Friday, August 31, 2012

D. L. Cerney


Sadie Stein lets us know that, after selling hand-made, vintage-style clothes in the East Village for 28 years, the D.L. Cerney boutique is leaving 7th Street.

D.L. Cerney site

I talked with co-owner Linda St. John about the closure. She said it's not about rent, it's just about time. She wants to get out of town for awhile and focus on her art and writing, as well as her farming upstate. She hopes to come back to the city, but not to the East Village.

"Back in the 1980s and into the 90s," she said, "this whole neighborhood was just filled with creative people. Now, nobody's left. The way Rudy cleaned up the neighborhood was awesome, but now it's too clean. When did those French bistros end up on Avenue D?"

She said that people don't spend money on hand-made clothes anymore, they want to buy "junk" from the chain boutiques. "It's psychological propaganda. People are told to shop there, so they do. I've seen people come in here wearing these low-waisted, pleated pedal pushers, and they look so dumpy, I mean, in these pleated, slob-making pants. But that's what's in style, so that's what they buy."

Clothes in the 1940s and 50s, she explained, were made to flatter the body. Anyone can look good in the right clothes. "Let me show you a constructed garment," she said, pulling out a lovely dress with a Chinese lantern plant pattern, orange on blue. She showed how the stitching in the sleeves was made to flex, "So you can dance and not worry about tearing a seam." It was the sort of dress you could imagine Kim Novak wearing in Picnic, all innocent Kansas girl, but steaming for Bill Holden underneath.

The shop will be open through November, and they'll be running a big sale until the end. Women's dresses and blouses are 50% off and menswear is 25% off.

If D.L. Cerney does come back one day, it might turn up in Chelsea, where Linda dreams of "2,000 square feet of space, with a white picket fence and bales of hay right up front."

Thursday, August 30, 2012

High Line Op-Ed Response

It's been a week since my High Line op-ed came out in the Times and it's been interesting to read the response to it. The comments on this blog and its Facebook page were overwhelmingly supportive and positive, as were all the emails I received, including notes from several journalists. Many people commented that the op-ed gave them a sense of relief. "It needed to be said," said one, "but everyone else was afraid to say it."

This speaks to the power of the High Line as a sacred cow. It must not be questioned or criticized. People will get upset. [*Update: The Founders of the High Line posted their official response to my Op-Ed.]

A number of responses came out on other blogs. While Choire Sicha at The Awl and Kelly Chan at ArtInfo were largely in favor, author Matthew Gallaway and artist Paul Soulellis took offense. Treehugger wasn't crazy about it, either. And, of course, there were several unhappy commenters, here and on other blogs.

Rather than respond to each piece individually, I've summed up the main arguments against the op-ed and respond to them here.

The High Line is pretty and green, therefore it is made of perfect, total goodness.

1. You're right, the High Line is pretty and green.

2. Nothing is totally good. You might wish it to be that way, but in reality things are more complicated.

The High Line is innocent. It had nothing to do with gentrification in Chelsea. That process was already happening before the High Line got there. Saying the High Line is a gentrification machine is like "equating a cruise ship with a schooner" or "blaming the medicine for the cough" or something like that.

1. Yes, gentrification was already happening there, mostly around the Meatpacking District. But the High Line gave it a tremendous boost and helped to push it north. There is a direct link between the High Line and hyper-gentrification, especially of the area between Meatpacking and Bloomberg's Hudson Yards redevelopment. The Friends of the High Line co-founders talk about it quite openly in their book High Line, as when they explain how then Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff signed on to the park plan because they gave him a yes to the question, “Do you think that the community likes the High Line enough to make them supportive of the rezoning in West Chelsea?”

2. Several high-profile articles have been published that champion the High Line as a revitalizer of neighborhoods and an "economic dynamo." These articles put a positive spin on it, but the reality is the same--the High Line has helped to hyper-gentrify West Chelsea, and that means pushing some people out and bringing some people in. My argument is no different, it just comes from the critical side of the same reality.

3. What are you saying about schooners? I'm not following you.

You're a real complainer.

1. Yes, I am, and proud of it.

2. Complaining is one way of raising people's consciousness and maybe even getting things to change.

You're completely ignoring the fact that poor people live in New York City, too. In fact, your article doesn't say anything about people in other neighborhoods like in Brooklyn or the Bronx. Poor people want gentrification. I bet all the poor people who lived in the Bronx in the 1970s would love to have a High Line in their neighborhood today.

1. My article was about West Chelsea, not about other neighborhoods.

2. Many poor people (not all) do often welcome the first stages of gentrification--hoping for jobs and safety--until they get run out of their own neighborhoods by it. Then they're not so thrilled.

The High Line is right near a bunch of NYCHA housing projects, so having those poor people around balances out all the wealth moving in.

1. Correct, there is NYCHA housing nearby.

2. Balance? Have you taken a walk over there lately?

You're a gentrifier yourself--you're part of these big changes. You have no idea what it's like to be poor and want nice things (like artisanal popsicles).

