Thursday, January 31, 2013

Little Bodega

In the midst of great efforts to save our bodegas from 7-Eleven assimilation and destruction, miniature model artist Randy Hage sends in another of his masterful miniatures. This time it's the endangered species known as the New York bodega.

all photos: Randy Hage

Inspired by the R&R Deli Grocery, vanished from the corner of Albany and Pacific in Brooklyn, the mini bodega has it all. The crummy payphone and bubblegum machines (secured with a cinderblock) out front. The busted hand-painted sign loaded with a list of wares (BEER, MEAT, COFFEE). The window cluttered with junk ads for Mega Millions and menthol cigarettes. The sidewalk littered with dead leaves and trash.

Of course, it's what's inside that really makes the city's bodegas special.

As Randy says, "A chain store will never be able to foster the sense of community and meaningful friendships that a mom-and-pop type store can. In a busy city, it is the contact with people we know and care about that brings feelings of belonging. Community, diversity, and character are lost when the chain stores move in."

But if 7-Eleven gets its way, all we'll have left of the New York bodega are models and memories.

See more of Randy's work:
Model New York
Unreal Ideal Hosiery
Mini Mars Bar

Join the fight against 7-11:
No 7-11 on Facebook
No 7-11 on Twitter

And here's one more--with a quarter rolled in to show just how miniature this miniature is.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

1958 Restaurant Ads

A while back, Ephemeral New York put up a link to a 1958 Village Voice review of Gene's restaurant, citing "fantastic vintage ads for other restaurants and cafes of the era." They are fantastic vintage ads, and I thought I'd piggyback and share a few here from restaurants that have been more recently lost.

They are simple ads that appeared in the pages of the Village Voice, mostly text, a bit of illustration here and there. They use the old telephone exchanges and tout their air conditioning--a luxury.

Jade Mountain vanished in 2007 after being on Second Avenue since 1931. It had the best neon signs. Its hot-pink CHOW MEIN sign kept glowing until 2011, when it was finally removed. The main restaurant sign was crushed and carted away that same summer. It was salvaged and is currently sitting in a Bronx warehouse.

The Phoenix Theatre mentioned in the ad is today's Village East. (Take a look back.)

We lost El Faro very recently--just this October when it was closed indefinitely while the owners try to raise the money to pay off a number of fines to the city. It opened in 1927.

The Minetta Tavern, opened in 1937, closed in 2008 when the landlord raised the rent too high for the owner to manage. The original owner's son tried to take over, but could not afford the luxury-level rent. Trend-maker Keith McNally took over, gave the place a glittering polish for the swanky set, and took away the portrait of the infamous Joe Gould.

Chumley's, oh Chumley's. The great "writers' rendezvous" collapsed in 2007 and still hasn't been restored, though we hear it will become a (blasphemy!) sports bar. Revisit it in a lovely scene from the Woody Allen film Another Woman.

Finally, the Beatrice Inn, the ravaged and debauched Italian grandmother of West 12th, vongerichtified and vanquished. One of our vanished red-sauce joints recently turned haute cuisine. At least the neon sign was lovingly restored.  

New York put together an Oral History of the Beatrice Inn that manages to skip over its long life as a real place, before it "ruled as a subterranean bar for fashion designers, editors, stylists, and the celebrities and young socialites." Well, it is mentioned in passing as an "old restaurant," quirky, strange, and full of garbage.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Jefferson Market Books

At the Jefferson Market Library, down the spiral staircase, in the basement where prisoners once were held for trial, you'll find the Greenwich Village Collection. It is an amazing collection of books, mostly on the Village and all on New York City, that you won't find anywhere else. It's a great place to spend an afternoon or to kill an hour in between other obligations. A brief sampling...

Nooks and Crannies, by Yeadon, 1979

A guide to New York City of the time. In the East Village chapter, the author begins: "'Surely you're not doing the East Village,' asked a dear friend. 'That neighborhood's gone, it's finished.' His sentiments are shared, I'm sure, by thousands who associate the district with Bowery bums, beatniks, hippies, and a braggadocio lifestyle that rejects societal norms with the singlemindedness of a mainlining addict."

