Monday, February 6, 2012

8th St. Hyper-gentrified

For some time, 8th Street has been a ghost town. The once-plentiful shoe stores and other small businesses that lined it have dropped like flies in recent years. Trendy restaurants have tried to get a foothold and failed. It's ripe for "revival" and now the big guns are being rolled in to force the street into hyper-gentrification mode.

The Daily News files a startling report on 8th Street's upcoming upgrade--it's going from "under-retailed" to an "artisanal center."

Marlton House, Jeff Bachner, Daily News

Stumptown Coffee is coming first--they're a foodie favorite in the uber-hipster Ace Hotel (formerly the Breslin, a tragic story there). After that, BD Hotels, of the Bowery and Jane Street Hotels (more controversy there), will open a new boutique hotel in the former SRO Marlton House.

The neighborhood flippers have arrived.

Says BD Hotels' Richard Born, "We’ve had the experience of changing neighborhoods like with the Bowery Hotel, where we saw the area take off. We think that will happen here. I bet we raise square-footage prices by $100 across the street when we open... The beats hung out here, and in a way, hipsters of today are the beatniks of yesterday. I think Eighth St. will be as cool as Prince St. in SoHo."

Now we know who to credit for the Bowery Tsunami that turned an edgy neighborhood into Meatpacking East--a massive wave that has kept rolling, most recently right over Mars Bar. But "edgy" is hip and that makes it a prime target for the hyper-gentrification juggernaut.

The Marlton House, most recently a New School dorm, has a storied past. It housed many artists and bohemians, including Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and radical feminist Warhol-shooter Valerie Solanas. That gives it cachet. New York City's counter-cultural history is catnip for the trend-makers of today--we see it from the current gutting of the Chelsea Hotel to the foodie takeover of classic restaurants and bars.

This is not to say let's celebrate shuttered shoe stores and college dorms that once were SROs, but it seems that every time a boutique hotel, a hipster coffee chain, or a foodie-fetish restaurant drops on a block, it all becomes "as cool" as SoHo--another manufactured neighborhood.

As urban scholar Neil Smith says, gentrification in New York today is "really a systematic class-remaking of city’s about creating entire environments." So let's not delude ourselves into thinking this is just normal New York change. There is a Big Machine at work.

From strategically designed Bergen Street to the deep reaches of "authentrification," New York is starting to feel a lot like a Disney "master-planned community."


Alex in NYC said...

"in a way, hipsters of today are the beatniks of yesterday"

Oh fuck you.

Ed said...

Have you actually been to Disney World recently? They are quite good at what they do. There are actually a few areas of the park that seem livelier and even more authentic than some of these ultragentrified blocks in New York.

It wouldn't surprise me to see the Mars Bar reconstructed by Disney, either as part of a New York theme hotel or in one of their periodic attempts to provide nightlife for the adults who go there.

VisuaLingual said...

Jeremiah, as a Brooklyn expat now living in Cincinnati, I use your blog to keep up with things between my trips back home. This is sad news indeed, although I'm not surprised.

I just read a restaurant review that you might find interesting and/or annoying, for a new place in my neighborhood in Cincinnati.

Blah, blah, blah, the key part is, "It’s definitely Cincinnati, but it’s the Cincinnati we’re becoming — an aspirational version, to use the marketing term. It’s not us at home on the sofa in our fuzzy socks. It’s the hip, progressive area of Over-the-Rhine that’s closer to Williamsburg in Brooklyn or Chicago’s Logan Square." See, it happens everywhere.

Marty Wombacher said...

"hipsters of today are the beatniks of yesterday."

No they're not.

Jeremiah Moss said...

visualingual, you're right. it's the brooklyn plague, which isn't about brooklyn really, at all.

Tricia said...

This makes me feel nostalgic for the 8th Street Bookshop, which I can now barely remember. Looking up when it closed--1979--found this wonderful memoir "Positively 8th Street" by Bill Reed who worked there in the 1960s and '70s

Anonymous said...

"in a way, hipsters of today are the beatniks of yesterday"

No they are not, asshat. Hipster zombies are the antithesis of the beatniks and real artists of yesterday, and are the embodiment of everything they were against.

Little Earthquake said...

"in a way, hipsters of today are the beatniks of yesterday"

Not to overvalue the beatnik scene, but I'm trying to think of the hipster equivalent to the novels, art, music, and poetry that was produced by the beats.

“The hipster movement did not produce artists. It produced tattoo artists. It did not produce photographers, but snapshot and party photographers. It did not produce painters, but graphic designers. It did not yield a great literature, but it made good use of fonts.” —Mark Greif

Jeremiah Moss said...

that Greif quote is great. thanks for adding it.

flaming_mo said...

