Thursday, March 29, 2012

Soy Cafe


After about a decade on Greenwich Avenue at Jane Street, Soy Cafe is closing on April 14 due to rising rent.

click to read Soy's goodbye note

I like Soy Cafe, in part, because they hate cell phones and they have signs like this:

It was also the first (and only) place where I saw the great "More Jane Jacobs, Less Marc Jacobs" postcard on display, which led to the slogan getting on t-shirts.

But the winds of the new New York blow fierce. No matter how hard you fight them, the relentless forces of Marc Jacobs, Inc., and the iPhone zombies just keep coming. And they love a prime corner spot.

P. S. Most mornings, a clock repair man sits on one of the benches outside Soy Cafe. He reads a book in an Eastern European language and waits for the workday to begin next door at Timepieces, the watch and clock shop. He isn't overtly friendly. He doesn't smile or make conversation. He just sits and waits for the moment when the shop opens so he can get to work repairing clocks and watches.

I guess he won't be sitting there anymore--and I wonder if now we should worry about the clock shop, too. They have the same landlord.

P.P.S. I know it looks like a candidate, but Soy Cafe was not the original location of Hopper's Nighthawks diner.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

World of Video


After 29 years in Greenwich Village, World of Video will be closing on April 28. They have lost their lease.

A sign in the window, covered with handwritten well wishes and goodbyes, reads: "It is with great sadness we are forced to announce World of Video will be closing its doors forever. We have shared great entertainment, engaged in casual and often personal conversation..."

"Can you believe it," asked a man reading the sign.

"Netflix," I said.

"I rent here and I have Netflix," he said, "so I guess I'm as guilty as the next guy."

"We all are," I conceded.

A woman stopped by with her dog. "Bummer," she said. "Here comes another goddamn Marc Jacobs."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Beatrice Inn Neon

On a recent evening I was walking by the poor, old Beatrice Inn. The falling light was just right, buttery and blushed, so I snapped a photo of the battered neon sign, wondering what would happen to it now that Graydon Carter is (partially) taking over. The next day I got the answer.

When you walk by and find the sign vanished, don't despair. It has been removed by Let There Be Neon and they've been commissioned to restore the sign back to glory. You might remember them from their fantastic work on 42nd Street's PEEP-O-RAMA sign.

Let There Be Neon's Jeff Friedman sent in some photos of the sign, currently at their shop, and answered a few questions about what's to come. Unlike the Fedora sign, which was replaced with a replica, the Beatrice Inn sign will be rehabilitated, rust and all.

Jeff Friedman

What are the new owners asking you to do with the sign?

What they've asked us to do is get it working. What we are going to do is: remove all neon (all broken), gently brush off sign faces, clear coat faces for protection so that existing patina rust is stuck in time and cannot be cleaned by some moron, repair/remake neon as required, replace all housings, transformers and secondary wiring, add new disconnect switch (a good thing), remount neon, reinstall.

In your email, you said "the best news is that the owner agrees not to correct the rust and leave as is." What is it about leaving the rust that you like?

It's patina. It would be a travesty to clean too much or repaint the lettering. It's phony. Rust is good.

Jeff Friedman

So, in the end, we'll have a beautifully rusted sign with new neon?

Yes, beautiful. Some of the neon will be original.

Jeff Friedman

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Graydon Carter plans to open the Beatrice Inn in about five weeks. We'll have more to report once the sign is completely rehabbed and back in place. In the meantime, join Let There Be Neon's Facebook page for more neon news.

See Also:
New York Neon
Fedora Sign
Jade Mountain Found

Monday, March 26, 2012

*Everyday Chatter

Many tears on the last night of the great Bill's Gay 90s. [DJ]

Lost City unearth's some of Bill's secrets. [LC]

Maybe "Girls" will be good--Emily Nussbaum says so. But will it be an antidote to the ravages of SATC? [NYM]

Columbia's demolition in eminent-domained Manhattanville causes collapse and death. [NYO]

The films of Sara Driver at Anthology: "New York really did have magic then, because it was such an empty city. It was very cheap to live here. You could have a job in a Xerox store and pay your rent and have your food. People didn’t want to be here…and the people who were, really wanted to be here.” [AFA]

RADAR Lab, queer-centric lit at the Strand. [CNY]

Susie Bright recalls the dirty days of the Meatpacking District. [SB]

"Find a new city," said Patti Smith. How about Detroit? [NYM]

Recently, at Astor Place--thank goodness for Mr. Silver:

Peep World


Today is the last day for Peep World, the porn shop across from Madison Square Garden. The cashier told me they are closing for good tonight at 6:00.