The author walks down St. Mark's to 1st Avenue, past George Proko's Pipe and Tobacco store, through scattered parts of the Italian district, Giuffre's Fish Store, a pierogi maker's shop, Tron's Meat & Poultry, a bread bakery, and Kurowycky Meats. He spends some time at Theatre 80, admiring the miniature Grauman's Chinese display of famous handprints on the sidewalk.

New York Unexpurgated, by Petronius, 1966

An amoral guide, says the cover, for the jaded, tired, evil, non-conforming, corrupt, etc., etc. Writes the author, known only as Petronius, "Yesterday's hot spot is tomorrow's well of loneliness; today's hangover is tonight's shuttered gaiety; and the next Miss Teen America's virginity is anyone's guess."

The book tells you where to find an orgy and how to throw one, how to get admitted into an organized sex cult, and which bars are the best for showing up in drag. Who knew that the men's room at the Harris Theatre on 42nd boasted an award-winning glory hole? It received more citations than any other, including "the always popular Shamrock chain." (Any idea what that means?) The author also provides quite a description of "The New York Dyke" and her hangouts, including the ultra-butch "Sea Colony" bar. (Click the photo to enlarge.)

The Bowery Man, by Bendiner, 1961

An exploration of the typical man who made the Bowery his home in 1961: "Psychologists agree that the Bowery men need a place where an effortless going to hell is the accepted way of life. They need a place where no one requires anything of them, where no one ever says 'You can do better.' The institution the Bowery men need is one where everyone agrees: 'Mac, you can't do better.'"

My Life and Loves in Greenwich Village, Bodenheim, 1954

Stories of Village life by the infamous bohemian Max Bodenheim. He introduces us to nymphomaniacs, "confirmed homosexuals," eccentric landlords, offbeat undertakers, gypsies, and many others. In one story, he meets an artist who carries a mysterious black suitcase wherever he goes. Inside are broken pieces of glass--believed to be the shattered remains of his model, "a psychopathic girl...who thought she was made of shatter-proof glass." He carries the suitcase due to "the compulsion neurosis. I can't do it without falling deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of guilt. As long as I have the suitcase with me I feel relieved."

The author visits Hubert's Cafeteria, "the nerve-center of the neurotic Village," and there's a little song that goes along with it, played on a cigar-box ukulele: "In Hubert's Cafeteria -- the girls all suffer from sex-hysteria -- they drink a glass of gin or wine -- and make a dash for Bodenheim."

Poor Hubert's, he writes, was "torn down in the Thirties to make room for a bank building--a prophetic reminder that the Village was fated to go bourgeois and bow to the god of Real Estate." Yes, it happened even then, but less so.

Greenwich Village: Yesterday and Today, with photos by Berenice Abbott, 1949

Plenty of Abbott's great photographs, all in the Village, including shots of the old Whitney Museum on 8th Street, artists in alleys, Edward Hopper in his studio, young dancers and writers, Italian restaurants with white tablecloths and men dining alone. I especially liked this sign in the window of a bookshop.

Monday, January 28, 2013

9th Street Bakery

By now you may have heard that the 9th Street Bakery is closing after 87 years in business. The landlord has doubled the rent. So I went inside, on a freezing winter's afternoon, and sat down with a cup of hot coffee.

The bakery was cold. The tops of the tables like slabs of ice. I kept my coat on. The radio played classical music, Beethoven's "Appassionata." Now and then, a customer came and went.

1. "Can I have an onion rye?"
"Slice it?"
The air judders with the vibrations of the slicing machine.

2. "Do you have a small challah, besides this one?" She coughs and lowers her grocery bags to the floor with a heavy sound. "That's Beethoven's sonata. Nice to walk into a store and hear something like that instead of the garbage they play everywhere. I listen to almost nothing but classical music. I guess I'm more monochromatic that way."

