Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Dykes Lumber

Since 1912, Dykes Lumber has been on West 44th Street, occupying a pair of brick buildings painted forest green. They won't be there much longer.

Alex Albanese

Reader Alex Albanese let us know the business is moving. Signs on the exterior say they're relocating to East 124th Street.

The barber on the block believes they sold the building and "a new hotel is coming."

Alex Albanese

Monday, March 30, 2015

#SaveNYC for Adele & Il Palazzo

On Saturday in Little Italy, #SaveNYC held a rally against the eviction of Adele Sarno and Il Palazzo restaurant.

photo: Sandi Bachom. Adele Sarno and #SaveNYC.

The Italian-American Museum is trying to evict Sarno, an 85-year-old Italian-American woman who has lived in the building for over 50 years. She's trying to stay.

Il Palazzo Ristorante has already been forced to close. As the restaurant told WPIX 11 News, "My heart is ripped out, I have aches in my stomach." And "How will I pay $30,000 a month selling $5 dollar pasta?"

photo by Albins Peke Von Mayate. Rallying cry.

New Yorkers have rallied to the cause.

Lately, the sidewalk outside the museum has been the scene of a number of protests, including one organized by Two Bridges Neighborhood Council. More protests are coming.

photo: Ann McDermott. Annabella Sciorra joins the fight.

At the #SaveNYC event, about two dozen supporters carried signs and met with Ms. Sarno.

Italian-American actor and native New Yorker Annabella Sciorra joined the crowd and gave her support, along with Frank "Butch the Hat" Aquilino.

photo: Lee Michael. Butch the Hat and Sciorra.

#SaveNYC group member Sandi Bachom was there with her camera and got Adele on film explaining her situation: "I'm gonna fight this bastard til the end."

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Rawhide Replacement

In January I announced that adult erotic emporium the Blue Store would be moving into the former Rawhide space on 8th Avenue in Chelsea. It seemed, at first, like good news, a bit of old 8th Avenue smut and queerness expanding. Then it wasn't.

DNAInfo followed up on my story and was told, “It’s going to be like a high-end store with high-end lingerie. We’re trying to bring to the block a new concept.”

Here it is:

photo: Richie Cohen

It looks like every other Marc Jacobs Ralph Lauren Brooks Brothers, etc., etc., shop on Bleecker St., which it will probably become soon enough. Reader Richie Cohen tells us, "I've walked by multiple times at different times of day. Never ever a single customer."

The Rawhide occupied this space for 35 years. It survived the neighbors throwing bricks and eggs. It survived AIDS. But, like too many of our city's storied small businesses, it could not survive hyper-gentrification. The landlord reportedly hiked the rent from from $15,000 to $27,000 a month.

If we'd had the Small Business Jobs Survival Act in place at the time, the Rawhide might still be here. #SaveNYC.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Hidden Shoe Repair Shop

You could explore Grand Central Terminal for years and not discover all of its many exit/entrances and passageways, the odd places to which they lead you. Recently, I exited from the train via a nondescript set of turnstiles that led me into a shopping arcade I can't remember ever encountering before.

Located under the Chanin Building, it's one of those little corridors lined with useful, independent businesses, the sort you used to see in the city all the time. One utterly entranced me.

The cobbler's shop's exterior is perfectly preserved, covered in advertising from more than half a century ago. SHOE SERVICE, it reads, and HATS CLEANED.

O'Sullivan's is not the name of the shop, but a brand of rubber heel. As is Neolite.

In one window, a pair of colorful neon cowboy boots (with spurs) advertise REPAIR and SHINE. An odd choice for a city shop, and therefore a rare sight.

Inside, heavy antique machines do the work.

They do shines while you sit in comfortable chairs, and repairs while you wait in those little modesty booths.

This is the second time I've seen these booths--the first time was at Jim's Shoe Repair, where they are arranged not side-by-side, but train-car style.

I don't know the name of the shop. It might be called Ideal Shoe Repair. I was told it dates back to the 1940s.