Go before it's too late. They're having a major "closing down sale"-- all DVDs are $5.

The upstairs, where once were "live girls," is closed and packed with cardboard boxes and other junk. The walls are hung with the usual latex goods--synthetic penises and vaginas--along with vibrating eggs, pumps, clamps, and plush-lined handcuffs in friendly cotton-candy colors. The toys are also on sale--"Everything must go."

In the back, where a sign says "No Hanging Around," men hang around. They lean against the buddy booths, waiting for other men to step inside.

Many people will be glad to hear Peep World has vanished. They will say it was an offense for one reason or another. Of course, what's to come won't be viewed as worse.

*Update: It became a Hooters chain.

See all my Peep World pictures

Also read:
Show World
Adult Bookstores
Parisian Danceland

Secret Peeps

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Books to Bar

After planning to do so for years, Strip House has finally expanded into the former space of once-beloved 12th Street Books.


In 2008, decade-old 12th Street Books shuttered when their lease ended and the landlord hiked the rent.

Upscale chain restaurant Strip House (which replaced 75-year-old Asti) was slated to take over the spot before the bookstore had even closed, but they did not move in right away. The downstairs space stayed empty for four years, growing more blighted by the day--and we sorely missed our bookstore.


During those four years, 12th Street Books relocated to Brooklyn and became The Atlantic Book Shop. Sadly, it did not last. In May 2011, that bookstore also shuttered. It has not, to my knowledge, reopened again.

The Strip House Grill, once a haven of books, is now serving filet mignon sandwiches and "lobster frites."

Is it better than a bikini wax?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

*Everyday Chatter

Remember the BMW Guggenheim Lab in the East Village that many people wrote angry blog comments about? In Berlin, left-wing activists shut the project down with threats of violence. "Their protest was that the project would accelerate the gentrification of Kreuzberg, leading to higher rents and new luxury residential developments." Another good reason to move to Berlin. [Atlantic]

Bloomberg bans food donations to the homeless. CBS asks, "Has The Mayor Totally Eaten Away At The Public's Desire To Do Good?" [CBS]

Graydon Carter on New York and money: "Somewhere along the way, New York became all about money. Or rather, it was always about money, but it wasn’t all about money, if you know what I mean. New York’s not Geneva or Zurich yet, but we’re certainly heading in that direction..." [VF]

Remembering New York School artist and writer Joe Brainard. [LOA]

New York City loses another cobbler due to doubling rents. [PMFA] via [Gothamist]

Torrisi, the people taking over Rocco's space, are raising their prices. [Eater]

EV's Zum Schneider gets all Hamptons. [Grub]

NYU: Helping the Village keep its character? [Villager]

Check out the Art & Psyche in the City conference--plus a "Dream-Over" at the Rubin Museum.

Jade Mountain Found

From 1931 to 2007, the two gorgeous neon signs of the Jade Mountain Chinese restaurant glowed on Second Avenue in the East Village like a beacon. When the restaurant closed, taken over by Shoolbred's, the Chow Mein sign stayed lit for awhile, and the Jade Mountain sign remained hidden on the rooftop.

Photo from warsze

Last summer, CHOW MEIN vanished and we watched the beautiful Jade Mountain sign get crushed, then carted away. My emails to the owners of Shoolbred's, asking for the whereabouts of the signs, went unanswered. My pleas to save the signs fell on deaf ears. Until now.

Thomas Rinaldi of New York Neon shares the very exciting news that the signs have been salvaged.

July 2011

A mysterious someone called only "Kathleen in Canada," reports Rinaldi, first tracked the Chow Mein sign to the building contractor's junkyard where she found the treasure "partially dismantled, its neon tubes knocked out and metal faces folded over themselves, literally tossed on the scrap pile." She found the Jade Mountain sign in another location and in better shape.

Says Rinaldi, "the signs are now tucked away for safe keeping in a Bronx warehouse, awaiting restoration."