She leaves. The refrigeration condenser comes on growling, rattles on a bit, then stops. The bakery man counts money. It shuffles softly in his hands. A voice on the radio tells us it will be cold tonight and snow will fall but not accumulate. The bakery man yawns.

3. "Can I have two whole-wheat rolls? And a large rye?"
"No, thanks." The young woman waits, softly humming and bouncing on her heels. 

Across the street, the Bean mini-chain is full of people--drinking coffee, eating pastries, all gazing into the light of their laptop screens. People walk by the 9th Street Bakery, smiling lovingly into the faces of their iPhones. Inside, one customer departs, minutes pass, and another enters.

4. "Challah, please. Oh, I want to come in here with claws on and just make people have tea! I love this place. There's no TV, so it's a good place for conversation. So much better than the other places." She wishes the bakery man luck and leaves with her challah loaf.

5. "I'll take a coffee and a doughnut. And I'll give ya 20 dollars tomorrow." He sits without paying (he must run a tab), hurriedly dunks the doughnut (chocolate glazed) in the coffee, gulps it down in sopping, dripping pieces, and leaves.

Outside, it's getting darker. In the headlights of an idling black SUV, snow begins to fall, just like the radio promised. The classical station flickers out, breaks into static, allows a voice from a neighboring station to intrude, screaming: "Check out the awesomeness! Yaaaah!" The room's blood pressure jolts. But the bakery man fiddles with the dial and soft music soon returns us to our reverie.

6. "Apple strudel and coffee, please." He sits down in his black beret and opens a book on the table in front of him. "Is that a Mozart French horn? I believe it is. You always have good music in here. I approve."

Now it's my turn to leave. I step outside feeling transformed by the 9th Street Bakery. I feel calm, less angry than I usually do on the street. It's as if I've been drugged with some mild and delightful soporific. The East Village seems benevolent, and I find myself humming as I walk through it. More and more, we are losing the places that make us feel better about life and the city. What happens when they're all gone?

Friday, January 25, 2013

*Everyday Chatter

Follow "No 7-11" on Twitter and on Facebook for updates on the war on Sevvy.

Saturating Manhattan with its chain stores is 7-Eleven's #1 priority. [EVG]

The East Village fights back against 7-Eleven. [NYT]

They used to say "It's better than a bank," and now? "...a bar owner applying for a liquor license recently used 7-Eleven as a scare tactic. 'We had an applicant come to us and say, 'If you don't approve my license, I know the landlord is also talking to 7-Eleven.'" [Crain's]

Bleecker Street Records may be vanishing next. [DNA]

Landlord doubles the rent on 87-year-old 9th Street Bakery--closure imminent. [EVG]

"The southern end of the High Line will soon transform dramatically, as what are now some of the most open and exposed parts of the park will be surrounded on all sides by large new developments." [GVSHP]

Middle-class in Manhattan? Maybe, maybe not. [NYT]

When a business shutters, who owns their neon sign? [NYN]

Caleb Carr: "...that is the tragedy of tipping the scales too far in the direction of money. I know it's fatuous to be nostalgiac for a dirtier, more crime-ridden city, but the simple fact is, when there are undesirables, there are undesirable areas; and it is into these undesirable -- and cheap -- areas that move the creative class that keeps a city's lifeblood strong. Without that class, a city has no legend, no ethos, no character; it's just a high-priced dormitory for those who want to think they're part of something long-gone." [CR]

"Are today's young people deluded narcissists?" [CA]

Growing up with Hinsch's. [DJ]

What hyper-gentrification feels like in Berlin:

Offending the Clientele from Sender FN / Retsina-Film on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

NYPL Demolition

The New York Public Library's plan for renovating the Main Branch has been approved by Landmarks. This means it will be transformed from a research library to a research and lending library. The magnificent and mysterious stacks beneath the Reading Room will be demolished, and most of the books will be exiled to storage in New Jersey.

This renovation was the topic of what might well have been Ada Louise Huxtable's final critique before her recent death. In the Wall Street Journal she wrote, "a research library is a timeless repository of treasures, not a popularity contest measured by head counts, the current arbiter of success." And, in short, "You don't 'update' a masterpiece. 'Modernization' may be the most dangerously misused word in the English language."

