Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Death of a Block II

Yesterday, Corey Kilgannon at the New York Times reported that my favorite barber shop, the New Barber Shop on 9th Avenue and 18th Street in Chelsea, will be closing very soon. He mentions the closure on the fourth page of the slideshow and adds:

"the other small businesses on this stretch of Ninth Avenue between 17th and 18th Streets are set to close as early as May 31 to make way for a bigger tenant."


We first heard this terrible news in 2008. Back then, I reported on Morris Moinian's purchase of the building that spans nearly the entire block of 9th Avenue, from 17th to 18th, and his plans to replace all of the small businesses there with high-end retail.

Weeks after breaking that news, I attended a rally to save the block. Organized by Andrew Berman, Miguel Acevedo, and Gloria Sukenik, the rally attracted 200 angry locals. Senator Tom Duane and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer spoke to the impassioned crowd. Assembly member Dick Gottfried said, "A neighborhood is not a neighborhood if it's overrun by high-end boutiques, banks, and chain stores."


By November of that year, 30-year-old Chelsea Liquors had vanished, eventually replaced by a Subway franchise. One of the block's bodegas closed sometime after that, but the remainders held on--from the Tamara Dry Cleaners to the barber shop to the Chinese take-out joint to the wonderful Sweet Banana Candy Store.

Time went on and it seemed the block had somehow been spared.

Then this March a new sign appeared outside the residential entrance of the building that holds all these mom-and-pops.

"Distinctive rentals," it says. The building is now called Stonehenge 18--it was bought from Moinian by the Stonehenge group in February of this year. The Post reported that the new owners "will fix up everything including the hallways and lobby and will reposition the retail."

Soon after this sign appeared, the Moneygram check-cashing joint shut down, with angry signs in the window saying they'd been denied a new lease.

I got nervous. I wrote a profile of the Sweet Banana Candy Store and I went to the barbershop for what I feared would be a last haircut. Willie didn't mention closing and I didn't ask. I just wanted to enjoy the haircut.

This block means so very much to so many people, I cannot even begin to express it. For the past several years, while MePa and the High Line ransacked the neighborhood, it survived. When the Dream Hotel replaced a homeless shelter right next door, this block survived. As the blocks to the north and south of it skyrocketed to upscale, these shops survived.

The businesses on this block feed and serve and protect the rent-regulated tenants of their building, the residents of the Elliott-Chelsea Houses across the avenue, and many more people in the neighborhood. This block is exactly what Jane Jacobs believed a city needs to stay alive.

But now a "bigger tenant" is coming and we all know what that means. Take your pick: Bank of America, Duane Reade, Marc Jacobs...all variations on a theme, different flavors of death. Where are the protests now? Is anybody listening?

Death of a Block
Saving 9th Avenue
Sweet Banana Candy Store
Chelsea Liquors


Ms. said...

Everyone without the power to change the onslaught is still listening, and mourning. "Stonehenge"--what an insult in the appropriation of that name--is, like our rich Mayor--just another "bottom line" consortium. The money seeps underground through the rivers of economic patronage, and residents are simply not strong enough in capital to stop the flow. My heart aches. I have a barber over here on the East side (1st Avenue between 22-23 that's been in business over forty years, and managed somehow to withstand the high end condos that took over the corner. The future, however is bleak for the littles of our City.

Anonymous said...

No one is listening since the Midwestern suburbananites, either they're tone deaf or daft in the gentrification, and because they welcome and justify these banks and chain stores that are weapons of mass subarbanization to make them feel like they're back home in a dull flyby state. They think big shiny sterile places is progress and that they'd argue that NYC is all about change. And they destroy a neighborhood's character and soul because they don't have one. They want their neighborhood to be a reflection of their unimaginative selves.

JM said...

We lost.

EV Grieve said...

Too unfabulous of a block for the moneyed masses coming in.... And Stonehenge is a bizarre name for a Chelsea 2.0 (3.0?) refurbished building.

Where there be a "giant" Stonehenge megalith a la Spinal Tap?

James C. Taylor said...

I happened to find myself on that block yesterday evening. How encouraging it was to find these stores apparently thriving among the proliferation of cupcake emporia and toddler boutiques.

