Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 Vanishings

At the end of each year, I offer a list of businesses that vanished during the year. Last year, I posted a Master List of vanishings through the Bloomberg years. We hoped that this year would be different, that the vanishings would slow down. They have not. Small businesses remain under assault in New York City and nothing is being done to save them.

If you're sick of the funerals, please join my Save New York Facebook page and consider these proposals for stopping the vanishing. We still have a lot to save before it's gone.



Gray's Papaya
On 8th Street, this was the second-to-last Gray's Papaya in the city. It did brisk business and was beloved. Death by rent hike. It will be replaced by a Liquiteria smoothie shop.

81 years old, beloved by many, dead via rent hike.

Barnes & Noble flagship
Yes, part of a chain that helped destroy our local bookstores. Still, the place was old--since 1932--and now it will be a Banana Republic.

Rainbows & Triangles
In Chelsea since 1994. Could not afford the rent.

In Chelsea for 38 years, death by rent hike.

Famous Oyster Bar
In Midtown since 1959. The new landlord refused to renew their lease.

Rizzoli Bookstore on 57th
Beautiful building demolished against public outcry, to be developed into luxury tower. Rizzoli found a new space, not nearly as grand.

Serving the Village, and especially the queer community, since the 1980s. Death by massive rent hike.

Olympic Diner and Jade Fountain Liquors
35 years old, death by development of Essex Crossing.

Antiques Garage
Since 1993, death by luxury redevelopment.

Archangel Antiques
After 21 years in the East Village, the rent was too high. They retired.

Lucky Cheng's
Could not survive their move to Midtown.

Pearl Paint
Building sold.

Since 1995. Death by luxury development.

76 years old.  Death by luxury development.

This was the last of Kim's local empire. Death by rent hike.

El Paso Restaurant
It was old. The cause of death is unknown.

Rodeo Bar
30 years old, could not afford the rent.

Chat N Chew
Since 1994, cause of death unknown.

Hair Box Barber Shop
A barber shop for 100 years, replaced by a frozen yogurt shop.

Subway Inn
Death by luxury development. Since 1937, evicted, forced to move despite petition and public outcry -- reopening elsewhere, but it won't ever be the same.

Marquet Cafe
22 years old, cause of death unknown.

3-Star Coffee Shop
It was old. The Health Department may have violated it out of existence.

John's Bakery
In Ditmas Park over 50 years, possible rent hike.

Video Gallery
In Park Slope many years.

Yaffa Cafe
After 32 years in the East Village, shuttered by the DOH and vanished.

After 15 years, followed Yaffa out of business.

El Quijote
Since 1930. Taken over by the new owner of the new luxury Chelsea Hotel, given a high-end, big-name chef. Still standing, but don't expect it to ever be the same again.

Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore
Death by massive rent hike. Is now a Foot Locker.

Smith's Bar & Restaurant
60 years old, cause of death unknown, possible resurrection coming.

Two Boots Bleecker St.
22 years old, lease renewal denied by new landlord.

Honest Boy Fruit Stand
Since 1980, parcel sold by MTA for luxury development.

Dance Manhattan
22 years old, landlord refused to renew their lease.

Grande Monuments
Since the 1940s, turning into a tattoo parlor.

Bruno Bakery
Since 1973, death by rent.

Galapagos Art Space
Can't afford the rent, moving to Detroit.

DeRobertis Pasticceria
110 years old, owners sold the building--cited lack of business, competition from Starbucks, and overwhelming costs from the city.

Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks
15 years old, landlord denied to renew lease--Bonnie's working on a new lease elsewhere.

Sam Flax flagship
After 95 years, can't afford the rent.

Posman Books, Grand Central
15 years old, evicted by the MTA to make way for luxury development.

Complete Traveller Book Shop
After 36 years in business, death due to big rent hike.

Cafe Edison
After 34 years of serving Broadway, Hotel Edison owner Gerald Barad refused a new lease to the beloved business. An enormous outpouring of support, from community members and politicians, could not save the place. They hope to reopen elsewhere, but the Polish Tearoom--that delirious pink cathedral--is gone forever.

I am sure I am missing many, many lost businesses. Please add them in the comments. Also, if you see an error, please offer corrections in the comments.

Previous Years' Year-End Reports:
2009: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4
2011: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4

Monday, December 29, 2014

Gray's Papaya to Liquiteria

When the Gray's Papaya on 6th Avenue and 8th Street shuttered in January, thanks to a massive rent hike from the landlord, New Yorkers were devastated, heartbroken, and more devastated.


We soon learned that the spot would be taken over by the growing Liquiteria chain. The place has been covered in plywood since, but I just took a peek inside.

It looks...like a Liquiteria. No more vats of papaya and pineapple juice. No more hot dogs glistening on the grill.

Instead of guys in red bowling shirts slapping coleslaw on your dog, you'll find a team of "cleanse coaches and ambassadors" striving to "personalize your Liquiteria experience" at this "health and wellness oasis."

Instead of two hot dogs and a papaya drink for less than five bucks, you'll get one papaya smoothie with Liver Kidney Lymph Detox mixed in for more than five bucks.

We can say that "things change," that New Yorkers today are more interested in juice cleanses than hot dogs, that Liquiteria and Gray's Papaya are (were) both local chains so what's the difference. Each point is debatable, but all of it ignores the simple fact that Gray's shuttered not due to any lack of love for hot dogs, but to another insane rent hike.

We have one Gray's Papaya left. Like all our small businesses, it is completely unprotected from a similar fate.

It's time to stop the insanity--let's Save New York.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Posman Books


As you've likely heard by now, the Posman's bookstore in Grand Central Terminal has been denied a lease renewal by their landlord, the MTA. With no negotiations or help, December 31 remains their final day.