NY Neon

We don't know what Kathleen in Canada has planned for the signs after their rescue and restoration, but we can hope that she intends to make them available for everyone in New York City to enjoy. The last place they belong is on some collector's condo wall.

NY Neon

Read more:
Jade Mountain Closes
Save the Signs
Signs Vanish

Monday, March 19, 2012

Carmine's 2 Years Later

Two years ago, Carmine's at the Seaport was forced to close after 107 years in business when the landlord raised the rent to $13,000 a month.

Today it's still gutted and empty. In this depressing photo sent in from reader Frank, all that remains of Carmine's is the pressed-tin ceiling.

The Five Guys burger chain people were supposed to bring an upscale steakhouse here, but that was announced a year ago and the "For Lease" signs are still on Carmine's facade.

As Frank says, "Wouldn't it have been better to keep Carmine's in business and get some kind of rent, instead of nothing for the past two years?"

my flickr, 2008

Thursday, March 15, 2012

*Everyday Chatter

Today is Egg Cream Day--who knew? So go check out these places--and these--for delicious egg creams. [EGD]

Walking Greenwich Avenue. [FNY]

Dig into the neon sign design archives of Artkraft Strauss. [NYN]

Freaked out in Brooklyn's last porno theater. [TWM]

“One day, you’re going to come to Coney Island and just gasp—‘Oh my god, it’s not that beautiful anymore,’” Carolyn McCrory said, eyes wide. “You’re going to feel it in your bones.” She was wearing an orange peacock dress, and her curly golden tresses added to the carnival air in the meeting, a mix of working class and Wonder Wheel. [NYO]

The evolution of Max Fish. [EVG]

Live at the Fillmore East. [BB]

Please don't hug the subway pole. [Gothamist]

NYC gets yet another Wisconsin-themed foodie establishment. [Eater]

Bear Auto Paved

The Bear auto body shop, tucked under the High Line at 10th and 26th, put out of business and demolished, is now a parking lot.


The business had been here for over 30 years. But when we watched the second part of the High Line open in June we wondered, "How long will the tourist machine tolerate this industrial view from the High Line's new 'viewing spur' before the Firestone Bear Auto Center is suddenly put out of business?"

Soon after, we heard of Bear Auto's demise. A tipster spoke to an employee and told us that Bear Auto was fighting their landlord in court, and that the expensive private school going up next door wanted their space for a parking lot. The realtor posted a listing with a dreamed-up retail space on the spot.

Summer 2011

Fall 2011

Winter 2011

In December, after Bear Auto closed, local mechanic Alan Brownfeld (also pushed out by hiked rent) told us that the High Line's devastating impact on the once-thriving "Gasoline Alley" had "gotten so bad...the son of the guy who ran Bear Auto killed himself, jumped from a seven-story window."


Today there's no trace of the auto-body shop left on the corner. The parking lot is gated by a thick metal fence, giving the cars their privacy.

See Also:
The Upper High Line
Brownfeld Auto
Eagle Under Siege
Folsom Under High Line
Goodbye Poppy's
Bear Auto

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Jump's Ghost Signs

Frank Jump has been photographing and collecting the ghost signs of New York City since 1997. Most recently, he published many of his photos, along with essays, in the excellent book Fading Ads of New York City. This Sunday, March 18, he leads a walking tour of the ghost signs of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, beginning with a talk at Word bookstore.

I asked Frank some questions about his work and the upcoming tour.

Frank Jump

What are some of the highlights people can expect on the ghost sign tour of Greenpoint?

The Greenpoint gem will always be Syrup of Figs. Once painted over, as the paint that covers it chips away, this fading ad just keeps getting better. I need to scope out some of the route because some that I think are there may no longer be there. There is a great corset ad on Manhattan Avenue and an old depot sign on the back of someone's apartment on Nassau. Flushing Avenue going down into Williamsburg has a few treasures from the not too distant past, as is with the Ko-rec-type ad.

We can also see if the Public Baths is still there on Huron. Miss Heather will be there too, hopefully, and she will be a treasure-trove of trivia for the Greenpoint environs. Great graffiti near the northern tip of Manhattan Avenue near Newtown Creek.