1. I arrived in the East Village at least 30 years after gentrification had begun there. Did I benefit from that gentrification? Yes, I did.

2. My family was on welfare when I was a kid. I didn't live in abject poverty, but I have some idea what it's like to want and not have.

3. If you read it carefully, you'd know that my Op-Ed is not about the old-fashioned, gradual gentrification process. It's about government-engineered hyper-gentrification, which is a different animal. As CUNY professor Neil Smith explained here: In the 1980s "Gentrification became a systematic attempt to remake the central city, to take it back from the working class, from minorities, from homeless people, from immigrants who, in the minds of those who decamped to the suburbs, had stolen the city from its rightful white middle-class owners. What began as a seemingly quaint rediscovery of the drama and edginess of the new urban 'frontier' became in the 1990s broad-based market driven policy."

You want to go back to the 1970s. I guess you must love crime.

1. No, actually, I wasn't crazy about the 70s my first time around.

2. That tired, old "you like crime" argument is too stupid to address.

"It’s not wrong to want a coffee shop and a bakery... Believe it or not, people without millions of dollars also like to drink coffee and have fresh bread."

1. Are we still talking about the High Line?

2. I have nothing against coffee and bread, I swear.

In your piece, you don't even mention how pretty and well-designed the High Line is!

1. Yes, it is pretty.

2. About a million high-profile articles have talked about the High Line's physical attractiveness. I didn't think more praise was necessary--unless the High Line suffers from low self-esteem that must be continually propped up because it just feels so empty inside.

You're an elitist, snobbish Minuteman patrolling a border, trying to keep tourists out of New York City.

1. I don't have the power to keep anybody out of New York City. I wish I did. The city today would be very different.

2. Tourists from America and Europe are not the same as impoverished Mexican immigrants trying to find a better life--that's not a good analogy.

3. I don't hate tourists. Some of my best friends are tourists. But I do have a problem with Bloomberg turning New York into a city for tourists, instead of a city for its residents.

4. When did the right-wing Republican rhetoric of "elitist" become a weapon within Manhattan against the people who live here? Really, I want to know.

Autobody shops are closing! Who cares? They're dirty and cars are bad. You must be in love with autobody shops. Furthermore, people who drive cars are elitists.

1. Those autobody shops are (or were) run by small businesspeople and their families. Some of them for generations. That counts for something. At least, it used to. But maybe you'd prefer they get replaced by artisanal coffee shops and high-end bread bakeries--nothing elitist about that.

2. These mom-and-pop businesses will be replaced by corporate luxury chains or high-end condos. That's the antithesis of diversity.

3. I'm not in love with autobody shops. I don't own a car. The product is not the point. If those shops fixed umbrellas or made shoelaces, I'd point out their mass disappearance, too, and it would have nothing to do with any passion for umbrellas or shoelaces.

4. Again with elitist? What is that about? Fellow complainer Fran Lebowitz put it well when she said, "When Republicans, for instance, you know, disparage elites, they don't mean rich people. They love rich people. They mean smart people." So, if by "elitist" you mean I'm smart and want other people to be smart, too, then thank you.

But the High Line is so pretty! Why do you hate it so much?

1. Yes, once again, the High Line is pretty. It's pretty. It's very pretty!

2. Did I say I hated the High Line? I hate what it's doing to the neighborhood, true, but I also have complicated feelings about the thing itself, aside from its impact.

3. Do you believe that criticizing is the same as hating? Those aren't the same things. I criticize many things that I actually like and that only enhances my experience of it. We need to think more critically about more things more of the time. Our city would be better off if we did.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Frank to Fro-Yo

Since the great New York School poet Frank O'Hara's last home was torn down in 2009 and replaced with a luxury condo, the first floor retail space has sat empty, yearning "for a boutique or coffee shop."

It's not getting its exact wish, but pretty close.


A Department of Buildings permit has gone up in the window, along with the familiar brown paper that always comes with a move-in.

The renovation calls for "ten new yoghurt machines." And the march of the fro-yo chains continues.

But which fro-yo chain will it be? Pinkberry? Red Mango? 16 Handles? There are so many to choose from.

The architect on the permit is listed as MK Dream Design. They do plastic surgeon offices, beauty spas, and futuristic dance clubs. In the yogurt world, they designed The Yogurt Shop in Englewood, New Jersey, to look like an intergalactic cafe on a spaceship.

Is this what's coming to what was once a place for amputees to find new limbs? Where the upstairs was a haven for writers and artists? Change happens. But why, in the new New York, does it always have to go in the same mind-numbing direction?

Frank's Last Place
791 Broadway

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mark Crispin Miller on NYU 2031

Author and NYU professor Mark Crispin Miller is a member of the organization NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan (NYUFASP), a group that's fighting NYU's plan to bulldoze the Village for more development.

I asked Mark some questions about the plan, NYUFASP, and the fabulous book While We Were Sleeping: NYU and the Destruction of New York (which you can buy here or pick up at the McNally Jackson bookstore).