I sent our petition, with its nearly 2,500 signatures, to the MTA representative, but have not heard back. So go to Posman's before the new year and say your goodbyes to yet another small shop in the city.

On a recent evening, business was booming. You can barely get inside the door. But that doesn't matter. Our small shops can be successful, and still they get the boot in today's New York. 

A customer approached the register with her books and said to the cashier, "I'm so glad you're still in business. I never buy from Amazon."

The cashier broke the news, "Actually, we're going out of business," and she explained the situation, how the MTA is denying them a new lease to make room for a new luxury skyscraper.

The customer began to wail, "No, no, no, no!" I've witnessed this scene so many times. The shock, the denial, the clutching at the heart. Living in this city today, if you love it, is one big funeral.

I asked employee, long-time bookstore guy, and poet Ron Kolm how customers have reacted to the closure of Posman's. He told me:

"The response has been amazing. The general feeling in the store has surprised me. I always liked our customers, and we definitely have a number of regulars, but I figured that most of the people who shopped there were just passing through; we get tons of tourists. But in the past weeks it's become clear that Posman Books is part of a community.

Almost every other customer tells us how much we mean to them, how they stop in before getting their train home from work, or to keep up with what's being published, or just to relax. They are so serious in their commiserating, if that's the right word. They're solicitous about our futures, and wonder what they can do to reverse something they see as being awful.

When I'm at the register, it's almost one long, constant conversation, and I end up empathizing with them. Which has sort of stunned me. I worked the register for five or six hours on 'Black Friday,' which is traditionally a dead day for us, everyone leaving the city for Thanksgiving. But not this one; it was one of our busiest days in quite awhile, and the conversations were so intense, and so deeply felt, that I went home with a splitting headache. I truly thought that this is what a shrink must feel like after a day of listening to other people's problems -- I had to jolt myself back into focus and remember that it was me who was going to lose a work situation I love, and a staff I admire and enjoy working with."

Meanwhile, the Rite-Aid next door--which was empty, by the way--is allowed to live on.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Cafe Edison Closes


Last night, around 7:00 pm, Cafe Edison shuttered.

Today: Photo by John Strano

Jordan Strohl, son and grandson of the owners, posted to the Save Cafe Edison Facebook group:

"The Cafe Edison has closed its doors. Thank you for our historic 34 years on Broadway! We are so thankful for our loyal customers and thank you for these past 6 weeks. It has been an emotional time period for us all but our customers carried us through this process! Thank you for being part of our family and thank you for all of your roles in the greatest show on Broadway!

Thank you!!! Thank you!!! Thank You!!! Stay tuned to the next act!!!


A reminiscence from the final days:

The sound of Café Edison when it’s packed with people is different from the sound of other crowded restaurants. Its cafeterial roar feels soft around the edges, a warm and steady hum punctuated by the clatter of silverware and plates, by the waitstaff calling out “One matzo ball! One chicken noodle!”

At other restaurants, especially new ones, the noise is sharp and shrill.

Maybe it’s Café Edison’s high ceilings, the way the walls curve inward at the top to enfold us. Maybe it’s the fur coats of dust draped along the chandeliers and plaster filigree that absorb the sound. Maybe it has something to do with the cherubs, dancing up there on feathered tails, alongside naked ladies who reach for platters of—what? Latkes in applesauce? Kasha varnishkes?

Or else it’s the clientele. The people in here are not like the people out there.

They’re hardly a quiet bunch, but no one is shrieking. No one is laughing that irritating laugh that says, “Look at me! I’m having an awesome time!” No one is falling all over themselves trying to have an “awesome time.” They’re too busy bending over bowlfuls of soup.

It’s a pleasure to watch the line of people at the lunch counter, each one balanced atop a swivel stool to lean into soup. A businessman flips his necktie over his shoulder to keep it from getting wet. A doorman removes his overcoat and drapes it across his lap, but keeps his cap on, tipped safely back. A woman encircles her bowl with both arms, holding a book in one hand, spoon in the other. Her eyeglasses steam.

I have to say, there’s something that never fails to move me about the arrangement of napkin dispenser, ketchup bottle, sugar shaker, salt and pepper. It’s my favorite still life, this luncheonette tableau. I don’t know why. Same goes for a stack of doughnuts under a plastic dome, atop a chrome cake stand, glistening in honey dip. (I think of that William Carlos Williams poem—“So much depends upon…”)

The crowd ebbs and flows. When the swivel stools empty again, the cafeteria’s owner makes his rounds. Walking the Formica length, he runs his hand along the countertop. He’s not wiping away crumbs; he’s caressing it—for the ten-thousandth time, for the last time—lovingly, with his whole palm, the way you’d stroke the neck of a good horse whose time has come to an end.

The moment only lasts a moment, and then the seats fill again for “One matzo ball! One chicken noodle!” The golden bowls keep coming. With spoons in hand, the diners lean into the steam, each one trying to hold the feeling. How lucky we were to have this place, this jewel box of a grand dining room, built for royalty and bestowed to the average joe. For a long time, it was ours. Now, before they take it away from us forever, one more bowl of soup.

News breaks about Cafe Edison's forced closure
Over 600 supporters come to our first of many Lunch Mobs
Local politicians and Mayor Bill de Blasio join the fight to Save Cafe Edison
Big rally and press conference at Cafe Edison
The last day announcement

Photos from the last day:

Press gathers around Mrs. Edelstein, photo by James Steeber

"The Blintz Grinch" at the register, photo by Elizabeth Shelton

Taking down the menu specials sign at night's end, photo by Davy Mack

Strohls, photo by Davy Mack

Complete Traveller Bookstore


New York is losing yet another bookshop, thanks to out-of-control rent.