That rich individuals see potential in these locations is far less alarming than the total indifference of the majority of the population. I think Anonymous 7:58 was spot on. Most people who move here are suburbanites at heart -- they're just playing at a watered-down primetime version of an "urban lifestyle".

Anonymous said...

Heartbreaking, as a native born New Yorker, I feel my days here are numbered. Been thinking about moving soon...

RBB said...

In terms of commerce and neighborhoods, the tail is now completely wagging the dog. It's almost as if a block has missing teeth unless it has ITS OWN Duane Reade, B of A, overpriced cupcake shop and a Dunkin Donuts. (Which long ago eclipsed Starbucks as the cliche.) Look at SoHo...it's an upscale NJ mall sans roofing material. As a whole generation of NYers gets used to this, no one will know any better.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

I agree with Anon 7:58. I used to live and work along this stretch for many years and, to be honest, I haven't been able to bring myself to even pay a visit recently. It's not just that the neighborhood I once knew is gone, but I feel alienated and unwelcome. Once the older generation that is currently living in the Penn South complex is gone, get ready for more "progress."

Caleo said...

As John M said, we lost. A lot. Everything.
And it's not going to stop or slow down anytime soon.
As I've said before, the wealthy have claimed the entirety of Manhattan ( and an ever expanding swath of Brooklyn ) as their own. Many are quite proud of this and it has an air of Manifest Destiny about it.
Once the wealthy and well connected decide they want something, they get it, no matter who or what stands in the way.
Mark my words, they won't rest until everything south of 125th street has been made safe for their slippered feet, and it won't take long to do it.
And at that point this once great town will be as sterile and blank as the places many of us moved away from in the first place.
People talk of moving, but nothing can replace or truly compare to NYC. I actually don't fit into the city I have spent 24 years in, and I have no place else to go.

esquared™ said...

Will Eisner said this about the destruction of a building

"As I grew older and accumulated more memories, I came to feel more keenly about the disappearances of people and landmarks. Especially troubling to me was the callous removal of buildings. I felt that, somehow, they had a kind of soul."

Same is true for a block or neighborhood, but not big box chain stores or banks...

Crazy Eddie said...

@EV Grieve-you beat me to that ‘Spinal Tap’ segway. But, as you recall, the band accelerated its downward spiral after that debacle. Not really a chance of that happening here but one can hope. Barely.

Ben said...

This really is a tragedy, and it's a fitting illustration for a larger problem sweeping across the city. Fortunately you wrote the article well, and presented the facts of the situation. I grew up nearby and was priced out of the neighborhood myself a few years ago, but I still always come to Manolo and Willie for my haircut...for the last 18 or so years of it. They pretty much watched me grow up in there. But beyond the personal lamentation, as several comments have already noted, the real tragedy here is the blind development mentality that is paving over what is the "true" New York, what sets it apart as an urban environment and a desirable place to live. New York is about change, but its also about individuality, inclusiveness, and actual community, none of which I see in the legion of new developments in Chelsea.

Phil said...

"Heartbreaking, as a native born New Yorker, I feel my days here are numbered. Been thinking about moving soon..."
I've felt this way for some time as well. And I've expressed the opinion here before that we may all need to come to terms with... if THIS is what the new version of "New Yorker" wants, then are we the minority who still want a different city? If so, can we expect the city to keep catering to our old neighborhoods? I don't know the answer to that. But I can tell you that I now feel like an outsider, a tourist in my city. And that's not something I'm willing to just live with. Plans are underway for a move. To a place that moves forward with a sense and respect of its past.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't have said it better myself!

laura said...

#1) dont blame the new inhabitants of NY. this is happening WORLDWIDE. it dosnt matter what "they think". global developers dont take a poll, they just come in & do! @this moment i am in central america. i just passed like 4 "7-11"s, 3 "subways", "dominos" i wont go on, gross. #2) spoke to my friend on east 50th st& 1st ave. he said his laundry closed. since there isn't a machine in his basement, i asked what he does for the wash. OK, think about this scenario: he walks to 57th street once a week & back carrying laundry. thats 14 blocks r/t, to his friends apt. (the other coop owners havnt invited him in the use their machine). he has lived in the apt. & that street since around 1960. thats 50 yrs. i still would like more feedback on laundry issues in manhattan. guess you need a large apt w/your own laundry room, or hire a service to pick up & deliver back. OR you were lucky & live in a building where theres a place in the basement. new york is changing, how bizarre is this??