I love the way books are retrieved today in the reading room. You get a number and wait for them to emerge, via dumbwaiter and a complicated Rube Goldbergy conveyor system of lifts and chutes, from the vast and hidden stacks below. You can get pretty much any obscure book you want within minutes.

It used to be, not long ago, you also sent your request on a slip of paper via the "zip tube," a remnant of what was once a complex system of urban pneumatics. For over a century, the librarian would secure your pencil-scratched call slip in a windowed capsule, then plunk it into the tube for it to be sucked away with a satisfying "thoomp," and zipped down into the bowels of the library, down into those 7 floors of stacks, where elves (it always seemed) set out in search of the requested item.

Artifacts, like the one above, remain, but the zip tube system was shut down in 2011. "The passing of a steampunk relic might occasion a fit of nostalgia and no more," wrote Metropolis, but "One could hardly contrive a more blatant metaphor for the uneasy shift, in the world of letters, from the physical to the digital."

I don't know what will happen to the dumbwaiters once the stacks are gone.

Cover of Scientific American, 1911, NYPL

"We are going to create a glorious new center that is full of life," said the library president, as if books are dead. Are the stacks, as they are, not full of life? Books themselves are vessels of life, more life than can be currently lived, because they contain the vastness of the past.

But not everyone sees it this way. For many, "full of life" means having people lounging around all over the place, chattering away in the sunlight, not being very curious at all about much of anything, really.

And for this we are losing a true wonder.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Follies Burlesk

I've written before about the history of 1551 Broadway, and the Gaiety Theater upstairs. But the story seems never to end. Every time I come upon another image of the building, I feel compelled to post it here. Like the 1980 shots by Andreas Feininger and a magnificent color photo from the 1940s, when the Orpheum Dance Palace was still upstairs (and HoJo's was a Childs restaurant).

Here are a bunch of photos from the days in between the Orpheum and the Gaiety, between the dime-a-dance and the jerk-off grind, when the second floor of 1551 Broadway belonged to the Follies Burlesk.

Bob Gruen, 1972, via Ephemeral New York

In its heyday, the Follies Burlesk sported major signage for "the most beautiful showgirls in the world," "glorified burlesk," and the "all live whirly girly revue." 1974 saw the arrival of one Lisa Ct. Cyr ("plus 6 young new oxotics"), surely a poor man's knock-off of Lily St. Cyr, star of 52nd when it was "Strip Street" two decades earlier.

Here's a gal under the Follies marquee, with the performers' photos in the background. The photographer also has a close-up of the marquee, wrapped in light bulbs and featuring DESHA SHAUNEE, whoever she was, wherever she went.

obwantiag's flickr

Another color shot shows the spectacular signage from across the avenue. The billboard above advertised nothing more glamorous than plain and simple WOOL.

When the Gaiety opened in 1976, replacing the Follies Burlesk, the signage above HoJo's shifted--from girls to boys.

close-up, Gruen

close-up, Feininger--same view

By 1978, the painted strippers on the old Burlesk sign had peeled and flaked. They would be replaced by 1980 by a billboard for Howard Johnson's (And behind that Burger King sign hides the remnants of the grandest old Automat.)

1978, via Lost City

Wrote Josh Alan Friedman:

"Perched from my upstairs, extra-seating table view,
I saw the lights go on for the All Live Whirly*Girly Revue,
Broadway's worst burly-Q, first time since '62"

1980s, Carl Burton

I remember standing in Times Square in the early 1990s and looking up at the last remnant of the Follies, the sign for the ALL LIVE WHIRLY GIRLY REVUE. That's all that remained. And then it, too, was covered by billboards. I wondered when they tore down the building to put up an American Eagle Outfitters, was the sign still there? Did anyone bother to save it?