Protected deep beneath the gorgeous Art Deco lobby of the Chanin Building, it has survived relatively untouched. Like a rare and endangered orchid found hidden in the wild.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Caffe Dante


Last month I broke the upsetting news that Caffe Dante would be closing after a century in business. Management vehemently denied the information, saying, "Whoever started this rumor is a lunatic."

But this morning I received a confirmation from my original tipster: "Caffe dante closed. It has new owners. Australians... I guess that's that."

photo via Gothamist

Gothamist got down there and came back with photographic evidence of the closure.

Reader Daniel Bellino Zwicke writes with emotion about the final hours on his blog, Greenwich Village Italian:

"It’s 11:55 PM Sunday March 22, 2015 … I just left Caffe Dante for the last time under the ownership of Mr. Mario Flotta .. I had to hold back a few tears saying goodbye to Mario and his two sons."

He adds: "Mario sold the place to Victoria Coffee of Australia. He told me, it’s still going to be a caffe, and it’s still going to be called Caffe Dante."

*UPDATE: According to DNAInfo, the place is being taken over by an upscale "small plates" company, not Victoria Coffee, and it will be "modeled after a classic European-inspired neighborhood eatery."

The Last Bagel

Yesterday was Ess-A-Bagel's last day of business in their space on First Avenue. They've been there since 1976. Their landlord is putting a Bank of America in the space.

The walls were covered with goodbye wishes.

A member of the #SaveNYC group was there after the doors closed and shot this footage of long-time customer Jack (also since 1976) enjoying the last bagel, a mini everything with egg salad:

See more videos at savenyc.nyc

Customers hope that Ess-A-Bagel will successfully relocate somewhere in the neighborhood, but nothing has yet been set.

my last bagel, not the last bagel

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Veterans Chair Caning

Veterans Chair Caning opened for business in New York City in 1899. Since the High Line opened and the Hudson Yards monstrosity began to rise across the street, I've worried about the modest little shop, located on the first floor of a tenement building on 10th Avenue and West 35th.

When I saw their building had sold and would soon be sandwiched between two glassy hotel towers, thanks to the Hudson Yards Effect, I figured it was time to check in.

Veterans is hidden behind construction scaffolding. They look closed, but they're open--and very busy.

I talked to Sean Bausert, the shop's fourth-generation owner/manager. When I told him I write a blog called Vanishing New York, he said, "That was almost us. We just came this close to vanishing."

He explained how the new owners wanted to knock down the building, along with its twin next door, but the tenements are full of rent-regulated tenants--and they're not budging. "They're fighters," Sean said. "Holdouts. They helped us tremendously."

By refusing to vacate, the holdouts have kept the buildings standing--and their two small businesses in business.

Veterans has managed to negotiate a few more years on their lease. After that, who knows? All you have to do is look at the luxury towers rising on all sides to know that their time here is limited.

The shop has been in this space for 20 years and was around the corner for another 30 or 40 before that. They're a neighborhood fixture, hand-weaving cane for chairs new and old, some antiques dating back to the sixteen and seventeen-hundreds.

But the neighborhood is changing at a breakneck pace, and even a venerable 116-year-old small business doesn't stand a chance. The city offers no protections. Veterans can be denied a new lease or have their rent quintupled. (Which is why we need to #SaveNYC.) At that point, they could move to Brooklyn or Queens, but would their customers follow?

As Sean put it, "Well-to-do people on the Upper East Side want nothing to do with Brooklyn or Queens. For them, crossing the bridge is like going to Jupiter."

The dramatic changes to the neighborhood "all started with the High Line," Sean told me, a sentiment he shares with many small businesspeople in west Chelsea.

"Once I saw the High Line coming in, I knew it wasn't going to be good. Over the last ten years, all the little guys are gone. The shoemakers, the bakeries. The past five years have gotten even worse."