What would you say makes Syrup of Figs the gem that it is?

The black paint that once covered it is slowly peeling away and it is like a reverse fading ad. It is a one of a kind. Castoria ads were abundant but this one advertises an obscure brand and still lives on. The brand, however, does not.

Frank Jump

What NYC ghost signs have you been wanting to photograph, but have been unable to?

Just recently a sign was uncovered in Middle Village Queens and because I was just hit by a car on my motorcycle, I couldn't get to it and it was covered within days. Was always wondering if the Weber & Heilbroner sign is still hiding behind one of those stretchy ads.

I would like to take another trip though the Bronx (where there is a multitude of ads) during the winter when the foliage isn't obscuring your views, as well as Staten Island which seems to be at a deficit for ads.

On an emotional level, what feelings go through you when you see something like a giant flip-flop being painted over a beloved ghost sign?

On one level, I am annoyed that other airspace was not considered. With all of the available airspace in Soho, why not use another location? Since this is a prime airspace and the landmarks rules don't apply, you can't stand in the way of progress. Be that as it may, on another level, I rationalize that 1) the paint that covers the vintage ad is made of plastic and will eventually peel, and 2) the long tradition of hand-painted ads on brick continues through Colossal Media's talented team of designers and artists.

my flickr

Finally, what's your favorite NYC ghost sign of all time? What's the vanished ghost sign you miss the most? What ghost sign do you worry most will vanish soon?

Favorite: M. Rappoport's Music. Favorite vanished: Reckitt's Blue. And it would be a shame if Suzy Perette got covered.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

*Everyday Chatter

In the East Village, people leaving clothes on the sidewalk for the homeless are getting awfully fussy (and bossy) about the whole thing:

Met Foods has removed the Ratner's "R" from their floor--but we still have the mosaic wall. [EVG]

A lovely ode to the dearly departed Manganaro's, its ladies, and its neon. [NYN]

Landlord of Harlem's famed and fabulous Lenox Lounge hikes the rent--and the owner is out. [NYDN]

Author Christopher Bollen recalls life in a Williamsburg that has changed dramatically in just 10 years. [PRD]

Dean Haspiel puts the Montero Bar & Grill into a comic. [TC]

A "manifesto of gentrification" in photographs of Park Slope. [NYT]
Help preserve the mural at the former Victor's Cafe. [LW]

Last week, the Odessa cash mob drew a dozen neighborhood folks, including bloggers C.O. Moed, Goggla, Marty, Melanie, and One More Folded Sunset, many of whom covered the event in their blogs. What's next for the mobbing?

Harry Chong Gone

The last remnants of the Harry Chong Chinese laundry have vanished. Reader Ian sends in this photo of workers in action, scraping the red lettering from the window of the recently rented space.

In October, we noted that the space was for rent as the Snip N Sip beauty parlor reduced its size in half. Our tipster at the time reported that the hairdresser "said that he hopes whoever comes in keeps the 'Harry Chong' lettering on the windows. When I expressed skepticism that would happen, he added that the landlord would like the sign to stay too!"

The skeptic was correct, unfortunately.

Piro Patton, flickr, 2006

Pushed out after 60 years in business here, Harry Chong originally had additional signage on its windows--reading "LAUNDRY" and "DRY CLEAN." Now, there's nothing left.

By nightfall, the windows were bare.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Roxy Luncheonette


A few years ago I wandered into the Roxy Luncheonette down on John Street, between Broadway and Nassau, where I never wander. It's a lovely little gem that has survived since 1944. At the time I wrote, "It's got everything a luncheonette should have: chrome swivel stools, a quilted stainless steel backsplash, and good egg creams."

Now a reader writes in to say the Roxy is about to vanish.

"The construction down here is awful," says reader Frank, who lives in the neighborhood. Six different construction projects are happening all at once on John Street--including a new dorm and hotel. The local Downtown News calls it the "Hammers of Hell."

"It's been going on forever and the Roxy just won't make it," Frank writes. "I never see anyone in there. Who would want to go? It's so loud with all the jackhammering, and the streets are torn up something awful. The owner says he'll need to close in a few months in this video (at the 50-second mark)."

"How long do you think you can stay in business with this going on," the reporter asks the Roxy's owner, referring to the construction nightmare.

