Thursday, June 7, 2012

New Barber Shop

After hearing the terrible news about the imminent closure of the New Barber Shop in Chelsea, and the loss of its neighbors along the block, I went over for a last haircut. Willie was in the doorway, smoking a brown cigarette and watching the rain. He told me they won't be closing until the end of June, so there's still some time to say goodbye.

I sat in the dilapidated red barber chair and Willie draped me with a candy-striped smock, other men's hairs poking out through the fabric. From a dusty boombox, filmed with talcum powder, the radio station played hits from the 1980s--Bon Jovi saying, "We gotta hold on to what we got" and Journey telling us "Don't stop believing." But it's hard.

As Willie went about selecting the proper tools, he told me he'd heard a rumor that the businesses coming to replace him and his neighbors will be a Duane Reade or a Walgreens and a bank.

How can a little barbershop compete with that? A little barbershop that opens its doors to the downtrodden and the lonely, that lets homeless men sleep on its floor at night, and holds the neighborhood together by providing a space for friendship and connection. Walgreens won't do any of that here.

When Willie cuts your hair, you can hear him breathing. This is work. You can smell his skin and his breath, and it's the smell of grandfathers, familiar and comforting. He takes his time with the cutting. Men come in and sit for haircuts from the other barbers. They talk softly in Spanish. Men come in and complain about the rain and the relentless humidity.

Willie talked about his search for a new spot to reopen his beloved barber shop, but it's hard to find an affordable space these days in Chelsea. Thanks to the High Line and hypergentrification, it might be impossible. We talked about the greed of landlords, the haves and the have-nots.

"My grandfather used to say," said Willie, "you can't eat ALL the sandwiches. Other people have to eat, too."

He's looking for a small space, just enough to fit three barber chairs, with a monthly rent between $2,000 and $3,000. If you know of somewhere, please give him a call at the shop: 212-243-0334.

Willie and his co-workers were featured recently on NY1 News. The shop's co-owner, Manuel Castillo, said it just so, "I blame the landlord but I blame the politicians too, because they no try to do something to protect small business. They want to convert Manhattan into Monaco, rich and famous. In five more years, no working people can live in this neighborhood. In five more, maybe less."

And this is how a block dies in today's New York City:
Death of a Block II
Death of a Block
Saving 9th Avenue
Sweet Banana Candy Store
Chelsea Liquors
New China


Streets of Stamford said...

Mr. Castillo's quote is dead-on. I know that change is inevitable, but whitewashing entire blocks with chain bullshit to please the upper-upper-upper class is inexcusable.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Castillo is so right. Monaco, Venice, Monte Carlo, Zurich, take your pick. Manhattan will be far less diverse, it will be a borough for the rich(est), and it conversely also have an antiseptic, suburban flavor, all the things it never was, even in its best and worst days over the last 150 years.

I have a little proposal, though. What if, instead of this horrible trough economy that most of us must suffer through, these inequality rates that mirror the Ancien RĂ©gime, this utter indifference to the crimes of billionaires, we started quite simply by demanding a return to the Clinton or even Nixon-era federal marginal rates, including taxes on capital gains and no more tax loopholes hedge fund managers? There'd be far less money for real estate speculation, cash hoarding, and money to buy the political system as occurs now.

And what if we pushed for a return of Glass-Steagall, and strict regulation of derivatives? This would end so much of the speculation and also the grotesque overconcentration of these too-big-to-fail banks. It would also mean that bankers would no longer make outsized earnings based on our bailouts, but have to live on less.

And what if we occupied various spaces until we returned to a reasonable limit on money in the political system, so that the billionaires would not be able to buy elections the way they are now? Citizens United was basically a set-up by right-wing ideologues, and we're seeing the effects, including with someone like Bloomberg, who outspent his last opponent by such a wide margin Thompson had no chance. Would Thompson have been a good or bad mayor? Who knows, but at least he would not have been a billionaire whose nanny-state authoritarianism is reducing New York to "Monaco."

All of the changes over the last 30 or so years, but especially the last 13, have led us to this point. We have do more than lament the loss of what was Manhattan, or Brooklyn, or anywhere else. We have to return to some sense of fairness and checks and balances with the rich. The laws of this country used to do that. We ignore our ability to implement them at our peril.

BrooksNYC said...

Today's post is really heartbreaking. I pray Willie finds a new spot, although it doesn't seem likely he'll be able to stay in Chelsea.

Incidentally, did you read that another iHop is on the way — this one, in the West Village? They've signed a 49-year lease. If the present is prelude, one can only imagine what a dull and soulless city this will be in half a century.

Ed said...

The Principality of Monaco as of 2011 had a population of 36,986 (I just looked it up). The population of New York City is obviously considerably bigger. The population of just the core area, however you define it, is considerably bigger.

