the working class. Running these stores out of the working class neighbhorhood that it serves will run these individuals out of the city. Who will be left in this city to clean your beautiful toilets and fix your HDTV's? I can understand renovating these stores but they don't have to go nor should they go. I've known the liquor store owner for over 20 years. That sleezy store you see in pictures doesn't do the man running the business justice. I've enjoyed by-passing other liquor stores for this one because his prices are cheaper and he's always willing to order any kind of wine at reasonable prices. But I guess the golden rule applies here. Those who have the gold, rule. By the way, the old landlord totally blind-sided him after 25 years of a cordial business relationship by not renewing his lease as promised as I'm quite sure it would've made the sale of the property much less attractive if the new landlord had to honor any existing leases. I've witnessed an utter lack of professionalism by these new "managers" (children really with not a dime of class). To drive these business owners out and replace them with businesses that are already available elsewhere is presumptuous and short-sighted. Show me a well-to-do New Yorker that can't find a gym, restaurant, and yogurt shop somewhere else. My question to the landlord is do you really think anyone would be willing to travel cross town for these products across the street from the ghetto? I've seen plenty of stores come and go, high-end and otherwise. Rather than try to introduce more of the same, how about truly revitalizing the block to serve the flip side of the capitalism? These is a wealth of knowledge of business know-how on the block already from the existing owners.

Stephanie Weil said...

AWW FUCKING BALLS! This was right around the corner from the Callen Lorde clinic (which I've gone to for a few years). I've eaten at the chinese restaurant - they had good soup and fried rice.

That's a funky little strip. Weirdos on the sidewalk - always made for fun watching. I grew up in the pee-jays (not those houses) so I know what it's like to roll with that crowd.

Never stopped into the liquor store (self service! whoa!) since I don't drink, but I've peeked in -- their closed-circuit TV camera system looked like it was from the 1970s.


The more I read of this blog, the happier I am that I moved out to Long Island ... there's plenty of areas over there that are still "normal".

Anonymous said...

You people are ridiculous!! The things you have to say about our "ghetto" neighborhood and so on, none of you people live here. these stores hold memories for the people who live in this "ghetto" neighborhood how dare you judge us not knowing a thing. Not all projects are the same everyone here knows each other these stores have been around for years. None of thesr changes affect you because you are not one of us. All of our stores have been removed striped away and for what? That so called "ghetto"neighborhood neighborhood across the street is now being stripped of our play grounds because they wish to build parking garages and citi owns the projects. This is an out rage, where will our kids go to play what will they have to do? All you people ever think aboutnis yourselves and money. You place a price on everything and dont have a worry as to how it will effect us as a community!