JVNY: Tell us a little bit about putting together the book While We Were Sleeping. It's got a fantastic roster of writers. How did you know who'd be able to write with anger and clarity about NYU expansion?

MCM: We didn't know, but it did work out beautifully. Peter Carey worked especially hard to help us fill that dazzling roster out. He also came up with the title, and got Tom Slaughter to provide us with the cover illustration. NYUFASP owes him a lot—and so will NYU, if it survives the Sexton Plan.

We're also indebted to Sarah McNally [of McNally-Jackson Books], as the book was her idea, and she's essentially the publisher, as her staff designed it, and the copies are all printed right there in her extraordinary bookstore.

Fran kicks ass--in conversation with Mark

JVNY: In your introduction to the book, you talk about the "death blow" NYU's plan will deal to the city. Can you quickly outline what that means, what you see happening if this plan continues?

MCM: Beyond its toxic impact on those two large residential blocks, right in the heart of Greenwich Village, the project sets a devastating precedent for every neighborhood in New York City, because of what the City Council gave away to NYU's administration. They didn't have to do it, but they did, because NYU demanded it.

First of all, the City Council changed the zoning, not in the best interests of the public or the city overall—on the contrary. The public, NYU's own faculty included, argued overwhelmingly, and cogently, against re-zoning the neighborhood for commercial purposes, but they—we—were all ignored. Thus the City Council, pressured heavily by Christine Quinn and Margaret Chin, shrugged off the objections of Quinn's and Chin's constituents, and favored NYU's administration and trustees, just because the latter asked for it

Second, the City Council nullified an urban renewal agreement that NYU signed decades ago, barring any new construction on the south "superblock" before 2021. There are many such agreements city-wide. That the City Council simply wiped out that agreement, just because NYU asked them to, does not bode well for other neighborhoods all over.

And, third, the City Council sold NYU precious strips of public land, while giving them broad easements over other public land—just because NYU demanded it. Thus they let NYU either build outright on what was public property, or ravage it to make way for construction.

That the City Council did all this at the mere whim of a giant developer—since that's what NYU has now become—bodes ill for every New York City neighborhood that could be overbuilt, and so destroyed.

The Sexton Plan

JVNY: What has NYU's response been to the book and to FASP?

MCM: No response. They seem intent on not acknowledging that we exist—i.e., that their own faculty are overwhelmingly opposed to this mad project.

To date, 37 departments and divisions have voted against the Sexton Plan, nearly all those votes unanimous or near-unanimous. Those dissenting bodies include the Stern Business School, which voted 52-3 against the Plan; and the Economics Department, which was unanimous against the Plan—meaning that its three Nobel Prize winners are against it, too. Aside from such prestigious, large departments as English, History, Mathematics, Anthropology and Sociology (all of those unanimous against the Plan), there are also the Gallatin School and the School of Social Work. And more bodies will be casting votes this fall.

Of the 30 departments in the School of Arts & Science, only six have not yet voted. One of those is actually against the Plan, but won't conduct a vote, having preferred to convey its qualms to Sexton privately; and two others will be holding votes this fall. So that leaves only three that seem resolved to back the Plan no matter what, though even they may change their minds, the more they learn.

And yet Sexton and his people say the Sexton Plan enjoys "amazing" faculty support, even though their list of pro-Plan faculty includes a grand total of 18 names.

They have to make such claims, and otherwise play down our broad and ever-growing opposition, because the truth is a PR disaster for them—i.e., that the Sexton Plan is really not an "NYU expansion plan," as they like to call it. How could it be, when we, the faculty, are NYU, and we don't want it? This plan, rather, is supported only by the president, a few of his associates, and certain powerful figures, primarily the real estate developers, on NYU's Board of Trustees. (That's why we call it "the Sexton Plan.")

Also, it would help them if they could laugh off the opposition as a cranky rabble of obstructive locals. That narrative—the noble University, beset by its weird, backward-looking "neighbors"—has always helped to undercut the opposition. Since we're allied with the community against the Plan, that narrative no longer works.

GVSHP via NY Observer

JVNY: How do you, and others, manage the tension of working for NYU, benefiting from NYU, teaching its students, and your own feelings about how NYU is behaving in the neighborhoods around it? It must be complicated.

MCM: I can speak only for myself, although I'm confident that many of my colleagues feel as I do. As one who lives, and has a family, in the neighborhood targeted for devastation, I have to say it's been less painful to combat the Plan than it would be to sit here waiting for the bulldozers to roar in and tear up the trees. And one great benefit of that horrific project is that it's brought us close together to each other and our neighbors all throughout the Village.

But it's been hard, living in the shadow of the wrecking ball—a little like having an armed drone always hovering high overhead. And it's also been hard bumping up against the indifference—maybe the word is "corruption"?— of the city agencies, and, especially, our elected representatives. Scott Stringer was downright abusive when some of us went in to see him, and the Council Members obviously tuned us out. That hasn't been fun.