As someone who has lived in Florida for several decades and visited Disney World a number of times since its opening in the early 70s, I can say that they are decidely NOT a desirable option for overhauling New York, including in regards to authenticity. Just what they did to their own Main Street U.S.A. is a prime example - once a colorful and nostalgic thoroughfare lined with unique individual businesses that were reminiscent of the early 1900s, it was gutted and turned into a series of homogenous interiors that all pimp the same Disney merchandise. In fact, it used to have a wonderful nickelodeon, complete with vintage equipment and wood paneled atmosphere; all gone. Sure, the storefronts are intact, but the contents that were once very compelling (save for the candy store)have disappeared. Definitely not an improvement. Also, several friends of mine are park employees, and it is a pretty oppressive enviroment. But if you want to see something pretty telling about Disney's corporate mentality and how their power and influence overrides other civic entities, try driving along I-4 and get a load of this:

You won't have a cleaned up New York, instead you'll have Disney North. If there are folks out there that want the late Pleasure Island in the midst of Manhattan, with the addtion of an antiseptic Mars Bar, they have my pity.

Filmatix said...

VisuaLingual's link to the Cincinnati small-plates-wine-bar write-up initially got me hopeful that the reviewer would at least partly acknowledge the loaded nature of "aspirational" cuisine and retail. This year, my semi-formal New Years' resolution is to try to be far less of a hater, but it's a little hard when you encounter bits like "“Where do you take people so they realize we’re not hicks after all?” Good food is good food, and more power to 'em, but what is it about so much food writing that irks some of us so much? Maybe it's the smugness that goes hand-in-hand with the aspirational monoculture that's virally infecting regional urban landscapes cities all over the US. The relentless pursuit of cool is hollowing out the character of so many places.

Brendan said...

Y'all are using the word "hipster" in a way I don't recognize. Surely no one who can afford the Ace Hotel is a hipster, by definition. Or a new lease on 8th Street for that matter.

esquared™ said...

Hipsters are usually trustafarians who dress up "poor" but are really rich and like to live and "slum" in a poor and ethnic neighborhood to "create" their art, so that they can be cool and ironic.

So, yes, a hipster can afford the Ace Hotel. Ok, maybe not the hipster, technically, but the hipster's parents.

James Campbell Taylor said...

The difference is that hipsters (in the current sense of the word) want the acclaim, credibility and trappings of artistic success but aren't interested in doing the work/being poor. They are the personification of corporate America.

Brendan said...

What do we call people who look like hipsters but don't have parental support, then? That's like 95% of people who work in the media and non-profit sectors in NYC.

Anyway even the hipsters from rich families aren't going to be at the Ace Hotel or living on 8th St. because, as you say, they like to

esquared™ said...

People who look like hipsters who do not have parental support are still called hipsters; they have investors support.

Are you sure these hipsters won't be slumming, as I say it, in the Ace Hotel? The Ace Hotel itself is slumming it in the neighborhood. I don't know what you have vested in hipsters, unless you're just being just being ironic like they are.

Anonymous said...

Hipster is just an artificial label people invented for a large and diverse group of people who have a bunch of qualities, real or imaginary that are distasteful to the people who came up with the term. I know this because the people who decry hipsters the most, are precisely the people who I would most likely identify as a hipster in the first place.

Jeremiah Moss said...

two things i worry about when it comes to hipster bashing:

1. i'll be mistaken for a hipster because i share some of their attributes (but i think i am too old for this to happen--what's the hipster age cut-off?).

2. some young people who are creative, cool, and true oddballs get lumped in unfairly with hipsters because they have the same haircuts and footwear.

Brendan said...

esquared--Investors? I don't think we're talking about the same people at all. Maybe a generation gap.

I can get into fights about this because I use the word hipster in a more value-neutral way than most people, who use it as a vicious insult (none more than hipsters themselves, as the cliche goes).

Derek said...

To add a note about the beatniks-hipsters comment:

In a way this is not totally wrong, though I doubt the guy who said it meant it in this regard. People here are correctly associating "beat" with the poets and artists who gave fame to the term. But, once the term became popularized as a way to classify a group of people (much in the same way hipster is today), "beat" became a catch-all for youth culture that spread out of the original art movement and was otherwise perceived as pretentious and shallow by outsiders. Just like "hipsters," "beats" were derided in the media as pseudo-intellectuals and artists who should work and contribute to society, &c. Hipsters/beats are a brand of people that don't ever leave society, but poseurism should not be mistaken for originality.

lauran said...

J, i dont agree w/this one. rows of crappy shoe stores & cellphone stores are boring. 8 st. has not been cool since early 60s. the last hip beatnik places closed like in 1963-1964. "sam kramer" the jeweler (the glass eye pendents), & "fred braun" shoes (those brown strong leather laced flat shoes w/a long toe w/a squared off edge, very hip). when do you roam on 8th anyway? i know you dont. it turned very cheesy during the late 60s. so now i dont mind some added ascetics. this is one place that bit the dust almost 50yrs ago. & i hate cheap shoes.

esquared™ said...

I bash on the hipsters -- real or imaginary, parental money or investor's money or no money -- because they have whitewashed and look down on the ethnic natives of the neighborhood where they've moved into, treating them with such distrust, disrespect, and condescension, avoiding them on the sidewalks, etc., having an air of superiority attitude and they call themselves liberal. Instead of assimilating into the neighborhood, they not only want the neighborhood to assimilate to them , they want them to bow to them. And if they can't have that, they would totally destroy a neighborhood to mirror their image.