Like Veterans, the Downtown Tire Shop next door managed to get a few more years on their lease. But that's no long-time guarantee, and they are the last of their kind in the neighborhood. All the rest have been driven out of what had once been a bustling strip that efficiently served the needs of city taxi drivers.

Now, "Cabs, cops, firemen, even regular joes," they all line up next door, because "where else are you gonna get your tires fixed?"

Across the street, another pair of tenements inexplicably remain, with a taxi supply shop on one ground floor. They're only standing because of a holdout upstairs tenant, said Sean. If not for him, they'd be gone.

Sean said, "They wanted to knock down those buildings and put up the tallest tower in North America. Right there? On 10th and 35th? Come on."

Sean sometimes thinks of going up on the High Line, after work, when the weather is nice. But he won't do it.

"I boycott the High Line," he said. "I'll never go on it. After I've seen what it's done--and what it almost did to us."

See Also:
The Hudson Yards Effect
La Lunchonette
Brownfeld Auto
Last of the Urban Horsemen
Blue-Collar High Line

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Penn Books

Craig Newman, the third-generation owner of Penn Books inside Penn Station, wrote in to the #SaveNYC Facebook group yesterday with a plea.

"I am trying to survive," he wrote, "but it gets harder every day. My rent is now a staggering $45,000 a month, not including property taxes, and another $20,000 a year in commercial rent tax. If anybody can do anything or cares about saving my bookstore, please HELP."

He added, "I thought Mayor de Blasio was supposed to help small business."

Business is going well for Penn Books. They are not being pushed out. But, like too many small businesses in the city, they are struggling under an enormous rent strain.

photo via Capital New York

Craig's grandfather, Arthur Newman, started the bookshop in the original Penn Station in 1962. Remarkably, the shop survived the wrecking ball and reopened in the new Penn Station. Craig started working there in 1978, taking the A-train to work through the gritty city as a 12-year-old kid. He opened the current shop's incarnation in 1992 after his grandfather passed away.

Penn Books survived the destruction of Penn Station. They survived citywide fiscal crises. They even outlasted Borders. Business is still bustling. But the rent? That's another story.

Today, weighed down with an insane rent burden for a mere 1,300 square feet of space, Craig is concerned for the longevity of his family business. We already lost Posman's from Grand Central, we can't lose another train-station bookshop, especially not one that's been going strong for 53 years.

Stay tuned and click here to take action to save small businesses like Penn Books. Enough is enough. #SaveNYC!

UPDATE: Cash mob for Penn Books and #Save NYC has been cancelled.

Monday, March 16, 2015



Verve has been on Bleecker for about 20 years, long before the street's luxury chain explosion. They are closing in April.

They closed their main shop on the street in 2010, and kept this shoe store going. As the line of luxury has marched ever eastward, businesses on Verve's block have shuttered, including the beloved diner Manatus.

Now Verve's last shop is on its way out.

In just a few years' time, 45 mom-and-pop businesses were wiped out on Bleecker between 10th Street and the western end. (Here's the timeline.)

The wave of lost businesses keeps moving east along the street, as landlords kick out responsible, thriving businesses, and quadruple the rent, all to bring in the next Marc Jacobs, Calvin Klein, or another luxury shopping mall chain.

There's more to lose. It's not going to stop until we stop it. #SaveNYC.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

#SaveNYC in the News

Both CNBC and WPIX 11 covered #SaveNYC today.

Nationally, Kate Rogers did the story at CNBC's Squawk Box, interviewing the folks at Avignone Pharmacy and Jim's Shoe Repair.

And Dan Mannarino's got it at the WPIX 11 Morning News. He visited Bleecker Street and talked with Avignone pharmacy:

Support small businesses in New York by going to #SaveNYC and adding a video or photo. Tweet, Instagram, spread the word.

Automat: The Movie

Director and producer Lisa Hurwitz is making a documentary about the Horn & Hardart Automat, those beloved lunch spots that once bejeweled the urban landscape in the early, more innocent days of chains, when there were far fewer of them and they didn't overwhelm the city.

She's got a Kickstarter going to fund the project--but time is running out.