And then there's the tension you bring up, of opposing your employer/landlord. All in all, it has been pretty hard. It's definitely had an impact on my health, and I am not the only one. But the alternative, which is to let the Plan go through, would be far worse for everyone; and so we have no choice but to continue doing all we can to stop it.

Mark rallying the troops, The Villager

JVNY: The Sexton Plan has been approved by the City Council. What happens next?

MCM: No need to hang our heads, because we haven't been defeated, even though we lost the battle on that front—which we knew would happen. So we prepared to fight the Sexton Plan through other means; and with a little help from everyone who cares about the Village and the city overall, and everyone who cares about the university itself, we're going to win.

First of all, we have a powerful law firm, Gibson Dunn, working for us, and readying lawsuits on our behalf. The firm has a great record halting ill-conceived construction projects on behalf of the communities opposing them. Because the Sexton Plan is not unique, but just another case of runaway development in Bloomberg's New York City, we're joining forces with a lot of other groups that are fighting similar developments all over town—in SoHo, Chelsea, the East Village, Harlem, Brooklyn, Queens, you name it. In short, we're fighting not just to protect our own two blocks but—just like you, Jeremiah, and with you—for the very heart and soul of New York City.

Another consideration compels us to fight Sexton's plan—the unbearable debt burden carried by our students. NYU's tuition is among the highest in the country, and our undergraduates leave here more indebted than any other student cohort nationwide (among the graduates of private universities). Because NYU has a very small endowment, the Sexton Plan would be financed mainly by more student debt—an arrangement both precarious and wrong.

And so our fight to halt the Sexton Plan is actually a fight both for the city and the university—that is, all cities and all universities today, as both are under threat by the same interests. This is why our friends and peers at other schools throughout the city—Columbia, the New School, Hunter, CUNY Grad Center, Brooklyn College—are also joining forces with us, forming their own FASP chapters in solidarity with our attempt to save NYU, the university, from "NYU"—the corporation.

JVNY: What can people do to help?

MCM: We need funds to pay our lawyers, our PR team, and our small, highly dedicated staff (all former students). Donations are tax-deductible, and anyone who donates at least $18 will receive a copy of While We Were Sleeping.

Checks, made out to NYUFASP, may be mailed to:

51 MacDougal St.
Suit 255

For donating online, or by credit card, click here.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Weichsel & Hector's

Each morning around 4:00, before opening his business, Dionisios Manesis goes next door to Weichsel Beef's outlet in the Gansevoort Market to buy fresh meat for making burgers at his Hector's Cafe and Diner under the High Line.

Weichsel's large, main plant is a few blocks away--it's the last free-standing meatpacking plant in the neighborhood and they've occupied it for the past 45 years. But now they're about to lose it, reports The Real Deal.

I wrote about the Weichsel plant back in November, looking at the luxury flood that was encroaching all around it. Weichsel is located on the extreme margin of MePa, out of sight and out of mind. But the High Line brought the Whitney Museum to Weichsel's doorstep, and there's no way Weichsel and its swinging sides of beef would be allowed to stay.

Weichsel will be shuffled out of its home and moved completely into the city-run Gansevoort Market Co-Op, where the endangered lease was extended to 2031 in exchange for giving a piece of itself to the Whitney. So all is not lost. Still, it is a loss of ground, and the end of an era. And what's moving in to Weichsel's space? "8,340 square feet of high-end retail."

Mr. Manesis will still be able to get his beef--and it makes for good burgers. I talked with him while writing my High Line Op-Ed for the Times.

When I asked Mr. Manesis "How was business before the High Line opened?" he told me, "It was much better. Now there are no people around. The High Line brings people, but only on some days. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday there are people, but only during the day. At night they go to the clubs. It’s not like before. Nothing’s coming back."


The rents in the area, he said, just keep getting higher. "Maybe 10, 15 years ago, the landlords were giving it away, rent was almost free. $300 or $400 a month. Now there’s nothing less than $25,000 a month."

He pointed out the window at the boutique across the street, "$55,000 a month." Then he pointed to another, "$75,000 a month." Finally, he pointed to a salon down the block, "$105,000 a month."

Hector's burger

The city owns Hector’s building, so he’s okay--for now. Still, it's not like the bustling days before the High Line, before MePa went glam. He used to have 22 employees, but has had to cut down to 14. He used to stay open 24 hours, now it's much less. But he'll keep buying burger meat from his neighbors, as long as the city honors that co-op lease.

Still, fewer people are opting for Hector's big, fresh burgers. As Mr. Manesis said, "Now, around here, people spend $30 on a little hamburger, frozen."

Meat on Hooks
Hector's Cafe
Atlas Meats Gone

Friday, August 24, 2012

Colony's Rent Hike

By now you've heard the news, first released yesterday here and since spread like wildfire, that Colony Records must close its long-standing Times Square home in the next month or so. Today, the Post followed up on the story and reported that the reason for the closure is not just because we all have iPods, it's because Colony's landlord is quintupling the rent to $5 million.