After 36 years in business on the corner of 35th and Madison, the Complete Traveller book shop, and Antiquarian Books Too, is closing its doors December 31. The rent is too damn high--and getting higher.

I talked with manager Mike Durell, who said, "The lease is up and the landlord wants to jack up the rent," which is already "exorbitant." 

So the shop will be no more--except online, where you can find them at CT Rare Books.

Browsing through the Complete Traveller is a voyage in itself, as you move from city to city, and country to country along the shelves. One wall is dedicated to Baedeker guides, all bound in red. They also have Furniture, Fashion, Fiction, and a whole section on "Gone With the Wind."

Years ago, I found a beautiful old guide to New York City's zoos and aquariums. This time, in a "NYC Ephemera" binder, I found a treasure trove of documents from the Cream-O Specialty Sales Co. of Brooklyn, specializing in "quality peanut butter sandwiches and assorted cookies for the nation."

If you love old books about the city, check it out before they're gone. They've got some WPA guides, and a great looking "Street Guide to Brooklyn," from maybe the 30s or 40s. They also have a first edition of Fran Lebowitz's "Metropolitan Life."

Book browsing is such a physical experience. The sights and smells, the feel of the paper in your hands, all of it is important, enlivening, real. And we're losing it. More and more every day.

Something must be done.

Mr. Durell asks me to put out the word to anyone who's hiring. He needs a new job. He knows books, but he says he can do pretty much anything--he's also a freelance writer, an actor, and a licensed New York City tour guide. Check out his website here.

And, finally, the book shop's farewell note:

Dear Booklovers,

We will be closing our store at the end of the year! We have been at the corner of Madison Avenue and 35th Street for over 30 amazing years and we would like to thank you for your patronage! Throughout the years we made friends with so many customers from NYC and all around the world.

We hope you can visit us before we go, either online or in our store: It is not too late for Christmas shopping and delivery before Christmas is still guaranteed!

We are happy to report that our online store will remain open.

Happy Holidays!

Arnold Greenberg and Staff

Friday, December 19, 2014

Meet the Kentile K

When the Kentile Floors sign came down from the skyline of Brooklyn earlier this year, the beloved letters were stashed away, in an undisclosed location in Gowanus, where they await their new life.

Tonight at 5pm, you can get up close and cozy with the letter "K" -- and even have your photo taken with it -- at the Gowanus Alliance's "Kristmas" party.

A rep from Gowanus Alliance tells me:

"The letters are kept in a safe warehouse, waiting for donation paperwork to be completed and for final evaluation before repair work begins. Tonight, we only have the letter K to display--and to let everyone know that the Kentile sign is not forgotten nor forsaken. We hope to start the restoration process very soon, and look forward to community input on the sign's final location. It is not likely that the sign will end up on a roof of a building, due to current building codes and regulations. It is going to be installed in a public area, perhaps a promenade or a park. That decision will be brought before a community discussion forum. A website is in the works."

Joey Arias: Christmas with the Crawfords

The following is a guest post by Romy Ashby, who runs the excellent blog "Walkers in the City."

The Henry Street Settlement - Abrons Art Center has the best Christmas show in town right now with Joey Arias: Christmas with the Crawfords, dazzling audiences with a fabulous cast in the gorgeous old theater on Grand Street. When Joey, who has spent a lot of time on that stage, was asked not long ago to do something at Abrons this December, he suggested doing the show, which was recently summed up this way by The New York Times: “Joey Arias joins up with San Francisco's Artfull Circle Theatre to make NYC's Yuletide ever so gay in this all-singing, all-dancing, holiday extravaganza. Based on the infamous Christmas Eve radio broadcast from the Crawford family's Brentwood mansion, Christmas With the Crawfords features Joan, the children, and a stellar line up of Hollywood icons in a hilarious parody of -- and homage to -- the ‘Golden Age’ of Hollywood.”

Following is my short chat with the wonderful Joey Arias—a most down-to-earth and friendly star—done over the telephone:

In the Christmas show you play Joan Crawford. Were you a Joan Crawford fan yourself?

No not at all! I love her work, but I never read the books or followed her. So when I got the part I watched Mildred Pierce four times to study her movements, her face, her hands. I think Joan Crawford was groomed beautifully by Hollywood; the happy Hollywood story of going from nothing to something. And she went with it. She never stopped working until she died. Her daughter would say, ‘Stop! You’re a star and these movies you’re taking now are schlock!” But Joan would say, “It’s a role and I’m doing it. I don’t want people to forget me.”

The last time I did this role was in 2002 and I joined the Cirque du Soleil right after that. And it’s exciting to play this character. For the new generation, who doesn’t have a clue about old movies or most of these characters, it’s a light into the darkness to turn them on to what that world was like, to show that these were real people in addition to all the glamour and falsehood, the screen smoke and mirrors that were put on people’s faces who were groomed for the public. When Joan Crawford’s daughter wrote that book, Mommy Dearest, all the smoke and mirrors were shattered.

When you first came to live here in 1976, New York was a different city. What about it did you find most appealing?

I found the corruption, the drug dealers, the hookers, the city falling apart and the glamour—hand in hand—so thrilling! You were really able to fulfill your dream then, and whatever you wanted was really kind of at hand—if you worked hard enough.

And what did you want?

I wanted to meet Andy Warhol and change my life! I remember closing my eyes and saying, “City, whatever you want me to do, please guide me.” And of course I worked at it too. I wound up getting a job at Fiorucci, which had just opened, and I was right in the middle of all the hubbub. And my dream came true! Andy Warhol came in and he wanted to meet me! And from then on, everything just fell into place.