Watch the trailer and visit the site--make a donation if you'd like to see the film finished and on the big screen. Prizes are to be had, including David Freeland's terrific book Automats, Taxi Dances, and Vaudeville.

You can also read more about the project at The Village Voice.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Under Doro's

In 2013, Doro's Annex closed after 33 years of arranging flowers in Chelsea. Recently, the awning came down, revealing some antique signage.

Reader Mike Glicksman sends in these gorgeous shots:

"PAINTS, OILS, GLASS, VARNISH &c &c" reads the very old ghost sign.

The style looks like cousin to the ghost sign of the Utah House, discovered beneath Kyung's market, dating back at least to the 1870s. Experts and historians, please weigh in.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Family Jewels


The Family Jewels, a vintage clothing store on 23rd by 7th Avenue, is closing at the end of April.

Owner Lillyan Peditto has been in business for 34 years in Chelsea. The Family Jewels has moved around a bit, but dates back to 1980.

Lillyan says the closing is due to "a $20,000 a month rent issue." She hopes to find a new location, possibly in the East Village.

"People are so happy we exist," she told Manhattan Sideways in a short video, "because where do you find a little treasure trove like this?"

Now the shop will probably become a T-Mobile.

In the meantime, The Family Jewels is having a big sale and auction.You might even be able to get their leopard-print sofa.


Monday, March 9, 2015

#SaveNYC in the Daily News

From my op-ed in today's Daily News:

Small businesses in New York City have no rights. You’ve been here 50 years and provide an important service? Tough luck — your space now belongs to Dunkin’ Donuts. You own a beloved, fourth-generation, century-old business? Get out — your landlord’s putting in a combination Chuck E. Cheese and Juicy Couture.

And despite de Blasio’s rhetorical fears about gentrification, his progressive pro-development push may well only hasten the trend.

That’s why I started the #SaveNYC campaign. We’re collecting video testimonials from New Yorkers and out-of-towners, celebrities and small business owners, asking City Hall to preserve the cultural fabric of the greatest city on earth...

Read the whole article here.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


Last week, I put up a new website: #SaveNYC. It came out of the SaveNYC Facebook group, which came out of the fight to save Cafe Edison. It felt like we had some momentum there and I wanted to keep it going, to bring together many voices in support of legislation and zoning to protect the city's beleaguered small businesses and vanishing cultural fabric. Maybe, with enough voices shouting together, City Hall will listen.

#SaveNYC has already gotten media attention--from DNAInfo and The Atlantic's Citylab, with inquiries from major television news. But we need more of you on the site, telling City Hall what you want to see happen.

There are two ways to get your voice heard on #SaveNYC: Make a video statement or write your statement

A video statement will have more of an impact--and it's easy to do. It requires a simple camera--a point-and-shoot or the one in your smartphone will do the trick. Then upload it to Youtube and send in the link. No need for fancy edits. It takes 5 minutes.

If you're camera shy, do it as a voiceover. Do it as a group. Hold a sign over your face that says #SaveNYC while you talk. Be creative. Just be sure to make it a statement direct to the powers that be. (If technology makes you nervous, ask a friend to film you. Children and young people are good at this stuff. If you're not afraid of technology, offer to film your Luddite friends and older people.)

Another helpful thing you can do is to film your local small businesspeople and ask them to make a statement to City Hall.

If you're tired of sitting around complaining while nothing changes, here's your chance to be heard. The more voices that come together, the more they'll have to listen.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


It's been years since I've had a meal at Moran's on 10th Avenue in Chelsea. Every time I've gone by recently, I've thought, "I have to go back before it's gone." And then, "Oh, but Moran's will never go." I mean, it's been there since 1957. How can it just vanish?

By now, you'd think I'd know better.