"Couple more months," says the owner, who has been at the Roxy for 36 of its 68 years. "Maybe a few more months."

"I hope you're wrong," the reporter replies.

The owner shakes his head, "No, I'm not."

Roxy blocked by a backhoe

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Haring Bathroom

Yesterday the recently restored Keith Haring mural "Once Upon a Time" was opened for public viewing at the LGBT Community Center on West 13th Street.

Center site

The mural was painted in 1989 on the walls of what was then a men's bathroom. "Completed months before he died of AIDS," writes the Center's website, "this mural is perhaps Haring’s most personal and resonant expression of sexual jouissance."

That jouissance means you won't see the likes of it being reproduced on any Houston Street walls--the work is chock-full of penises and sperm.

The fairy-tale title speaks perhaps to a lost innocence and sexual freedom dashed by the AIDS crisis.

To walk into the Haring Bathroom is to enter a monochromatic fun-house of fucking. Anything goes. Above white toilet tiles, curling around water pipes and ductwork, headless male bodies twist and entwine with giant phalluses. Tiny men shoot from the ends of penises to splash soggily onto the backs of other bodies.

Penises grow human heads with mouths that suck the toes of other human shapes that in turn contort into Mobius-strips of sucking, performing Escher-like convolutions as one body part morphs into another. Negative space becomes positive. Hollows turn into solids that penetrate other hollows--assholes, mouths, and other unnameable orifices.

A ceramic sign in the wall insists that you "wash your hands before leaving this room."

The Haring Bathroom will be open to the public until the end of March, when it becomes a meeting room again.

On March 30, the Center will wrap up their month of Haring events with a free screening of the 1990 documentary Drawing the Line, followed by a panel discussion featuring the artist's friends and contemporaries who "will offer their memories about Keith Haring, the 1989 Center Show, the East Village scene, and the art world that once was."

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Bleecker Timeline

Since western Bleecker Street's unprecedented luxury boom began in 2001, approximately 44 small businesses have vanished and been replaced with upscale shopping mall chains. Let it sink in: 44 long-time neighborhood businesses, every single one of them gone, in about a decade. How did it happen? We've looked at it before, but I keep trying to get my head around it, so I made a timeline.

cupcake dancers

The Wave Begins

2000: Sex & the City's Carrie Bradshaw bites into a pink-frosted Magnolia cupcake--the cupcake that launched a thousand luxury boutiques.

2001: The New York Times reports on Marc Jacobs' arrival on Bleecker. Said Jacobs' president Robert Duffy, "If I could have 20 stores on Bleecker Street, I would." He plunks down three at a time. (Now there are six within a few blocks.) Later, a Marc Jacobs employee explains to the Villager, "Our goal was to take advantage of the huge concentration of young people who flooded into the area, especially with the ‘Sex and the City’ show."

2002: Ralph Lauren follows Marc Jacobs and opens his first Bleecker store. (Now there are three.)

2004: Intermix arrives, along with many, many more upscale shops. Several long-time businesses are pushed out by massive, incomprehensible rent hikes.

shirt by Mike Joyce

The Tipping Point

2005: The New York Times files a giddy report on the new Bleecker Street. Retail space is renting for $300 per square foot, up from $75 in 2002. Monthly rents are at $25,000. Says one realtor, "Marc Jacobs has done on Bleecker Street what it did on Melrose Place in Los Angeles."

New York Magazine publishes a major profile of the Bleecker boom in an article on micro-neighborhoods: "Soho took fifteen years to become a handbag colony. Bleecker took only three." One local shopper complains, "I’m not so happy about the Guccis and the Polos coming in here. It seems like we’re losing our neighborhood feel."

The Aftershocks Keep Rolling

2007: Condomania shutters after 16 years due to "skyrocketing rents."

2008: Nusraty Afghan Imports is pushed out after 30 years--the rent spikes to $45,000 a month (a Brooks Brothers moved in). Eve Salon closes after 25 years (Jack Spade moved in).

2009: Biography Bookshop is priced out after 25 years.

2010: Luxury gets a big second wind and rents along Bleecker climb to $500 per square foot. A Marc Jacobs bookstore moves into Biography's spot. Treasures & Trifles antiques shutters after 44 years. Leo Design antiques shutters after 15 years. Toons Thai restaurant closes after 25 years.