How easy was it to do shows without much money when you first came?

Oh, it was the old saying with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney: “Let’s go to the garage and put a show on!”

And were there plenty of free "garages" available?

Oh, yeah! Downtown, the Lower East Side, there was the Mudd Club and of course we had Club 57 on St. Mark's Place, which Ann Magnuson started with Susan Hannaford. It started as the Monster Movie Club once a week and everyone had such a good time we just continued with theme parties and shows, and it was our neighborhood hangout. That was where Keith Haring, and Kenny Scharf and Jean-Michel Basquiat got their starts, and Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman and Lypsinka, everybody started there.

Having kept the same apartment on 10th Street and University since 1976, is your house a time capsule of an older New York?

Oh it is! It’s very old New York! When Klaus Nomi passed away I got a lot of his furniture, and there are little things here and there, pieces of art by Keith Haring and Jean-Michel and Andy Warhol and Kenny Scharf, oh, my God, it really is a History House!

To ask the opposite question of what you found most appealing, what do you feel most sorry about in New York as it is now?

I’m sorry that there is greed and corporations, that that Giuliani flipped it over to make it clean and accessible to that generation of people who are afraid to walk in the mud. The corruption is still around, but corruption wears ties now.

Despite the sad changes, do you have a favorite thing to do in New York?

I love to walk the streets and just bump into people. I love to meet people in the street—people that I know and strangers—and have conversations standing on the street corner. I love that. I’ll go out to the store to pick something up and then find myself just going for a walk. And the next thing I know, I’ll be having a conversation with an old friend or a new friend on the sidewalk. And now that I’ve become known, strangers stop me and say, “I love you! You’re so exciting! I came to see you, and that’s why I’m in New York!” And I’ll think, Oh, they’re just like me, the way I was with Andy Warhol! Now I find myself in that position; as the keeper of the flame.

Years ago, when you were publishing little interviews with interesting characters in Paper Magazine, I laughed at one of your questions to Debbie Harry (and her answer) which I will ask you now: What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?

Make coffee.

What did Debbie say?

She said “Pee.”

Christmas with the Crawfords runs through December 27th, and stars Joey Arias as Joan Crawford, Chris March as Christina and a stellar cast of co-stars featuring Sherry Vine and Chris Mirto.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Save New York

For the past dozen years, more than ever, New York City has been dying. It's getting murdered by rising rents, suburbanization, rampant development, and an unrestrained flood of chain businesses. Bloomberg actively encouraged this. Bill de Blasio promised to heal the tale of two cities, but nothing has yet been done to protect our small businesses from the filthy, bottomless greed of landlords.

New York's small businesses have been dropping like flies. We are losing the city block by block. The stunning loss of Cafe Edison, after a major fight from community members and politicians, including the mayor, shows us that we are powerless without legislation to back us up. If we can lose Cafe Edison, we can lose everything. And we are losing everything.

Shopping local only goes so far when landlords routinely double, triple, and quadruple commercial rents, or simply deny a lease to their long-term business tenants. We can buy all the books, booze, and bowls of matzo ball soup we want, but without legislation and regulation we are powerless against the landlords. And forget about appealing to their "humanity." It does not exist.

We must start organizing--not just to save one small business, one at a time, but to protect them all at once. We must demand that the City fix this problem immediately. No more waiting around for it to get better. No more denial. No more asking nicely. No more bullshit.

Stereotype Design

Here are a handful of steps that I believe will help:

1. Pass the Small Business Jobs Survival Act to create fair negotiations of commercial lease renewals, so landlords can’t use insane rent hikes to evict dependable and beloved business people.

-Read more about the bill here
-Click here to find your local council members -- call and write, tell them to pass this bill NOW
-Tweet your local council member, @NYCCouncil, and @MMViverito every day telling them to pass SBJSA

2. Start a Cultural Landmarks program. While general commercial rent control may be unworkable, we can protect what little remains of the city’s oldest and most beloved small businesses by creating a selective rent control program. Rent control can be gifted to businesses that qualify for Cultural Landmarking. Local communities can nominate the businesses they want to protect. San Francisco is leading the charge in this department--see SF Heritage for how they're doing it.

3. Control the spread of chain businesses. Again, City Hall must follow the example of San Francisco, where the city controls “formula retail." If Giuliani could keep adult businesses from operating near one another, then de Blasio can keep national chains from doing the same. A few chains are not a problem, but New York is strangling in them. They drive up rents, contributing to the eviction of small businesses, as they destroy the unique character of the urban landscape, turning the city into Anywhere, USA.

-See what San Francisco is doing here.

4. Take the million-dollar tax breaks away from Big Business and give them to Mom and Pop — and to Grandma and Grandpa.

Businesses that own their buildings, like 110-year-old DeRobertis Pasticceria, are not safe either. Let's stop fooling ourselves with that one. They struggle with sky-high water bills and a Kafkaesque Department of Health that is lousy with corruption. They often don't know how to market themselves in the new age of social media, and they're being bled alive by encroaching chains. Tax breaks, lower fees for violations, and help with creative marketing would go a long way.

On the DOH issue: Why are small businesses penalized at the same rate as multinational corporate chains? Penalties should not be one size fits all. The system is rigged. Fix it.

5. And give fines or increased taxes to landlords who leave commercial spaces vacant, creating blight and blocking out small business people while they wait for the right sky-high price.

- In London, as an incentive to keep shops in use, tax relief was taken away from businesses that keep properties empty for longer than 6 months.