Which is one thing I don't get about the strategy of turning New York into a haven or pleasure area for the wealthy -and its pretty obvious now that that has been the strategy. It doesn't scale. All the Aspens, Monacos, Carmels, Natuckets etc. where this has been done are pretty small places, with a smaller population than a typical New York neighborhood. "New York is a luxury good" makes about as much sense as "Belguim is a luxury good". It seems that the great and the good don't understand basic geography.

So I think the whole strategy will collapse, but apparently not before ruining the city first.

laura said...

1)"J": i see the photos of JFK/JACKIE. did he really give him a haircut? long time ago? or is this what old folks have hanging up on their walls. (like i do). 2) i was in monaco 45 yrs ago. no chain stores, but yes they had them in NYC. what is monaco like now? i cant imagine a duane reade, unless the signage id subtle. & im sure on the outskirts 3) posters & contributors: speaking of chains.......well i emailed mr "J" this week. as my little laundry closed, after 14 yrs, i stood there holding a bag in 100degree heat, looking @ an empty space. it was next to a dominos, & a liquor chain on the other side. landlord raised rent, its a crappy strip mall made of cement. but in walking distance. i told "J" i just KNOW there will be a 7/11. just saying.... as if we need the "7/11- domino shuffle" every 6 blocks? i dont even live in the united states. its a monster eating us up & trying to dominate our lives. ps duane reade is NOT for the rich. they send the maid there. or the working folks shop there. no cache @ duanes!!

Monkey said...

In the 90s, Willie used to offer to cut my hair for free when I was an out of work actor. I didn't need him to do that, but the fact that he offered really touched me. Can you imagine anyone doing that today in the New New York City?

Eileen said...

This breaks my heart. I live on the Lower East Side, and all the "go to" local shops are closing, and being replaced by upscale. I had the best dry cleaner who had been there 22 years -- stopped in one night to drop clothes off and he was cleaning out the shop. It also remained unrented for over two years -- so who actually won.

Instead of worrying about sugary drinks, Bloomberg would be well served to offer some type of incentive to small businesses. They are the heart of the neighborhood and are always willing to go the extra mile for the locals. There should be some rent structure for long time occupants like Willie and others so they aren't kicked to the curb after staying in a neighborhood long before gentrification took hold.

I see it every day on Orchard Street, Ludlow Street and Allen Street. Just sad and getting sadder. I'll check around this area to see if anything is available. I'd love to have Willie for a neighbor!

Shawn said...

Lovely and sad post Jeremiah.

P.S. "Dubai on the Hudson" is my favorite name for the New New York.

Jeremiah Moss said...

i did read about the IHOP, on Carmine Street of all places. so sad, so stupid. i'm trying to ignore it.

tim said...

It'll swing back. It always does. We just may not be around to see it happen.

laura said...

tim, you say "it will swing back" but how? the box stores would stay. but maybe be subdivided into smaller spaces. about this house of pancakes, where is it on carmine street? what was there before? @this point i dont care if somethings upscale or any scale as long as its not some ugly chain establishment. & again stress: DUANE READE & A BANK is not for the very wealthy? rich people dont wait on line for a teller on 9th ave. & as i said before, the maid goes to duane reade. unless they have phone delivery. not everything built is for the rich, get that concept out of your head.

mch said...

The View from Nunhead Station's most recent: "Secret History of Streets." I can't is Nunhead post is specifically relevant to this post (and for that I apologize), but it speaks eloquently to what I take to be your whole project, Mr. Moss. NYC, London -- the challenges are different but the same.

laura said...

mch, i post frequently about central america. to bring the attention to the larger picture. your laundry closed? my laundry closed. your diner closed? my diner's closed. you have 7/11s? i have many 7/11s. i just never ever thought it would happen in NY, the way it has. when i discovered upper 1st ave east 80s/90s yorkville- i was in shock. thats an asphalt generic horror. & what i have seen in germany (on the web), eastern europe, is unspeakable. the housing looks like prisons. be happy in new york. you have central park, prospect park etc. its not leaving anytime soon.

Sunny said...

This is my block. The turnover is happening fast & furiously. New China has been shuttered since last week. Unlike the check-cashing place that just closed, they disappeared without so much as a word, or a sign.

laura said...

time to go to brooklyn. guess if you work in manhattan it can be a bother. but if you dont, try it. my good friend left his apt as it was on the 9/11 site. he re settled in brooklyn, first a small place walkup (as it was an emergency). then park slope. he was much happier in brooklyn even after living in tribeca for many years. he said he rarely went into the city except to see a client. & other friends who wouldnt be caught dead there........well they love it. we are all from brooklyn originally (those ethnic areas), & couldnt wait to get out!! it used to be an embarrassment to admit you were from brooklyn. now it may sound tacky to say you are from.......LES?