The Brill Building was sold in 2007 to Stonehenge Properties for $151 million. Here's the rendering they present of the future Brill at 1619 Broadway--and Colony's space--on their website today:

"Generation," a fantasy big-box flagship store features the usual glass and glitz, the horror of contemporary life in New York City. And here's how they're marketing it:

"Amazing opportunity for a brand to control a high-trafficked corner location"--can accommodate "big box"--in the spot where a family-run business thrived for 6 decades and contributed so much to America's cultural history.

3 Dreams

Read three fresh dreams of the vanishing New York: one about 1947 Bowery from me, a tourist nightmare from Chris, and a Lower East Side matrimonial dream from Goggla.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

*Everyday Chatter

On Broadway near 12th, Union Square is getting a 7-11 and a Pret A Manger. Will the chaining never end?

In a city increasingly clogged with 7-11's, neighbors welcome "corporate greed" of Grand St.'s 7-11. [BB]

Check out Chris Arnade's lovely photos of the uncelebrated people of Brooklyn and the Bronx. [CAP]

The "charmingly shabby" interiors of 104 E. 10th, from which last bohemian Edgar Oliver was evicted. [EVG]

Checking in with zombie restaurants and what happened to Fedora. [GAF]

Recently shuttered Lafayette French bakery to be replaced by trendy restaurant. [Eater]

"Stop sucking up to Bloomberg. Why is New York's mayor perpetually portrayed as a hero? Because journalists fear him..." [Salon]

Gay rights landmark faces demolition. [GVSHP]

The New Museum on the art of the old Bowery it helped to oust. [Gothamist]

Developers are lusting to gut your walk-up and send you packing. [NYT]

Colony Music


After "60 years serving Broadway, New York, and the World," the venerable Colony Music in Times Square is closing down. That's the word from JVNY reader Charles Hutchinson, who works at Academy Records. A call to Colony confirmed the bad news. They'll be around for a little while longer, but not too long.

Charles writes in: "Colony Records is closing next month. I'm heartsick when any unique business that promotes music, books, and culture in general gets forced out of this city. As someone who has spent some of his most joyful hours browsing in such shops, I dread the day when rents and the Internet flush them all out. No website that I can conceive of could possibly fill the role played by the late lamented Gotham Book Mart or (should it be forced to close) Downtown Music Gallery in this city's cultural life. Record Stores, despite all the vinyl-is-back hubbub, are proving to be as vulnerable as the next mom-&-pop in the Bloombergian Era."

I used to buy sheet music at Colony, and I could always go there to find a Broadway kind of soundtrack (Judy at Carnegie Hall was my last purchase), but what I love best about it are its dusty vitrines filled with faded memorabilia.

Girlie magazines, bottles of Elvis perfume, ticket stubs from forgotten Sinatra concerts, all of it is crammed behind glass, to be looked at but never touched.

While die-hard vinylists might see Colony as a tourist trap, overpriced and understocked, I always found it to be a respite from the Times Square stupidity, from the crowds of tourists hungry for the next Disney fix.

I could step inside and step back in time, to a quieter, more unusual place--where I might run into something odd, like a Sal Mineo Fan Club button.

One time, heading to Colony, I looked up at the Brill Building in which it stands to see Woody Allen at a window, looking down at me. It was a bit of a thrill, I must admit.

And I always loved the neon Colony girl. With her perky mid-century breasts and flippy skirt, she holds a record aloft (red and ringed, it looks like the burner on an electric stove--it is hot). With jubilation she proclaims, "I found it!"

Sometime in the mid 2000's Colony took down their wonderful old neon sign. As Lost City explained in 2007, "Colony took it down at the behest of an old landlord, who said it was violating some building code or other, one that had long been ignored. Colony did so. Then the building was sold and the new landlord didn't give a hoot if the sign was up or down. So Colony went to a lot of bother for nothing. Now Record Girl sits neglected in the basement."

A new version of the girl came back, but now she'll be vanishing for good.

old sign

I don't know why Colony is closing, but I can imagine. Times Square is not for antiques anymore. Everything that's not a global brand must go. Even a place loaded with our cultural history. As Colony's owner once told the Times, "James Brown took one look around and said, 'This smells like a music store.'" It still does.

Sixty years (and more) is a long time, but in the new New York, age matters nothing. Everything solid must be plowed under and replaced with something hollow. Imagine what will come next to this prime corner space. I can see the signs already: "Flagship Opportunity!"

really old sign

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Disney World on the Hudson

The New York Times printed my Op-Ed today on how the High Line "has become a tourist-clogged catwalk and a catalyst for some of the most rapid gentrification in the city’s history."

August 21, 2012
Disney World on the Hudson

WHEN the first segment of the High Line, the now-famous park built atop an old elevated railway on the West Side of Manhattan, opened in 2009, I experienced a moment of excitement. I had often wondered what it would be like to climb that graffiti-marked trestle with its wild urban meadow. Of course, I’d seen the architectural renderings and knew not to expect a wilderness. Still, the idea was enticing: a public park above the hubbub, a contemplative space where nature softens the city’s abrasiveness.