In 2008, writing on the death of bohemian Greenwich Village, author Christopher Hitchens put it well: “On the day when everywhere looks like everywhere else we shall all be very much impoverished, and not only that but — more impoverishingly still — we will be unable to express or even understand or depict what we have lost.”

It is time to take action and to demand action from our city government. Save New York!

Start now:
1. Copy and paste the text from this post, edit it to your liking, and then mail it, email it, tweet it to Mayor Bill de Blasio and your local councilmember. Send it to Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito and to Public Advocate Letitia James

Councilmember Corey Johnson, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and Assemblymember Richard Gottfried are strong allies in this fight. Contact them and let them know you want these changes NOW and you will give them your support in this fight.

2. Join the Save New York Facebook page to start organizing with other New Yorkers today.

3. Use the hashtag #‎SaveNYC‬ when you tweet. Change your Twitter and Facebook profile pic to the image below.

4. Get angry!

(ripped from a Time Out New York cover)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cafe Edison Is Closing

I am heartbroken to have to share the news that the fight to save Cafe Edison has not been successful.

Their last day of business will be this Sunday, December 21. They say they'll stay open that night "until the last person leaves."

photo: Tim Schreier

I just spoke to Jordan Strohl, grandson and son and of the owners. He told me that the owner of the hotel, Gerald Barad, is not responding at this point and they have no choice but to shut down. "People are walking out of here crying," he said of his customers, who have been hearing the news over dinner tonight. He said that the city government tried its best, but in the end, "There's nothing they can legally do. We are out of options."

His family is optimistic that they will find a new space. "We lost the fight," he said, "but we did not lose the battle. Six weeks ago, we would have just shut down, but the campaign to Save Cafe Edison re-inspired my family. We are committed to reopening in a new space, and to bringing our food and our family warmth back to the city. A thousand thank-yous to everyone. We cannot say thank you enough."

He adds, "This is not goodbye. It's see you later."

It's true that the City can do nothing legally to protect Cafe Edison--or any other small business. And that's why we must change the laws. Without legislation to protect our cultural landmarks, we are powerless to preserve them. They will keep vanishing. Even when we break our necks to save them.
Thank you to everyone who participated in the fight. You all made a difference over these past weeks. And, yes, we will have one last Lunch Mob.

Here's how it happened:

11/6: Thanks to two tipsters, I broke the news here about Cafe Edison's forced closure. The story spread far and wide, and many followed up, from the New York Times to the BBC. Jason Bratton launched a petition, now with nearly 10,000 signatures. The #SaveCafeEdison hashtag appeared on Twitter.

11/8: First Lunch Mob at the coffee shop--600 supporters showed up. People brought signs and showed the city that we were serious. The mob was covered by the press, including NBC News. That night I started the Save Cafe Edison Facebook group--now with nearly 600 members, including a core group of creative, active people who regularly share ideas and make things happen.

11/14: Thanks to group member Kathleen Vestuto for reaching out, we got a letter of support from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, asking landlord Gerald Barad to give Cafe Edison a lease.

11/15 and 11/16: We held two more Lunch Mobs. Group member Tom Klem got magicians from the famous Magicians Table to entertain diners on Saturday. On Sunday, the Bergen County Players presented scenes from Neil Simon’s “45 Seconds from Broadway." Tony and Emmy Award-winning producer and documentary filmmaker Dori Berinstein began filming a documentary about Cafe Edison and the fight to save it.

11/18: New York State Senator Brad Hoylman wrote a letter asking landlord Gerald Barad to give Cafe Edison a lease.

11/19:  Manhattan District 3 Council Member Corey Johnson got in the fight with a letter to Barad and a pledge of support to Cafe Edison.

11/20: We held a Dinner Mob with a klezmer band arranged by Save Cafe Edison group member and klezmer professional Eve Sicular.

11/24: NEWSical the Musical's producers made a video in support of Cafe Edison, starring "Liza Minnelli" and "Larry King."

11/25: The story went global on BBC radio.

11/29: We held a Small Business Saturday Lunch Mob with Liza and Larry.

12/2: Assemblyman Richard Gottfried sent a letter to landlord Gerald Barad.

12/5: Mayor Bill de Blasio joined the fight to Save Cafe Edison and promised that his team would do "everything it can."

12/7: We staged a rally and press conference at Cafe Edison with community members, politicians, and holiday carolers. Rousing speeches were made. The story went global on NPR's "All Things Considered." Ira Glass, from This American Life, started a communal letter to Hotel Edison's owner Gerald Barad, asking him to keep the Cafe Edison.

Dream Palace

Sherill Tippins' "Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of the Legendary Chelsea Hotel" recently came out in paperback. I asked Sherill a few questions.

What about the Chelsea Hotel was important to the bohemian city throughout history?

The Chelsea was created in defiance of, and as a corrective to, the Gilded-Age culture in which it was born. Originally a cooperative (in the old, idealistic sense), it was uniquely designed to accommodate residents with a wide range of backgrounds and financial circumstances--people who had in common only a willingness to experiment and a desire to simplify the basics of life –housing costs, home maintenance, etc.—in order to live a freer, more creative existence. Artists were attracted by the large studios on the top floor; actors, writers and musicians by the theater and the drama school that the owner established nearby; art collectors and philanthropists to the artists and intellectuals already in residence; and ordinary working people and out-of-town visitors by its convenient location in what was then the beating heart of the city.