2011: Jo Malone and Freeman's Sporting Club open shop, pushing Bleecker's luxury wave well past the 10th Street borderline. Etc. Grocery newsstand shutters and becomes a Goorin Brothers hat shop. The park on Bleecker is shut down and renovated into something fancier.

2012: One of western Bleecker's oldest and last remaining holdouts, A Clean, Well-Lighted Place gallery and frame shop shutters after 36 years.

Look at those numbers. Rents shot from $75 to $300 per square foot in 3 years, then to $500 in another 5 years. Monthly rents went from an already elevated $25,000 to $45,000 in just 3 years (and the $45,000 was 3 years ago--how much is it now?). Over 200 years of combined business lifetimes were wiped out in 3 years--and much more I didn't cover here.

So when people say to you, "New York has always changed--it's normal, get over it," point them to the far end of Bleecker Street. Show them the numbers. There's nothing normal about it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Retzky on Little Rickie

After my post on Little Rickie and its devolution into a Starbucks, I talked via Facebook with the shop's founder, Phillip Retzky. He gives us the whole story of the shop, the time, the place, and everything...

Phillip & Fanny at the first shop

How did Little Rickie get started?

I got a call from my then boyfriend, Steven Rubin, who owned the eponymous Paper White flower shop on 2nd Ave between 4th and 5th, next door to Bink and Bink, the great food store, that a store on 1st and 1st was available, and was I interested? I said yes to the vacant store front (72 e. 1st Street), spent some months making drawings of what Little Rickie would look like, inside and out, and began conceptualizing the whole thing, like an art project, installation, Joseph Cornell box. When I opened the store, it was totally about what I liked and had been buying all my life. I've collected flotsam and jetsam since the 4th grade.

I moved the shop to 1st and 3rd in 1987, with my then life partner and soul mate, Mitchell Cantor. We started dating when I was renovating the 1st Avenue space that had been Tensor's Army Navy for 50 years prior. I used to buy my jeans there when I lived on 1st Avenue, way before Little Rickie.

Mitchell & Phillip at the first shop

Did you always have an artistic sensibility?

I had been to art school (San Francisco Art Institute, in photography, hence the B/W photobooth), and grew up hanging around the May Company department store (on Fairfax and Wilshire) in Los Angeles as a child and early teen in the 1960s. My mom worked there as a salesgirl, making 50 bucks a week. We were poor, but boy did I get a great early retail experience.

When other kids were doing sports, I was window shopping and making my rounds at all the cool shops. I studied art on the streets and in museums, galleries and stores. Aside from studying photography at SFAI, I studied performance art with people like Chris Burden, and had classes and was friends with people like Karen Finley. I studied drawing with David Hockney who became a dear friend.

At Little Rickie, I hired the genius local artist, Ilona Granet to paint the store sign in the window on 1st Street, later hiring the genius Julie Wilson to paint the reverse window paintings in all the windows on 1st and 3rd.

photo: Julie Wilson

What was it like to run the shop in the 1980s and 90s?

The neighborhood was full of characters. For example, it was not that I chose not to capitalize on Paul Reubens' tragedy in Florida by not raising prices on the items from his show. It was that Paul shopped at Little Rickie when Pee Wee's Playhouse was being shot in New York. Paul bought some of the best vintage items I had for sale, like a pair of 1950s shoes with springs attached to the soles, so one could walk like a pogo stick. I probably priced them at 25 bucks, which was the underlying philosophy of the store, make it accessible, nothing elitist. 10 cents bought you a cool novelty. 25 bucks, a museum quality collectible toy.

People like Taylor Mead became a good friend, and always stopped by the store to hang in the photobooth for the afternoon. At night we were all at The Palladium, Area, and local bars, like The Bar. There was a complete sense of local. We lived in, worked in, hung out in the neighborhood.

People on 1st street left their kids in the store with me for a few hours, while they ran errands. I loaned money to everyone (Nan Goldin still owes me 50 bucks!). I hired the local kids as soon as they were old enough as staff members. Sometimes their parents worked in the store along with them. People spent locally, and the money went right back into the community. This is the whole concept of buying local. Starbucks is not local. The majority of the money goes back to Seattle, or wherever the fuck they are headquartered, and into the pockets of shareholders. A mom and pop store (in this case sans Mom), as I see it, weaves a thick carpet in a community.