1992, Greenwich Village Daily Photo

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Rocco Gets Carboned

When the popular and still-expanding Torrisi restaurant venture took over the Thompson Street space occupied for 89 years by Rocco Ristorante, after a massive rent hike, we heard that the owner of Rocco's would be taking his great uncle's antique neon sign with him, along with the hope of moving it to a new space nearby. It had, after all, been casting its warm glow over the street since 1934.

But that plan would not come to pass.


The Observer later reported: "Rocco’s owner threatened to take the landlord to court, and the classic neon red ROCCO sign with him... One thing about the Torrrisi boys’ growth into the old Rocco space is certain, however: They are definitely keeping the sign."

The new restaurant is called Carbone, after one of the Torrisi team members, and now the name has officially been added to the property--superimposed over Rocco Stanziano's.

the new old sign today (thanks to Frank for the pics)

The old neon tubes have been stripped out, the once-crooked WINES - LIQUORS has been rehabbed and straightened, and like an awkward tattoo cover up, in hot-pink neon the name CARBONE will soon be blazing across the belly of Rocco's rusted hulk.


Again and again, in recent years, we've seen a trend where fashionable restaurateurs rehab the neon signs of classic joints when they take over and keep the existing name, i.e., the Beatrice Inn, the Minetta Tavern, Fedora.

In this case, we've got a hybrid, a new name on a classic sign, the new topping the old, keeping the souvenir of the past maintained for--what? A melancholy homage to the lost? Or cool cachet? Either way, it's a memento mori--a reminder that this, too, shall pass.

*Update: Grub Street follows up this post and asks some important questions: "So what does it mean, if anything, that the 'once-crooked' neon sign is hanging again with a new name on Thompson Street? Does New York have a nostalgia problem? As time goes on, more old, well-loved restaurants will certainly close and reopen as 'fashionable' spots, but if the new owners are essentially food-history geeks who are invested in tradition, does that make them tomb-raiders of New York City's restaurant history, really, or just keepers of the old-school flame? In other words, is the new sign cool or not?"

Further Reading:
Rocco Ristorante
Rocco's Update
Torrisi on Rocco
Rocco's and Bill's
Red-Sauce Joints

Monday, January 21, 2013

NYPL: Lunch Hour

There's still time to enjoy Lunch Hour, the NYPL exhibit that celebrates the history of lunching in New York City. Free to all and located at the Main Branch (I refuse to call it by its new name) until February 17, the show is definitely worth the visit.

Filled with vintage menus and photos from places like Delmonico's, Sardi's, and Schrafft's, and an interview with the inventor of the stainless-steel hot dog cart, the show also has a few poetry treasures--a signed copy of Frank O'Hara's Lunch Poems and a hand-written version of W.H. Auden's "In Schrafft's," which begins:

Having finished the Blue-plate Special
And reached the coffee stage,
Stirring her cup she sat,
A somewhat shapeless figure
Of indeterminate age
In an undistinguished hat.

But the biggest draw of the Lunch Hour show is their restored Horn & Hardart Automat. If you squeeze your eyes, and imagine the scene in black and white, you can almost feel transported through time.

The best part is--you can touch this Automat. You can open its glass and brass windows and reach inside, as if for a slice of honey pie or a fresh donut, or a plate of cholent (everybody around you saying, "What was cholent?"). I slipped a nickel in, just to see what would happen. It rang through the machine and thunked down in the dark hollow of its inside, unwanted.

They've also got a screen showing clips of Automat scenes from Hollywood movies and television--in all of them, an impoverished young woman seeks sustenance. In That Girl, Marlo Thomas makes a poor woman's tomato soup from a bowl of hot water and ketchup. Automat worker Audrey Meadows slips a free chicken potpie to Doris Day in That Touch of Mink. And in 1934's Sadie McKee, Joan Crawford looks hungrily at a fellow diner's abandoned slice of lemon meringue--into which he extinguishes his cigarette.

An older couple next to me picked up the listening device to hear the film's sound, a lush cafeterial clatter. "Dishes and silverware," said the woman to her husband, "That's just what they really sounded like!"