Anonymous said...

I moved to Chelsea, specifically the Robert Fulton Projects (the Elliot Chelsea Projects are further up starting at 26th Street)when the development was not even completed. I was 8 years old. What a great time we had. I lived in those projects until I was 18 moved out and got an apt directly across 9th Ave above some of these stores. Now with all the high end shops, bars, and now the removal of some of the veteran stores it won't be long before the project is dismantled too. Where will those people go. It is a HUGH development. Most living there now I do not know, but those of us from the 60s, 70s, and 80s still get together once a year for a reunion. It is sad to see that the area we loved dearly is now a carbon copy cut-out of so many places in upscale NY. I left almost 8 years ago due to the INSANE rent they wanted me to pay once the building was sold to someone else. I now live in NJ and have 3X as much room for half the rent. Sorry to say, but you can't stop the big wheels. They and Mayor DOOMSBERG want Manhattan only for the WEALTHY!

mch said...

And if New Yorkers in a position to do this decide to avoid the suburbs and move instead to some small town in Orange County or further north up the Hudson River Valley or in New England, they'll find that many of those towns (like my own) are increasingly designed to accommodate tourists. I have no problem with antique shops, for instance, but I don't need three on my two-block, one-street "Main Street," which have taken the place of a dry-cleaners, a small grocery, and an old-time luncheonette -- to give just one example of much else that, round these parts, we lament as "Manchesterization," after Manchester, VT. And it turns out that some of the new small businesses here -- a restaurant, coffee/candy shop, catering business -- aren't exactly the examples of individual initiative they at first seem to be but are all financed by the same company.

Ed said...

I agree with laura and mch. I once was planning to move myself, but unfortunately this stuff is happening worldwide and there is really no escaping it.

Anonymous said...

no, anonymous at 7:58 AM, it's happening out here too. and no one cares.

laura said...

ok. the super wealthy can live in isolated areas, w/all the zoning. they dictate what they want (or dont want) in their district, correct? do they have a say on madison avenue between 62nd & 85th st? lexington is more flexible, but are there there box stores between 63rd & 67th? then there is hunter college, i dont know what that could bring. i know e. 67th is a landmark street. the city wants to put an additional subway entrance. the residents are very upset about this. any news? if they cant stop that (they are 1% on every level), no one can stop anything. suburbs: i wonder if fairfield county has box stores? hastings on the hudson? bx stores in beverly hills? (maybe). im trying to gauge if theres any zoning ANYWHERE?? (whether you can afford it or not, im curious). so much of the new $$$, is really just some middle of the road folks, who may not know any better.

Anonymous said...

While we are on the subject of people getting priced out of NYC, how many of you are aware of the citywide scandal that is the HDFC coops? An HDFC low income coop is one purchased from the city. Its purpose is to provide low income housing for its shareholders. Its Note & Agreements with the City require each shareholder maintain his apartment as his primary residence. Living outside the coop is forbidden. The Housing Finance Law limits the income of any prospective apartment buyers via a formula calculated from the annual maintenance fees and utilities’ costs. This guarantees the continued low income make up of the shareholders.
But HDFC coops across the city are not occupied by their shareholders. Those shareholders rent monthly to high paying sublettors. The coops sells shares to friends of the board, do not advertise apartments for sale, and allow real estate speculation. And so they do not honor their purpose, nor their agreements with the City.
Apartments are being dealt at speculator’s price to high bidders, not to qualified low income candidates from the ranks of the City’s income-qualified people desperately seeking housing.
It is an outrage and a misuse of the City’s plan to provide this housing to low income qualifying people. We need to bring this immediately to the attention of local government representatives, community activists, housing advocacy attorneys, etc. The hope is that they will raise their voices now to stop the profiteering and guarantee that current sales, and any future sales are made only to qualifying persons.

How can this particular type of corporation's corrupt boards do “whatever the board wants” if subject to liens by the City for 25 years and must abide by the note & agreement w/ the City?
HPD, the overseer of the plan does nothing!

laura said...

1) anon 2;34am see your congressman or district leader about this fraud. write letters, petitions. this is serious.