I decry on yuppies and yunnies too. I guess I identify myself as one of them also.

Hipsters or not, 8th street will still be Disneyfied and luxufied thus gentrified, nonetheless.

I liked this post before it was popular.

Caleo said...

"some added ascetics".
I didn't realize 8th st. was getting an infusion of Buddhist monks.
There were some great record shops on 8th in the 80's, and it had far more foot traffic than it does now.
Whether a boutique hotel and Stumptown coffee can force a renovation of the entire length of the street is questionable. I think the hotelier is overselling his magical powers of transformation just a bit. It's a long street.
I actually like it there. I don't think it's "cheesy" at all.

lauran said...

CALEO: @one time 8th street was all private small businesses. mostly boutiques. it was the opening of "whelans" drug store (the first chain) in the 60s which started the decline. then fast food came in. 6th ave. began to change & 8th street went w/it. by the time i returned to the village (as a teen), 8th st was commerical junk. the last 2 stores closed. i had been there when i was a child, & it was another world. im sure there were some record stores there in the 80s. i blame chain stores for everything. whether its the low end or high end. i would take the hip stuff over walmart any day, dont know how much of a choice we have. ESQUARED: for the past 50plus years, latino immigrants moved into areas & destroyed them. it took time for them to assimilate. also the migration in the 1950s when the blacks came up from the south. so many neighborhoods were taken over & became slums, as these people could not maintain the properties. the white people moved to the suburbs. first to brooklyn, then out further. because of crime. i resent "white" bashing. it works both ways. people move into an area & dont respect what was there before. both these examples are 2 extremes, & both are wrong.

Jeremiah Moss said...

i liked a lot of things before they were popular. i have this thought often and worry: does it make me a hipster?

Filmatix said...

I have had, and continue to have, trouble separating folks that would qualify as hipsters, vs. just simply alternative. I grew up here, and have many friends that are lifelong natives and a good amount who came way later. A good chunk of the former might be identified as hipsterish, mainly because they're musicians.

When I moved back from abroad in mid-2010, I took the first job I could find, with an "artsy" moving company, and 75% of the movers were people from elsewhere in the US, most of them here from 1-3 years. Haven't met a cooler bunch of people who I may otherwise have painted with the hipster brush. Maybe it's a class thing; the workers came from a variety of backgrounds, but they were hustling to raise extra cash, and seemed to have a completely different perspective on the city than semi-employed college grads funded by their parents while they took coveted (unpaid) internships, or pursued their art without the stress of making rent every month.

"Hipsters" are like pornography-you may not be able to define it, but you know it when you see it. For me, the telltale sign is the pointless drivel people go on in their disdainful, yammering voices, and on about when you're forced to eavesdrop behind them on the sidetalk, or end up at a party where you're forced to mix with 'em. Little Earthquake's quote from the NYmag article, "What was the Hipster?" is a good place to start. Maybe hipsters are just people that have no substance to them besides their consumption choices.

Realized we all wandered off-topic here. If 8th Street never "took off," it'd be fine by me. You need one sorta dead street in the city.

Anonymous said...

I think the idea of the underemployed, family-supported hipster is largely a strawman created by hipsters trying to avoid the label themselves. "See, I can't be a hipster because I make my own money!"

laura said...

"J": liking something "after" it was popular is the SAME as liking it "before". as that thing is the same thing. if it "had" value, than it still "has" value. value is not based upon someone else. people like things for different reasons. chances are that these phony hipsters you speak of will change their mind & its on to the next thing. they go w/trends, they are immature. maybe they will always be that way maybe some will grow out of it. i looked on the "stuff white people like" web page. just checking. some stuff is me. some i never heard of, thank god. ok im an individual.

randall said...

@ filmatrix

Intentionally or not, I think you may have hit on the definition. At least it's the definition that I'm going to use from now on.

"Maybe hipsters are just people that have no substance to them besides their consumption choices."

And by the way, I think that it can be appropriately applied across generations. Beats and hippies, those that joined the "scene" without really understanding it are probably just as guilty of hipsterism as the current incarnation found in Brooklyn, Silver Lake, South Congress, Portlandia, etc. etc.

I think I remember reading once that the term hippie was derived from hipster.

esquared™ said...

@lauran Back then it was about survival and they didn't know any better. Today, it's about homogenization and they know better. Both are wrong, yes, nonetheless...

As for liking things before they were popular, the hipsters only say they don't like things before they were popular, but they still really like popular things, hence the irony. They wear "unpopular" clothes to look indigenous, yet they shop for these said clothes at popular places such as Urban Outfitters, American Apparel, Buffalo Exchange, where they are expensive.

I think I've had my say with hipsters. Time to put this to bed[bugs].

Anonymous said...

@James Campbell Taylor February 6, 2012 1:47 PM

God LOVE you. You've exquisitely hit the nail on the head.

Peter Crowley said...

- The "hipsters" of today are the "plastic hippies" of yesterday.