So from its first days, the Chelsea became known for its open, diverse, creative culture, maintained in implicit opposition to mainstream New York. Its reputation as a place where Isadora Duncan danced and Antonín Dvořák’s students composed attracted more countercultural artists with each generation, particularly as its room rates dropped during the Depression years and beyond. Bohemians like Spoon River Anthology author Edgar Lee Masters and “ash can” artist John Sloan were willing to ignore bedbugs and worn carpets in exchange for interesting neighbors, a permissive atmosphere and a lenient landlord, and word spread to such younger artists as Thomas Wolfe, Willem De Kooning, Bob Dylan, William Burroughs, and Patti Smith that here was a haven from the city’s capitalist fever-dream – a place to reflect on the city outside and process its energy into useful art. This became a global process as American artists made connections overseas, bringing Dylan Thomas, Brendan Behan, the French Nouveau Réaliste artists and others into the Hotel Chelsea mix.

By the 1960s, the Chelsea became known as the Waldorf-Astoria of downtown New York – the respectable if slightly shabby headquarters for those bohemians who could afford it or who could travel up from the East Village for projects and events. It became a figurehead for bohemia, a symbol of the importance of bohemian values in both interpreting and tempering the worst excesses of the city’s market culture. In a sense, it served as a kind of conscience for the city, reminding the rest of us that New York wouldn’t be the city we loved without the diversity, acceptance, and willingness to experiment that its population has always exemplified.

What did the city lose when the Chelsea lost the Bards?

The Bard family, who took over the hotel during the Depression years as part of a syndicate of investors, quickly came to appreciate the hotel’s reputation as a bohemian nexus, not only as a cultural and historical asset but also as a financial one. It was this creative climate that kept the occupancy rate high, not spa services and 400-thread-count sheets. As long as guests were left alone to paint, write, rehearse, make love, throw furniture, or smoke pot in their rooms, and to occasionally postpone rent payments until money from a play or a painting came in, they would continue to flock to the hotel regardless of whether money was spent on upgrading the building.

That idea--that it’s creative energy, not money, that really powers New York --has gotten lost in the years since the “last Bard,” Hotel Chelsea co-owner and manager Stanley Bard, was ejected by the board of directors a half-dozen years ago. These days, hotel owners lavish their guests with rooftop bars and roped-off VIP spaces, while the city dispenses tax breaks to financial firms and absentee luxury-condo dwellers, all in the expectation that luxury breeds success. But without diversity– and without the creatives who feed on a diverse population and process its ideas – there is no New York.

At this point, what's in store for the future of the hotel?

The Chelsea’s new owner, Ed Scheetz, has expressed sincere passion for the history of the hotel and has announced his intention to recreate its original environment “conducive to individuality, authenticity, creativity, and community.” It’s difficult to see how one can transform a former utopian-minded cooperative turned bohemian enclave into a profit-making luxury hotel without sacrificing just that authentic spirit that Scheetz claims to want to preserve, considering the enormous financial investment required to bring the Chelsea up to par, but it’s an experiment worth watching. Reportedly, the new Chelsea will include a mix of room sizes and prices, a performance space and library on the ground floor, a fellowship program to house a half-dozen or so visiting artists at a time, and other features aimed at maintaining the hotel’s reputation as a haven for the arts. Can such artificially-introduced features take root in this new gilded age, as they did the first time? We’ll have to wait and see.

How do you think the new Hotel Chelsea fits in with the new Chelsea neighborhood?

The fate of the Chelsea resembles that of the High Line to a great degree, in my opinion. All evidence points to the hotel’s recreation as a shinier, more attractive, and much more expensive version of its older self. This has its advantages and disadvantages: tourists love safe, pretty, well-designed and efficient places, while locals tend to regret the “real” landmarks they knew and loved in the past, and resent the rise in prices as luxury properties proliferate.

I expect that the new Hotel Chelsea will serve as a figurehead for this new gilded-age stage in the neighborhood’s and city’s development – a symbol, once again, of the city’s cultural climate, and an indicator of its health as a creative nexus. If it turns out that the new Chelsea strikes many of us as sanitized, soulless, and overpriced, well, New York has always gotten the Chelsea Hotel it has deserved. In any case, I still have faith in the building’s ability over the long term to survive whatever changes come its way, and to bend gradually toward its purpose in spite of its owner’s good intentions. Economic booms and busts come and go, and with them new opportunities for innovation.

Is a Chelsea Hotel, filled with artists and eccentrics, still possible in New York City today? If so, where?

Certainly, in a borough where rents aren’t as high as in Manhattan, a “Chelsea Hotel” based on the Chelsea’s original precepts could be created, with serious effort and city support. One would have to return to the basics of a traditional cooperative – forming a “club” of founding members who would pool resources to purchase property, design it for their own purposes, and carefully select other residents and renters willing to respect a delineated set of rules. Some writers and artists have done something similar with small B&Bs, in Brooklyn for example. A larger cooperative would realize greater economy of scale and so could be even more effective. With Mayor De Blasio in place, and with the crisis of unaffordable housing so prominent in the city’s consciousness these days, now might be an excellent time for New York artists to study the Chelsea’s original plan and create something similar for this century. I say, follow the example of Hotel Chelsea creator Philip Hubert and ask ourselves, “Why not?”

Sherill is currently at work a book about the history and potential future of the New York Public Library. Find out more about her books here.

Monday, December 15, 2014

HUB Cycles


George Bliss has lived in New York City for 37 years and, for much of that time, he’s been a passionate bike advocate, credited with coining the term “critical mass.” Since 1995, he has designed, built, repaired, rented, and sold bicycles of all kinds. For the past decade, he’s run a shop in Greenwich Village, currently known as HUB Cycles on Charles Street.

I talked to George a couple of weeks ago when I learned from a reader that HUB will soon be closing, another victim of the city's corporatization.