ArtNews made this announcement on Monday:

"Moran’s, a Chelsea restaurant on Tenth Avenue where auction house specialists, Upper East Side gallery directors, and Lower East Side art dealers have all joined together at some point to eat french fries at the bar and snort cocaine in the not-at-all-inconspicuous-enough bathroom, has closed. The restaurant confirmed this on the phone Monday afternoon, saying its building was sold. The restaurant shut down last Thursday. 'The soul of Chelsea has officially died,' as one art world patron put it to me in an e-mail, I think earnestly."

But that's not the whole story.

I called Moran's in disbelief and was told they are, indeed, closed. But only temporarily. They're renovating and should reopen in 10 - 15 days.

This leaves us with a number of questions. Namely, will Moran's be the same old, unpretentious, cozy joint? Or will it become yet another high-end, High-Lined dining experience?

Update: A reader sent in this goodbye sign. New management. Moran's as we know it has vanished.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Dogs & Papaya

Last week, the Observer published an Op-Ed entitled "The Tyranny of Nostalgia." In the article, Anthony L. Fisher essentially named me as Nostalgia Tyrant #1. (If only!) There's so much to argue against in the piece, but I've said it all before, in depth, a million times. So I'm taking the Bartleby route on this one.

That said, one line has stuck with me: "Not too many people eat hot dogs anymore." This is the real reason, says Fisher, that Gray's Papaya was booted from 8th Street and replaced with a Liquiteria. We've been hearing this argument lately. It goes: Tastes have changed, "people" aren't going to "those places" anymore, and that's why they vanish. But there is one reason why Gray's Papaya closed--the landlord nearly doubled the rent. Rent hike or denial of lease renewal is almost always the reason our favorite old places close.

New Yorkers eat hot dogs. Unfortunately, low-priced everyday franks--without the artisanal bells and whistles--can't pay the new exorbitant rents. So we're left with fewer and fewer hot dog stands.

From my count (am I missing any?), Manhattan now has just eight spots to grab a couple of hot dogs and a papaya drink, way down from a once plentiful number. I went to all of them* and ordered the same meal: Two dogs (with mustard and relish) and a 16-ounce papaya drink. The ever-present "recession special," which goes for about 5 bucks.

Papaya King, 179 East 86th Street

The grandaddy of them all, Papaya King opened on this corner in 1932. It was founded by Greek immigrant Gus Poulos. They have the best neon sign. Check out this video (mark 6:16) in which Jerry Rio interviews Peter Poulos on the history and importance of Papaya King.

Back in 1991, the New York Times wrote: "What would be a non sequitur in cities like Omaha and Wichita -- or even Washington and Boston -- is now as unshakable a pairing in New York as as corned beef and cabbage or pastrami and rye. These days it is hard to find a hot dog shop in some parts of the city that does not promote papaya and other tropical fruit drinks with its hot dogs. Almost anywhere one looks there is Papaya King, Papaya Heaven, Papaya Paradise, Papaya Place, Papaya Circle, Papaya World, Original Papaya, Gray's Papaya, Mike's Papaya or Papaya Jack. No doubt there are more."

And the King started it.

This spot's location on the Upper East Side means that men drive up in luxury cars, jump out, get their dogs, and go. In between, its everyday Joes--construction workers, taxi drivers, panhandlers. Women eat hot dogs, too, but I saw far more men in these places.

Papaya King, 3 St. Mark's Place

This outpost of the King opened quite recently, in the spring of 2013. There were others, including one in Times Square that closed sometime in the early 2000s, but now there are just two. Plus a roving food truck. This one always seems kind of quiet. Maybe people don't eat hot dogs on St. Mark's Place.

Gray's Papaya, 2090 Broadway at 72nd St.

Gray's opened on the Upper West Side in 1973. It was founded by Paul Gray, a former partner in Papaya King, who broke away to do his own thing.

There once were more Gray's Papayas, including the still-missed location at 6th Avenue and 8th Street. As previously mentioned, it closed in 2014 thanks to a rent hike, and has been replaced by a Liquiteria.

This dearly beloved spot is busy, even in bad weather. Standing room only, there's no room left at the counters. Here, a homeless man loiters, panhandling for change. As long as he's not getting aggressive, he's tolerated and given a few coins, which he spends on hot dogs.