Taylor Mead & Phillip

Tell us about that wonderful photobooth.

The photobooth was an integral part of the store from day one. No other business had a B/W booth in New York at the time, save for a few Woolworth's, PlayLand in Times Square, and the arcade in Chinatown. I had been using photobooths since 1959, at the Thrifty Drug store across from the aforementioned May Company in LA.

When people were not in the booth, my dog Fanny slept on the floor in her bed. Fanny became a Little Rickie fixture of sorts.

I immediately put customer photobooth strips in the window on 1st street, in a grid, in homage to Walker Evans, the great photographer. The pictures in the window said: Everyone has a place here, no one is excluded. The images of gay and multiracial couples dancing, painted on our front windows, said we permanently support inclusiveness. We sold the Hells Angels calendar every year, and so the 3rd Street chapter were "our buds." We celebrated the births of so many neighbors, and the deaths from AIDS of what seemed like almost everyone, including Mitchell, my dearest of partners.

Mitchell was beloved during his 5 years at Little Rickie. From the moment we became a couple, he was an integral part of everything Phillip, and everything Little Rickie. Even when he was down to 80 pounds and had to take naps often behind the photobooth, people remember Mitchell as the shining light that he was.

AIDS had a big impact on Little Rickie, and of course on me. Many of the photobooth strips in the window were of people we lost. So it held great importance to me, all of it, and when I decided I'd had enough and needed to move on to the next phase of my life, in 1999, it was not without tremendous deliberation (it took years to make that decision). My heart was broken, shattered, by losing Mitch in 1991, and I never quite healed afterwards.

Mitchell & with Phillip

How did the Starbucks lawsuit over those "Fuck Off" stickers contribute to the store's closing?

It had nothing to do with why I closed the store, just odd timing. I did not make the stickers, I was selling them for a local guy who did make them, and I thought they perfectly stated what I thought of the fast moving corporatocracy of our country.

I used to buy flip flops at a Vietnamese store on the corner of W.Broadway and Chambers street for years, for $1.19 a pair. Then one day they were gone, maybe 1995, and a Starbucks moved in. No more flip flops--shitty coffee and the rents of Tribeca went through the roof. No more cool little shops. End of story. I was saying Fuck You to what Starbucks symbolized, and the satire of it is protected in the 1st amendment.

That did not stop Starbucks from paying their lawyers over $500,000 to sue me. First they sent a SWAT team of 6 suited, earphoned FBI-looking guys to confiscate the merchandise and attempt to scare the jeans off me.

What did you do after the store closed?

Finally, at age 47, I knew it was the store or me, and I chose myself in the end. I bought an old farmhouse in Provincetown, and moved there full time to write, sit, and ride a bike. I went back and got my masters and am now in private practice as a psychotherapist in New Mexico.

My house is for sale in Santa Fe, and when it sells, I might come back to New York and open another store. However, with rents as high as they are now, even in Brooklyn, that dream might be prohibitive. Commercial rents are killing creativity and opportunities, not only for old guys like me, who may want a second act, but for the new generations to follow. People may think, oh good, Starbucks, easy, good enough, or even like the crap, and then support them. That support will only create more of the same elsewhere, ad nauseum. It's like the 99% supporting the Republicans. Know where you put your money, and what that means, not only for yourself, but for your community.

Fred Schneider & Joey Arias at the shop

The East Village, like much of the city, is turning into Anywhere, USA.

The encroachment of NYU on the EV, the story of RENT, the Kate Spadification of downtown (my word), and yes, cellphones and a new crop of people, were all writing on the wall for me. I closed the store in great part for my own personal needs and growth, but I also mourned the changes in the neighborhood, in a serious way.

I liked that Little Rickie at any given moment could be filled with drag queens, Hells Angels members, Susan Sarandon, Happi Phace, every cool art person in the city, grandmas who lived in the projects across the street, anyone local, every age, color, race and predilection. It was a true neighborhood-city-cacophony, and I liked it that way.

I still have the thousand or so photo strips from the windows--one day to be a book for all of us to sit, laugh, and cry by.

Phillip today