Today it’s difficult to remember that initial feeling. The High Line has become a tourist-clogged catwalk and a catalyst for some of the most rapid gentrification in the city’s history.

My skepticism took root during my first visit. The designers had scrubbed the graffiti and tamed the wildflowers. Guards admonished me when my foot moved too close to a weed. Was this a park or a museum? I felt like I was in the home of a neatnik with expensive tastes, afraid I would soil the furnishings.

But the park was a hit. Fashion models strutted up and down. Shoppers from the meatpacking district boutiques commandeered the limited number of benches, surrounded by a phalanx of luxury clothing bags. I felt underdressed.

That rarefied state didn’t last, though. As the High Line’s hype grew, the tourists came clamoring. Originally meant for running freight trains, the High Line now runs people, except where those people jam together like spawning salmon crammed in a bottleneck. The park is narrow, and there are few escape routes. I’ve gotten close to a panic attack, stuck in a pool of stagnant tourists at the park’s most congested points.

Not yet four years old, the High Line has already become another stop on the must-see list for out-of-towners, another chapter in the story of New York City’s transformation into Disney World. According to the park’s Web site, 3.7 million people visited the High Line in 2011, only half of them New Yorkers. It’s this overcrowding — not just of the High Line, but of the streets around it — that’s beginning to turn the tide of sentiment.

Recently, an anonymous local set off a small media storm by posting fliers around the park that read: “Attention High Line tourists. West Chelsea is not Times Square. It is not a tourist attraction.” A local newspaper talked to a 24-year-old who reported that young people who once met for dates at the park now say, “How about doing something that doesn’t involve the High Line?”

But the problem isn’t just the crowds. It’s that the park, which will eventually snake through more than 20 blocks, is destroying neighborhoods as it grows.

And it’s doing so by design. While the park began as a grass-roots endeavor — albeit a well-heeled one — it quickly became a tool for the Bloomberg administration’s creation of a new, upscale, corporatized stretch along the West Side. As socialites and celebrities championed the designer park during its early planning stages, whipping community support into a heady froth, the city rezoned West Chelsea for luxury development in 2005.

The neighborhood has since been completely remade. Old buildings fell and mountain ranges of glassy towers with names like High Line 519 and HL23 started to swell — along with prices.

The New York City Economic Development Corporation published a study last year stating that before the High Line was redeveloped, “surrounding residential properties were valued 8 percent below the overall median for Manhattan.” Between 2003 and 2011, property values near the park increased 103 percent.

This is good news for the elite economy but not for many who have lived and worked in the area for decades. It’s easy to forget that until very recently, even with the proliferation of art galleries near the West Side Highway, West Chelsea was a mix of working-class residents and light-industrial businesses.

But the High Line is washing all that away. D&R Auto Parts saw its profits fall by more than 35 percent. Once-thriving restaurants like La Lunchonette and Hector’s diner, a local anchor since 1949, have lost their customer base.

Hardest hit have been the multigenerational businesses of “gasoline alley.” Mostly auto-related establishments that don’t fit into Michael R. Bloomberg’s luxury city vision, several vanished in mere months, like species in a meteoric mass extinction. Bear Auto Shop was out after decades; the Olympia parking garage, after 35 years, closed when its rent reportedly quintupled.

Brownfeld Auto, on West 29th Street near 10th Avenue, lost its lease after nearly a century. Today it’s another hole in the ground. Its third-generation owner, Alan Brownfeld, blamed the High Line for taking away the thriving business he’d inherited from his grandfather. “It’s for the city’s glamorous people,” he said.

Mr. Brownfeld is right, for now. But just as the High Line’s early, trendy denizens gave way to touristic hordes, Chelsea’s haute couture moment may be fleeting. As big a brand as Stella McCartney is, she can’t compete with global chains like Sephora, which are muscling into the area’s commercial space.

Within a few years, the ecosystem disrupted by the High Line will find a new equilibrium. The aquarium-like high rises will be for the elite, along with a few exclusive locales like the Standard Hotel. But the new locals will rarely be found at street level, where chain stores and tourist-friendly restaurants will cater to the crowds of passers-by and passers-through. Gone entirely will be regular New Yorkers, the people who used to call the neighborhood home. But then the High Line was never really about them.

See Also:
Chelsea Mobil
Atlas Meats
Bear Auto
Brownfeld Auto
Folsom East and The Eagle

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

NYC Tourist Tips

With the enormous influx of tourists to the city, along with lots of newer New Yorkers who seem to have trouble getting with the program, we've seen a coinciding uptick in urban etiquette signage. There's Jay Shells' Metropolitan Etiquette Authority street signs, the plethora of "please be quiet" signs outside of bars and restaurants, and a few rogue posters instructing High Line tourists on how to behave.

Now graphic artist Desirre Jones has put together a tourist etiquette Tumblr, "NYC Tourist Tips," subtitled "How to visit New York City and not have the natives want to stab you... and other helpful hints."

click to enlarge and read

JVNY: What inspired you to make these etiquette posters?