Bliss blames Citibike.

*UPDATE: There will be a press conference today:

139 Charles St., btwn Charles & Washington St., The West Village
Contact George Bliss: 212- 965-9334 • Please Come and support the HUB"

photo credit: Emilie Ross

“I can’t do it anymore,” says Bliss. “Citibike is surrounding us and cutting into our revenues.”

Surrounded is right. There are five Citibike stations within five blocks of HUB, Bliss explains. And since Citibike came to town just a year and a half ago, the shop’s income has dropped by 50 percent.

Locals who used to rent the bikes at HUB now ride Citibikes, and there’s no trickle-down effect. It’s not just the rental business that has been severely impacted, HUB’s sales and repair services have also been hurt.

“It’s a monopoly,” says Bliss. “The city government has installed a monopoly. I can’t compete.”

“The New Yorker in me is affronted by this. It’s okay to have people carrying a corporate ad through the streets? It would be like having Walmart Avenue or McDonald’s Bridge or Google Park. What’s the difference?”

Bliss would like to see the corporate logos come off the bike share program and for the costs to be paid by fees, not by corporate subsidies that can rent the bikes at far below market value, making it impossible for locals to compete.

He says, “The small local businesses that built the bike culture should not be forced out by this weed. Citibike is an invasive species.”

HUB will close shop this month. From there, Bliss plans to put his energy into organizing the city’s local bike shops—to put an end to the rolling blue billboards.

Bliss also spoke to The Villager newspaper--read there for more.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Kasoundra Kasoundra

The following is a guest post by Romy Ashby

For a long time, New York City was a treasure box of rarities and uncommon beauty, where no two blocks were alike. The ambiance of each neighborhood was made of all kinds of things and the many colorful people—the oddballs, iconoclasts, the funny intellectuals—who populated the streets. So many of those colorful people have disappeared with the relentless scaling up of the city, and usually nobody notices what happens to them. I feel sad when I come across the contents of someone’s life out on the street for the trash. A pervasive nightmare scenario in New York is the one of being poor, no longer young, and alone, and then losing one’s apartment. This happened to the artist Kasoundra Kasoundra in a terrible way. I would like to see her situation reversed, because it can be, but not without help.

Kasoundra, 2006, photo by Romy Ashby

Kasoundra lived for many years in a rent-controlled Upper East Side apartment. It was full of art and interesting objects, many of which she made. Many other things she found, or had been given, and each object had a story. She made a lot of her own clothes, read a lot of books and did volunteer gardening in Central Park. She had kitties who she loved. On her next birthday she’ll be eighty. She has a crystal clear, youthful mind and a wonderful, original intelligence. Her story is particularly frightening because, having been swept into a vortex of legal and bureaucratic incompetence and indifference, she not only lost her apartment, her pets and her belongings, but she lost her very freedom as well. She’s been stuck in a nursing home where she doesn’t need to be, far outside the city, against her will, separated from her friends, for almost three years.

How could this happen? After an illness and a lengthy hospital stay, Kasoundra recovered. As she explained to me today on the phone, the hospital offered to assign her a legal guardian. She understood "legal guardian" to mean an advocate who would help her get her finances and affairs in order after her illness, so she agreed to have a legal guardian assigned. “I thought it meant someone who would actually care about me,” she said. “I never imagined that a guardian was someone who could put me away against my will. But he did. He was a disaster.” Kasoundra’s right to live a full life was taken from her. She’s not allowed to leave the nursing home, she doesn’t have any of her own clothes or know where they are, and the courts did nothing to protect her from an appointed legal guardian who caused her immeasurable harm. Eventually that guardian was replaced by another one who is even worse.

In the Chelsea Hotel, late 1960s, photo by Liza Stelle

Kasoundra came to New York in 1960. She took jobs illustrating for the New York Sun, baling newspapers to drop at newsstands off the back of a truck, and she even worked as a mechanic. She lived above Puglia’s restaurant in Little Italy for a while, and for a long time she lived on 12th Street before moving uptown. She met all kinds of people, seeking out the most eccentric and interesting characters to pounce on and keep as friends. She worked with Harry Smith, who she adored and refers to as The Cosmos for his exceptional ability to understand everything and anything. She worked with Olympia Press publisher Maurice Girodias as an illustrator. She befriended Alice and Ray Brock of Alice’s Restaurant (she was later in the movie), and through Alice she met Liza Stelle, the daughter of jazzman Eddie Condon. For years she was a regular fixture at Eddie’s apartment on Washington Square, which was always full of musicians and Village characters. There she met Hank O’Neal, an ex-CIA agent who had traded his old life for a new one of making jazz recordings, writing books, and taking pictures. One day, Kasoundra found an old wooden telephone booth on a sidewalk. She dragged it to Hank’s recording studio on Christopher Street, and said, “You cannot get rid of this.” Hank kept it, and he photographed people sitting in it for a long time to come.

On the phone, Kasoundra described visiting Salvador Dali’s studio to look at his work. “He sat there twirling his mustache,” she said, “and I knew it was waxed!” She told him which of his paintings she liked most and wished she could own. “It was a loaf of bread split in half,” she said. You could see every pore in that loaf. You could almost take a bite out of it, it was so real!”

She told me how she’d found Hermione Gingold in the Manhattan telephone directory and called her up. “I love your movies!” she said. “I think you’re just thrilling!” And Hermione Gingold said, in her deliciously funny voice, “Well, you must come up and have tea, dear.” After their first meeting, Kasoundra visited as often as she could and always brought her flowers. She made herself laugh doing her own very accurate imitation of Hermione Gingold, who, she said, “had the most wonderful, lyrical way of being nasal.”