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Pushing Back 7-11

As the 7-11 convenience store chain continues its massive push, pressing forward with its clearly stated goal to consume New York City's bodegas with its "Business Conversion Plan," some East Villagers are taking action.

7-11 smashed on St. Mark's

Our friend Liberation reports the scene last night:

"There was a great turnout at the Father’s Heart Ministries to discuss the 7-11 coming to Avenue A and 11th Street. A really diverse crowd of 50 or so people showed up, all of them sick of the chain stores consuming the neighborhood and wanting to do their part to protect the local businesses with roots in the community. The meeting served as a jumping off point to brainstorm ideas and get more people involved. Because the group was diverse so are the skills they bring to table.

In the next few weeks people can expect a new website for the project and action steps people in the community can take to push back against 7-11 and, in the long term, possibly other chain stores looking to set up shop in the East Village. Reporters from the Times, Crains and DNAinfo were all there, so expect articles on the meeting in the next day or so. The general consensus was that people tolerated Starbucks, they tolerated Subway, but a 7-11 in the East Village is the last straw."

Read More:
7-11 Zombification
Chain Stores in the City
7-11 Strikes Again
& Please shop at Gem Spa instead--it's got gravitas

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Atlas to UPS

Back in May, the Atlas Barber School was forced out of its Astor Place location due to hiked rent after training barbers and offering cheap haircuts since 1948.

What's taking its place? A UPS store. Another national chain takes the place of a small, historic local business in the East Village.

Around the corner, at 51 Astor Place, the Death Star towers, dark and hulking. Has it already begun sucking the life force from our neighborhood? What will be its ultimate impact?

Monday, January 14, 2013


Reader Everettsville writes in about his recent visit to the Lexington and 51st location of Barclay-Rex, part of the tobacconist business that's been around since 1910:

"They were having a two-for-one sale. Why, I asked? 'Last day in' the guy said. When I asked why, the guy told me, 'the landlord didn't stop at just doubling the rent, he tripled it.' When I sarcastically promised the guys behind the counter that I wouldn't patronize the 7-11 or Fro-Yo joint that would take its place, they corrected me: 'No, it's gonna be a burger joint!'"

Feil Organization

Barclay Rex has two other locations in town--one near Grand Central and another downtown on Broad St. The original was opened on Barclay (hence the first part of the name) in 1910 by Vincent Nastri, a pipe maker from Salerno, Italy, with his dog, a Great Dane called Rex (hence the second part of the name). The business is still run by Vincent Nastri (the Third).

The just-shuttered shop on Lexington opened in 1997 with a prime spot in the gorgeous General Electric Building, formerly the RCA Victor, a marvel of architecture festooned with radio waves that look like lightning bolts zig-zagging down the building's rosy granite face.

my flickr: 2009

The windows of the tobacconist shop, on the rare occasion that I passed by, attracted me with their displays of fedoras and walking sticks--and their view of walls covered with a mural that brought to mind the WPA works that celebrate the city's industry, or Edward Trumbull's murals in the Graybar Passage of Grand Central and in the Chrysler Building.

One New Year's Eve, a few years ago, I stopped to take a few photos, wondering if the art dated back to the 1930s. Turns out, the 36-foot mural in Barclay-Rex was commissioned from artist Mark di Vincenzo in 1997, no doubt to match the vintage of the building and conjure thoughts of the past.

Somehow, I doubt the deep-pocketed burger joint will keep it.

P.S. What if, instead of one those trendy new burger chains (Good Burger, Bare Burger, 5 Napkin Guys Burger, etc.), the great Prime Burger has chosen this spot to make a comeback? That might make it alright. But with a tripled rent, it does seem unlikely.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


Reminiscence is having a closing sale. A tipster writes in to say, "The sale runs until January 30. There's a chance they might be moving locations." Update: Reader Bryn says, "They are moving back to their old hood on 13th and 5th. PHEW!"

Opened by Stewart Richer in 1975, the shop has bounced around town quite a bit, with locations on MacDougal, Avenue B, and Fifth Avenue, finally settling on 23rd Street near the Flatiron.