DJ: Well, right now I'm working in Times Square and run-ins with tourists are a daily occurrence. Instead of yelling at them on the street like a crazy person I decided to make the blog.

JVNY: Has the blog helped you to alleviate your sidewalk rage?

DJ: I can't say for sure the blog has helped me feel less pissed off at these idiots, but you know, we're all human and we just got to try to get along together as best we can.

JVNY: Any plan to bring them to print and post them in public spaces?

DJ: I thought about kicking it old-school and making them into wheat pasting posters around the city but I really don't have the money to get arrested right now. Do you have any ideas?

JVNY: Maybe my readers do. Do you take requests?

DJ: Sure, I'd be happy to make up ones based on the requests from your readers. Sounds like fun!

My own request: "Don't walk and text."

Monday, August 20, 2012

7-11 Strikes Again

A reader writes in to report: "The Gramercy Corner shop, news, candy, magazines, etc., has closed soon after a 7-11 opened up next door."

Anonymous reader

In April, the Daily News visited the little mom-and-pop. They wrote:

"Near the 7-Eleven that opened at 247 Third Ave. in Gramercy early last year, local stores have had a hard time. Omar Irfan, the 46-year-old co-owner of Gramercy Corner at 20th St. and Third Ave. estimates that 7-Eleven took away 25-30% of his business. 'We sell a lot of the same things — snacks, cigarettes, lotto,' Irfan said. 'It’s very hard. We try to put prices a little down. Still, people come here for me. They know me.'"

Mr. Irfan hasn't shut down completely. He has managed to move across 20th Street and down a couple doors, next to the Dunkin Donuts Baskin Robbins, into a much smaller space than his last one. The rent here is cheaper. And maybe being a hair's breadth away from 7-11's field of gravity will help him catch some customers. But will his $1 coffee outsell Dunkin?

Where can a shop owner move to today that isn't near a competing chain?

7-11 Zombification
Chain Stores in the City
Death of a Deli
We Want Our Bodega

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Dream of an Alternate Coney

Author Josh Alan Friedman dreams of an alternate Coney Island--at Dreams of the Vanishing New York.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

We Want Our Bodega

Something's coming to the corner of Mott and Houston.

The space used to be La Cocina corner deli, but it's been for rent for awhile now.

Its side has long been wrapped in a plasticky advertisement, hot pink and decorated with super-skinny women shoppers (some without eyes). They clutch their bags and strike poses around the words YOUR STORE HERE.

It's an insulting sign and appropriately attracted neighborhood rage from the beginning.

"We want our bodega," said one writer in black Magic Marker. "No more yuppies in Nolita."

A bit more recently, another writer got more colorful, saying, "FUCK YOU BLOODSUCKERS WE WANT A BODEGA BACK" and "FUCK YOU HOPE IT BURNS DOWN BEFORE IT GOES BROKE."

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Lafayette French Pastry


Reader Kevin Dougherty writes in with the news that, after over 30 years in business, the Lafayette Bakery on Greenwich Avenue has closed. "Sadly, it does not come as a surprise to me. I do not think he was doing that well in the business. The store is totally empty. Not a thing appears to be left. Sad."

He shares this photo of the empty shop window:

photo: Kevin Dougherty

In June, the owner of the bakery wrote on Lafayette's Facebook page: "we must leave this location due to a letter of eviction. donations are being accepted. i need 40000!" A week later, he said, "good news- got an order to show cause extending our life til july 9, 2012."

And that was all he wrote.

In July, Robert Sietsema reported that the marshals had seized the place. As to history, he wrote, "Lafayette had been at this Greenwich Avenue location for at least 15 years, and had previously existed for at least 15 years near the corner of Bleecker and Seventh Avenue South. Though it had pretenses of being a French bakery, the owners were Greek."

Maybe business started going downhill in 2009 when the baker made the ugly mistake of making and marketing "Drunken Negro Cookies" in response to Obama's election. The Black Panthers protested, chanting, "Ray-cist Lah-fay-ette! Brick by brick, wall by wall--we’ll stay out here and make you fall!"

Lafayette didn't fall then, but a flood of bad reviews on Yelp didn't help. And the closure of St. Vincent's put a lot of locals out of business along this stretch of Greenwich.

I last went into the bakery in May. I bought some lace cookies and talked to the baker about all his neighbors who'd been put out of business due to rising rents and the loss of the hospital. He told me he was doing okay.

The cookies weren't great and I didn't eat them, but I always liked walking by that bakery. It looked like it had been there forever. And you don't often see the word LOGS spelled out in neon.

As Sietsema put it, "as a vestige of the old West Village with all its French and beatnik pretensions, it will be missed, a place worth looking in the window of from time to time, but almost never entered."

