Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Harlem Mall

Earlier this month, The Real Deal reported that several of the small businesses at 125th and Frederick Douglass Blvd have settled their lawsuit against Kimco Realty, who plans to demolish the entire block of low-rise buildings and replace them with a big-box shopping mall. There were 16 tenants evicted by the Kimco plan--many of them, including Bobby's Happy House, have already closed.

The block, once filled with life, is now half dead.

formerly bobby's

I went to 125th Street last fall, when Bobby's was still there. It was a chilly day, but there was a crowd out front of the 61-year-old business. In the window, a television showed Michael Jackson in his prime, and men were dancing along with him, mimicking his steps on the sidewalk. Bobby's closed on Martin Luther King's birthday this year.

Today, the store is boarded up. The awning is down, revealing an old sign from a shoestore with an angry boot called "boss" who looks ready to kick someone. Bobby moved to this site about 20 years ago, after Kentucky Fried Chicken booted him from his corner spot.

city high sports

Next door, in the window of former apparel store City High Sports, African-American mannequins lay in naked pieces, in piles of arms and legs, torsos dismembered. The beauty supplier and the nail salon have also had their faces ripped off. Soon, the rest of the businesses, from Manna's soul food to Roti Plus and the House of Seafood, will be gone.

formerly beauty supply, formerly spatz furniture

What will come, we can well imagine. Everyone knows what a brand-new shopping mall looks like. And feels like. There probably won't be middle-aged men moonwalking out in front of it.


Anonymous said...

Nas: Its elementary they want us all gone eventually.

Anonymous said...

Is any of this destruction being covered by the mainstream media? It's freakin' disgusting. Manhattan is being turned into one gigantic mall. Maybe they'll put the entire island under glass and pipe in muzack.

yojimbot said...

I will definitely miss some of those businesses such as Manna's, and the Record Shack was an institution, but some of those other spots were not getting it done. Around '99 I felt that Manhattan was gonna be one big mall and that used to depress me, but now I think, so what? There's still plenty of mom and pop businesses, plenty of new entrepreneurs and plenty of hustlers to make this transition interesting. Just cause its changing, doesnt make it terrible.

Anonymous said...

I refer you to the issue of affordability. The mom and pop businesses that remain do so only as long as the transition to super-luxury is incomplete. If these trends continue unabated, they will not be able to survive as their target populations are pushed out (as has allready been demonstrated in dozens of neighborhoods).
The process is plenty interesting already, if only for sheer fascination at how quickly and easily the largest city in the country was rendered nearly uninhabitable for a majority of it's pre-1998 inhabitants, even despite the liberal traditions of protest and housing advocacy that NYC was famous for. Still, I'd rather be reading about all this in the history books than living through it, if only so that over half my sallary didn't have to go to rent.
I suppose the watchword here is that the city isn't "changing", but rather is "being changed" to suit the specific agenda of a very narrow minority of people for whom real-estate speculation has proven massively rewarding over these past eight years-or-so. So, just think of these businesses as being murdered rather than living out a normal lifespan. That's a more apt picture of what's going on.

Anonymous said...

People - this is not disgusting but pure capitalist economics. If you don't like the way the US is there is always socialist guerillas in Colombia to go fight for.

These businesses contributed nothing to the tax base of the city. To wane nostalgic for the 1970's New York - Now THAT is disgusting. The record shack did no business and employed 2 friggin people. New businesses will not only clean that block up but will also employ more people in the community. AND contribute more to the city's tax base - which help improve schools, social welfare programs and recreation centers. Economics 101 people.

Same thing with Columbia's expansion. In my opinion the BEST thing to happen to Harlem in a while. More jobs and opportunities for families living in the area.

Anonymous said...

Folks, don't forget the clothing store, St. Mark's Place, that graced Frederick Douglass Blvd. before City High Sports thought of opening there. St. Mark's Place was City High's predecessor, next to Bobby's record shop. By the way, the landlord's management realty co., Giscombe Henderson was a very hostile agent. They are part of the problem in Harlem along the corridor of 125th st. Black faces, white hearts!

yojimbot said...

Joshua, I really think you're exaggerating. Yes the City's more expensive, but many people's wealth rose along with the overall fortunes of the City. These mom & pop places, they are being bought out with $$$, not murdered under the cover of night. So I think its important to keep an honest appraisal going. Yes, the City's changing, not always for the better, but sour grapes aren't helping anyone. Furthermore I can honestly tell you that if Harlem natives are willing to play the game and trust the system a little bit, they too can reap huge financial rewards. (Not an exaggeration as I have seen it time and time again). Last but not least, lets shed some light on the original gentrifier of Harlem, Mr. Magic Johnson. He plowed a ton of $$$ into it for its revitalization and now that its worked, everyone is up in arms about racist cabals taking over 125th st. Puhleez!