Well-known people were much more accessible years ago, and Kasoundra knew many. But status has never mattered to her. She’s an absolute egalitarian. If a person could converse on interesting subjects, they’d have her. She’s always had great appreciation for distinctive people, and they in turn appreciate her. There’s no one more distinctive than Kasoundra.

The Australian theorist Germaine Greer dedicated her book, The Female Eunuch, to five friends including Kasoundra when it was published in 1970. “For Kasoundra,” the dedication says, “who makes magic out of skins and skeins and pens, who is never still, never unaware, riding her strange destiny in the wilderness of New York, loyal and bitter, as strong as a rope of steel and as soft as a sigh.” Germaine Greer’s description of Kasoundra still fits, 45 years later, but against the present context of her life it is heartbreaking to read.

January 1, 1974, photo by Hank O'Neal

In the forced confines of the nursing home she tries to keep her sense of humor as best she can. She teaches art to other residents for something to do. But it’s very hard for her to not feel sad all the time. She’s an animal lover not allowed to have a pet. Her apartment on the Upper East Side was emptied out not long ago after years of legal limbo, and she has not been told where her belongings have gone. She’s very worried about her art. Her life’s work was in that apartment, and she considers her works of art to be her children. She wonders about personal treasures, such as her gypsy fortune telling machine and her “Napoleon Desk,” along with the rest of her furniture, her various collections, her clothes, and her many books.

When I asked her today what she wants most right now she said, “First of all I’d like my freedom. I’m sick of being stuck in this place, paid for with my government money, and I would like my property returned.” She would also like a place to live, in the city, where she can see her many friends.

There is no logical reason why Kasoundra should be trapped so far from the city. What she needs now is a good lawyer willing to help right this wrong. Recommendations are welcome.

Some years back, Penny Arcade and Steve Zehentner of the Lower East Side Biography Project featured an episode devoted to Kasoundra and her art, filmed in her apartment uptown. You can see an excerpt of that here.

Romy Ashby writes the blog Walkers in the City. To learn more about Kasoundra, and if you can help, please contact Romy through her web site, RomyAshby.com.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Back Fence to Bark

The Back Fence, offering music on Bleecker and Thompson since 1945, was sold by a developer for $7 million, rent-hiked, and shuttered in 2013. It was a place filled with history, where folks like Bob Dylan, Tracy Chapman, and Allen Ginsberg walked across the sawdust and peanut shell-covered floor.

So what's become of it, now that the plywood has been removed?

photo: Gog in NYC

It's a Bark, says our friend Goggla, who sends in this photo. "Bark," according to Bark, "is the chef driven and environmentally mindful American fast casual restaurant from chef/owner Joshua Sharkey. Opened in Brooklyn in 2009." You might remember them from Bobo Bergen.

The menu comes with a "farmers and artisans" information sheet. It's hipster hot dogs--smothered in baked heirloom beans and oak barrel aged sauerkraut.

"All of our condiments are house made," they say, "except for Heinz’s Ketchup, French’s Yellow Mustard & Hellman’s Mayonnaise. Some things are just American Classics."

Some things like the Back Fence, dating back to World War II and helping to launch the folk music explosion in Greenwich Village. But, oh well, there's a vintage shot of the old bar on their "Coming Soon!" page.

B&N to Banana

The original Barnes & Noble flagship store on 5th Avenue closed this past January. It had been there since 1932.

The Banana Republic that is taking its place has a message for us: "Good things are worth the wait."

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Grande Monuments


Grande Monuments has left Williamsburg. They've been in business there since the 1940s or thereabouts.

Joy Garnett posted the following on her Facebook page:

photo: Joy Garnett

The windows are covered over with brown paper. Joy writes: "I noticed this state of affairs last weekend, and today they were working in the space. The little sign says 'Rose Tattoo.' That could be a tat parlor, a bar, or a cinefile library. Hey, there's an idea."


You might recall that this gravestone shop also sold Italian bread. They told WNYC in 2011:

"...what we do is we put the bread in the window here at Grande’s, right next to the Blessed Mother, so the bread is like the mother and the son, and we got the blessing from Father Verrano, it’s not a desecration or anything. He cleared it will all the signoras in the neighborhood. So it’s now about three years in the making and the bread is here by popular demand, and it’s also here because of the notoriety of Grande monuments. Grande monuments has been around for such a long time that when we put the word on the streets that Grande monuments is selling Italian bread, old-fashioned brick-oven bread, 300 people showed up at the door because we service the community with their loved ones."


Yes, gravestones and bread. In one shop. Only in Brooklyn.

Joy recalls: "The first time I bought bread there, a meeting was convening inside--bunch of folks sitting in a semi-circle on grey metal folding chairs. Guy got up mid-sentence to help me choose a loaf. I wanted prosciutto bread but they were sold out. He suggested the rosemary ciabatta."

And it was good.

Jesus and bread prices, 2013

Free Williamsburg noted the closure last month, along with a sign that said the shop is moving to 7803 17th Avenue, 718-782-1800. But--will there be bread?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Gottfried for Cafe Edison

Adding to the growing stack of letters from politicians to the owners of the Hotel Edison, asking them to please extend a lease to Cafe Edison, here's the latest--from New York State Assembly Member Richard Gottfried:

Mr. Gottfried makes the case that the restaurant is an asset to the hotel and the city: "This kind of history is the type of experience tourists seek when they come to New York and what helps keep New York as the cultural center of the United States. It is worthy of protection and preservation."

Thank you Mr. Gottfried!

Previous Letters:
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer
New York State Senator Brad Hoylman
Councilmember Corey Johnson

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