Monday, August 13, 2012

*Everyday Chatter

10 reasons why you should help St. Mark's Bookshop move to a new location. [KSPL]

Only 4 days left to make a donation so St. Mark's gets the funds already pledged. Send them a few bucks today! [LA]

On Williamsburg, the "Last Bohemia," gentrification, and all that stuff. [VV]

"Narratively," a new project to tell New York's stories, looks like it's doing something interesting. Give them a kickstart, if you like how it sounds. [KS]

Utrecht art supply store is leaving 4th Avenue. [EVG]

Rare and lovely shots inside abandoned Shore Theater of Coney Island. [youtube]

Luxury Bleecker comes east with Intermix on Bond St. [BB]

Joan Jett at Coney Island. [TWM]

"One hundred and sixty-eight bleak Decembers ago or thereabouts, Edgar Allan Poe sat before a fireplace in a farmhouse on a high bluff on what would someday be called the Upper West Side, composing a poem..." [CR]

Finding the Hotel Cavalier. [NYN]

Cool Culinaria sells prints of vintage NYC menus. [CC]

Mei Dick Barber Shop


What happened to Mei Dick?


Back in April, a couple of commenters noted that the notorious (and much photographed) sign was gone, but we just got down to Chinatown to check it out.

It's gone.

Yelper A.F.B. tells the tale:

"Friday, April 20, 2012 will be a day that I recall with melancholic humor. I walked out of Aji Ichiban on Mott Street, turned left, looked over and exclaimed loudly with appropriate horror, 'OH, NO!!! MY DICK IS GONE!' Then laughed.

The sign is scrubbed away, the mailbox is stuffed with un-picked up mail, and one of my Chinatown Cultural References seems to have disappeared. Mei Dick was one of the places in Chinatown where I'd get my haircut... They did a good job at a good price and, with the constant clacking noise of Mah Jongg tiles in the background, somewhat like an adventure. So, one more 'I remember when' to add to my walks through the City of Ghosts."

Yelper Isaac C realls, "The same guy (the only guy) always cuts my hair. He is really nice and SUPER old-school. Everything about this place is old-school. It's essentially like getting a haircut in your grandpa's basement. He even uses the same plastic scrubber to wash my hair that we used as kids. My only beef is that he always wants to paste down my hair and part it, so that I walk out with a 50s do looking like an Asian character from Mad Men. I think it's $6 for a cut and wash. I don't know how these C-town barbershops exist."

Does anyone know the history of Mei Dick and why it disappeared?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Coney Ride '87

On a hot summer day in 1987, join Michael Musto and friends for a graffiti-splattered subway ride from (unrecognizable) Union Square to (recently demolished) Coney Island. It's another gem from filmmaker Nelson Sullivan.

When artist Albert Crudo gets on in Bensonhurst he tells of "these horrible girls" on the platform who commented on his gender presentation: "It's a guy! It's a guy!" Musto passes the time by defacing images of 1950s Hollywood starlets.

Today they'd be hipsters. But it's not today. It's the '80s.

And, look, it's the Loew's Oriental movie palace--shuttered in 1995 and turned into a Marshall's.

When they finally arrive at their destination, the glimpse of Coney's ghosts might break your heart.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Peep World to Hooters

When West 33rd Street's Peep World closed back in March, we thought it would be replaced by a branch of Murray Hill's Overlook Lounge, a large gastro-pub known as "The Home of the Oklahoma Sooners." As I wrote then, "They specialize in hot wings and pommes frites, and feature a TV screen at every booth tuned to a sporting event. Their customers are often seen dressed in mardi gras beads and football jerseys for out-of-town teams."

But this fate is not to be--at least, not exactly.

Instead, Peep World will become a Hooters. Which is kind of the same thing as an Oklahoma Sooners bar serving hot wings. Except it's worse.

It's worse because Hooters is a watered-down, suburbanized version of Peep World and all the other XXX joints that have been erased from the city. It's worse because it's a "family restaurant" that's really all about big tits.

Unlike Hooters, Peep World didn't pretend to be family friendly, it didn't have a children's menu, and it didn't have TV commercials that said, "Hey kids, wanna do your dad a really big favor? Tell your mom you wanna go to Peep World."

Peep World didn't sell branded merchandise to kids, either, like "I'm a Boob Man" onesies and "Your Crib Or Mine?" bibs.

Peep World was a nasty place for adults. It was raw and dirty and funky, like the city used to be. It wasn't an airbrushed sexcapade for tired, middle-aged frat boys to get their kicks during "family time" after a game of golf.

Peep World was New York. It wasn't Tampa or Dallas or Knoxville. It wasn't a bland international chain.

And I'll tell you something else--at Peep World, you could find all kinds of sex: straight, gay, transgender, plus every brand of kink. It was an all-inclusive smut experience. Hooters, on the other hand, sells one flavor of sex: vanilla.

This swap, with all of its cruel irony, encapsulates the city's cultural colon cleanse. Greasy burger joints have to be replaced with sanitized Shake Shacks. Grubby bodegas must be transformed into soulless 7-11's. We can't have a Peep World, because it's too dirty, dark, and weird. Instead, we get a corporate suburban chain that peddles sex disguised as all-American hot wings.

In the end, which is more degrading?

Peep World Vanishing
Peep World Remnants

Also read:
Show World
Adult Bookstores
Parisian Danceland

Secret Peeps