Anonymous said...

It's amazing how out of touch people are with this situation. A man comes in to offer services to community that had no such services - even on a small scale - and he is now dubbed the "original gentrifier." Trust me, when the "capitalist" building their skyscrapers and big box stores are done you won't be watching your wildlife from Harlem anymore. Next stop: The Bronx!

yojimbot said...

yeah, real classy there anonymous with the personal attacks. I suggest that you read Magic's original press statement here. It clearly says he's paving the way for future development.

Finally that "black faces, white hearts" comment. I think its important to call out the racism inherent in that statement. Its too bad many people still think like that. But these are the same haters who find themselves left behind and blame others for it.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that guy just wiped away the economic, social, and racial realities of gentrification in one paragraph, and gave us all a nice guide to life while he was at it: work hard and you will become rich just like everybody else. Nice to know. I guess he’s inferring that those Halemites who can’t afford the market rents of the fabulous new city suffer because they weren’t willing to “play the game” (whatever he means by that) and trust the system that protects them so well. Surprisingly though, I don’t think he means to deny the wide-spread existence of gentrification, simply that it does not create the hardships I say it does (except maybe if you don’t “play the game”).
Anyway, to answer his specific theory about the disappearance of mom&pop businesses, there are a few problems with your idea about generous compensation. You see, usually we’re talking about a sudden rise in commercial rent (which is not subject to rent control) in the property in question, forcing the businesses to close quickly, usually at a loss.
Those who own their properties and that are actually bought-out usually do so under some threat of demolition (such as a stadium) as well as the rising property taxes that result from revitalization (and please don’t tell me that you think shrewd businesspeople don’t take advantage of that). Either that or they die out slowly as their target populations are pushed out: “not an exaggeration as I have seen it time and time again” (to borrow a phrase), though combinations of all three often occur. Mind, this is a very skeletal explanation. For many individual examples I recommend you read more of the articles on this blog, if you like.

Now, in regards to the comments made by Anon#2 above, I have a few thoughts to share as well. I’m not sure if everything works out as neatly as you describe it regarding the city’s tax base. I think you’re forgetting just how much of this development is underwritten by the government, either through subsidies or generous tax abatements. Heck, some of these condo developments were built with the incentive of twenty year property tax exemptions (literally). However, this is not to say that the young wealth that subsequently floods the area do not demand great improvements in police, fire, sanitation, transportation, parks, energy, and water service. Quite the opposite, actually, they just don’t want to pay for the difference. Generally, it is the “schools, social welfare programs, and recreation centers” that pay for the difference through cuts in funding. In other words, luxury development may cost the average taxpayer more (not counting rent hikes) than the developers actually pay to carry it out. See?

So, to conclude, I know this all may sound like sour grapes (which don’t help anyone, I know), but I’m afraid that when people get pushed out of their homes and businesses to clear the way for “revitalization” schemes that are openly intended to push them out, you have to expect hostility. There isn’t much else I can say to sugarcoat that reality.

Wonderful article as always, Jerry!

yojimbot said...

Im not ignoring anything...I've been a part of the harlem community for 15 years. Im just trying to present a fuller picture of gentrification, one which is conveniently ignored and overlooked because its much easier to believe that all this development is bad and only for "greedy white people" who care nothing about Harlem. Thats just bull$h!t, and you all know it. Check out how many new business that have moved to Harlem are Black owned. Check out how many development corporations which are behind many of these development forces are wholly Black owned (7th Abyssianan development corp anybody). No, why do any actual research when we can all just sit around on message boards and drag the dialogue down into racist diatribes that have no basis in reality. Reality: many of my neighbors are Black, from Harlem, and are flossing right now because they made good financial decisions. And they didnt have to displace anyone to do it either and neither did I. The one point I will concede to you, is that Harlem is definitely becoming more expensive...but this is NY and the USA in general. Hard to see why this gets lumped in with the gentrification issue as this is part of much broader economic.

Anonymous said...

Gentrification is nothing more than the END RESULT OF SYSTEMIC RACISM. Thus, a poorer community resident (living in a community where most of the Black leaders have sold out, Rangel, etc) tries to open a business. Often Blacks rather spend $ with non-Blacks (brainwashed), plus real estate is more expensive for Black business persons (discrimination). We don't own JACK so we must learn to WORK TOGETHER. By: Harlem Genius