In the 1970s, it was the place for colorful Army work overalls dyed by Richer--as well as these amazing pants. In the 80s, you could find two-tone creepers with faux-pony on the toes. (The store's wares were regularly featured in New York magazine, where all of these clippings were found.)

Lady Zombie at the Examiner recently visited the store and called it "a proverbial 'diamond in the rough,' in the form of an incredibly cool vintage shop...fully stocked for the shopping pleasure of novelty enthusiasts, performers and seekers of oddities." It's "a secret shopping mecca for Goths and artistic Manhattanites."

Of course, Manhattan, and the city at large, has fewer of such people every day.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013



Suzie's Chinese restaurant on Bleecker Street has closed after serving the Village for 39 years.

I can't say anything about Suzie's first-hand, but Brooks of Lost City wrote it up for Eater in 2010. In the post, he called it "one of the only notable, sit-down Chinese eateries left in the Village."

Opened in 1973 by Susie Ying and her relatives, the restaurant went through a renovation and change of menu after Ms. Ying's retirement and subsequent death in 2010. After that, business faltered--though NYU students still loved it.

On the school's blog, a student waxes nostalgic for Suzie's, recalling late-night takeout extravaganzas and that "The space was an authentic Chinese restaurant experience, in vein of the classic Seinfeld episode 'The Chinese Restaurant.' Mildly tacky, but relaxed. Comfortable, with a slight flair. Little umbrellas in the drinks, etc."

One commenter replied, "This is like a death for me."

Tuesday, January 8, 2013



Opened on Greenwich Avenue in 1992, the designy gift shop Mxyplyzyk has closed.

Reader Tommy Raiko wrote in with a photo, "I walked by and saw the place entirely vacant, with a good-bye sign taped to the windows." In the sign, owner Kevin Brynan writes, "For 20 years we maintained a vision that has set us apart... We sincerely loved being a part of this community and we will miss this corner." There is no explanation for the closure.

photo: Tommy Raiko

I sent an email to Mr. Brynan to ask what happened. He responded:

"After 20 years running an independent store in Manhattan, it just became impossible. With the closing of St. Vincent’s 2 years ago (the largest employer in the West Village), this incredible recession, and tenants being responsible for real estate taxes, I was just forced out. It is quite clear the current city administration prefers chain stores over the 'mom and pops' with their tax abatements. This island is destined to have a very boring retail landscape. All the creative entities are in Brooklyn or Jersey City where I have my second store."

photo: New York Magazine

Kevin Brynan has been doing business in Manhattan for quite awhile. His first store, reported The Jersey City Independent, was "Dot Zero, opened in 1984 on Fifth Avenue at 22nd Street. At the time the neighborhood was unsavory."

The New York Times' description of the scene at Dot Zero in 1991 is too colorful not to quote at length:

"A young Asian couple in Mondrian-patterned sweaters and plastic knapsacks picked over Dot Zero's ultra-selective inventory. This is a store that sells only six magazines, three of them with River Phoenix on the current covers. Dot Zero is very much about yin and yang, and makes an obvious attempt to balance architect toys like Slinkys ($3.25) and Decision Makers ($9.95) with earthier wares like barbecue sauce ($7.50) and banana shampoo ($9.95).

Almost every customer at Dot Zero wears a Swatch. It's that kind of place. One woman in a long camel's hair cape knew only that it was time to rest her mall-weary eyes. With a little chirp of pleasure she seized upon a pair of vibrating Eye Massager goggles by Travel Tech ($17.95). Adjusting the Velcro strap around her bobbed white hair, she flicked a tiny switch at the nose bridge and flew madly about the store, exclaiming, 'Isn't this just the thing!'"

Brynan & Cleary, Jersey City Independent

When Brynan moved to Greenwich and 13th, he named his new shop after a foe of Superman. Last year, with his partner, Bill Cleary, he opened another location of Mxyplyzyk in Jersey City, where the rent is significantly cheaper than on the rapidly changing Greenwich Avenue.