Papaya Dog, 14th St. and 1st Ave.

With four New York locations (there's a fifth in Hoboken--am I missing any?), there are more Papaya Dogs today than there are Papaya Kings and Gray's Papayas. Still, Papaya Dog goes uncelebrated, treated like the poor stepchild of the elder two (both of which have Wikipedia pages, while Papaya Dog does not).

The Papaya Dogs are a bit rougher around the edges. But this one on 14th and 1st breaks with the standing-only tradition and offers a couple of booths for sit-down dining.

Customer traffic is constant at the Papaya Dogs. School kids flock to them. Workers stop in during their lunch breaks. Laborers pull up their rumbling dump trucks and garbage trucks and plumbing repair vans, and hop out in smudgy coveralls for "two to go with ketchup and onions" or "gimme two with mustard and sauerkraut," a cup of papaya or coconut champagne to wash them down.

At all the hot dog stands, the crowd is racially and socioeconomically diverse. Many people of color are eating hot dogs. Immigrants are eating hot dogs. Tourists and students are eating hot dogs. This is not a food of so-called nostalgia. It is a democratic food of affordability and accessibility. 

Papaya Dog, 6th Ave. and Cornelia St.

This particular Papaya Dog won't last much longer. It's in a building bought in 2013 by a luxury developer. They've got plans to kick out all the funky, long-time little tenants and replace them with national chain stores.

Dog-and-papaya places are especially vulnerable because they tend to be located on corners. That's prime real estate for banks and other national chains. Landlords know this and hike the rent, or simply kick them out.

Papaya Dog, 5th Ave. and 33rd St.

This one's the smallest of all the dog-and-papaya joints, with barely a sliver of counter space for dining behind a trash can. They've got a deal with the pizzeria next door, though, and you can bring your meal over there. At lunchtime, the tables are bustling.

Papaya Dog, 9th Ave. and 42nd St.

This corner spot was also rumored to be vanishing. It's in the old Elk Hotel (go inside the hotel here), which was emptied and put on the market awhile back. But, somehow, the Papaya Dog is still standing. This one also has tables and chairs.

Among the young tourists and families, an elderly woman sits at a table and applies her fire-engine red lipstick. Cops and taxi drivers hustle in and out.

Chelsea Papaya, 23rd St. and 7th Ave.

After the three big guys, a few scrappy papaya-and-dog joints have spawned and survived. Well, not really survived. And not really a few. The 21st century has been cruel. Hot dog stands started vanishing fast when everything else did. Rents went up and up. Yorkville's Green Papaya vanished around 2009. East Harlem's Frank's Papaya went sometime after 2008. Three Mike's Papayas died in the past few years. Many others folded around town.

But Chelsea Papaya remains, an oddball in the dog-and-papaya world, right down the block from the Chelsea Hotel. The window ledge gives you the perfect place to perch and watch the drama of the street unfold. Again the place is intermittently packed, with lines of customers jamming into the small space, coming and going quickly.

Mike's Papaya, 132 E. 23rd St. at Lexington

In my quest to dine at every dog-and-papaya place, I regrettably arrived at the last Mike's Papaya about two days too late. It's gone, closed "due to an unforeseen circumstance," according to the sign in the window.

There used to be a few Mike's Papayas (the Reade Street location vanished in 2012, and another at Broadway and 110th went in 2002). Then there was just this one by Gramercy Park.

We don't know what Mike's "unforeseen circumstance" was, but we can be sure that when the rent on all the dog-and-papaya places is doubled and tripled, it won't matter that they were busy and beloved. We'll hear journalists say that "Tastes have changed" and "People don't eat hot dogs anymore." Eventually, that statement will be true, but only because there will be nowhere left to find such a rare and affordable delicacy.

*I was already nearly finished with this post when the Observer op-ed came out. It took weeks to complete. I did not eat 16 hot dogs in one weekend.