Thursday, May 28, 2015

Benny Louie Chinese Laundry


Reader Chris Bandini sends in the sad news about Benny Louie Chinese Laundry on 13th Street near University. The sign outside says they're closing on June 12 because they lost their lease.

Though it's not in my laundry neighborhood, I always liked walking by Benny Louie and seeing their old signage.

We keep losing Chinese laundries, like Chin's, Harry Chong, Lee's, and many more. They're not going out of business. They're not losing customers. They're being denied new leases, or having their rents hiked beyond reach. They're being driven away. And City Hall won't do a thing to #SaveNYC

I don't know how long Benny Louie has been here. From reviews on Yelp, it sounds like two generations. When I went in to ask about the closure, the sad young man at the counter didn't want to talk about it.

One Yelp reviewer who's a regular had this to say:

"Been going to Benny's for ages...when Benny's father used to run the shop. They've been around for so long, and Benny's can't wait till the day he retires and go fishing! But if that were ever to happen, I am sure Cindy will continue to make this place even better."

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

East Village Cheese Update

Reader and local comic Ben Asher writes in with an update on the future of East Village Cheese:

"I spoke with East Village Cheese today. They said they found a new place on E. 7th st, b/w 1st and 2nd Ave. South side of the block. They expect to move in June."

photo: Kate Puls for #SaveNYC

As E.V. Grieve first reported, the Duane Reade on the corner of 10th and 3rd is expanding, and so three small businesses have gotten the boot: the cheese shop, along with a newsstand and the Excel framing shop.

Ben also notes "that not all of the businesses on the block are being kicked out to make way for the expanded Duane Reade." The UPS store and the Organic Avenue, both chains, will stay. Said Ben, "The woman who worked at E.vil cheese thought that was pretty lousy, considering E.vil Cheese has been there over 30 years and the framing store over 25 years."

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Eagle Provisions


After more than 75 years in Greenwood Heights, the Polish grocery store Eagle Provisions closed last week.

One More Folded Sunset was there and took a look inside.

photo: One More Folded Sunset

The Brooklyn blogger writes of the emptied space: "Pope John Paul II remains on the wall, a benevolent presence above the deli counter, and a single, skinny, length of kabanos hangs alone amidst Christmas tinsel. Farther along the wall, you can still see the portrait of John, Richard & patriarch Szczepan Zawisny, taken in earlier years, which shows them surrounded by the fruits of their labor - a glorious bounty of sausage and ham."

This time, it wasn't about rising rent. It was about people getting tired, and struggling to keep pace with a changing neighborhood.

“We’ve adapted as much as we could,” co-owner John Zawisny told Brooklyn Paper last year. “But there’s only so much you can do.”

In a Times story yesterday, Vivian Yee wrote about Eagle Provisions and other Brooklyn businesses "calling it quits" in the changing city: "After decades of anchoring their neighborhoods, these business owners have found that they no longer quite belong."


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Pisacane Seafood

Reader Jean-Luc tells us that the Pisacane fish market on 1st Avenue between 52nd and 51st street is shutting its doors tomorrow--"A huge loss for the neighborhood and city."

Last summer, another reader told me this closure would be coming down the pike. The owners had listed the building for sale, at $6,800,000, to be "delivered vacant."

At the time, I went in for a visit. I was told they were not closing, and had another 10 years. This now seems not to be the case, though I have not confirmed it.

I was also told that the business is 160 years old--with 60 years in one location and 100 years in this one. Or maybe vice versa. In any case, the place has been around a long time.

What I hear from both readers is that the small business has been struggling with inflated property taxes and utility bills -- both of which can kill a mom and pop, even when they own the building.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tony's Park Barber Shop

Now and then, when I get the chance, I like to visit old barber shops in other neighborhoods and get my hair cut.

Tony's Park Barber Shop, on Fifth Avenue in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, has been here "over 100 years," according to owner Tony Garofalo, who has been with the shop for just over 50 of those years.

The place is beautiful, in the way that old places are beautiful, filled with antiques and souvenirs.

It's painted robin's egg blue and topped with an extravagantly detailed pressed-tin ceiling. The ancient green barber chairs match the cabinetry, where windows read: "Sterilizer."

A busted wooden cash register sits unused next to a Yankees cap, under a note for "No Refunds."

On one wall, above the chairs for waiting customers, a faded sign reads, "Please control your children."

Simon Doolittle at The Brooklyn Paper did a nice piece on Tony and his shop back in 2008:

"Tony 'Felice' Garofalo has done well for himself. He left Italy after World War II and stayed in Switzerland until he was 26, emigrating to Brooklyn in 1964.

Within a week of his arriving, Garofalo got a job in what is now his barbershop, located on Fifth Avenue between 44th and 45th streets. He bought it less than a year later, for $1,800, from another Italian immigrant.

Working a second job loading beer trucks, he bought the building several years later for $35,000. He now owns the salon and the seven apartments above it. Garofalo’s English today bears the imprint of both Italy and Brooklyn. Speaking of his customers who return for haircuts, he said, 'They still-a come here — from Staten Island, from New Joisey.'"

A haircut here still costs just $10. For that price, you get the feeling of being cast back in time.

Monday, May 18, 2015


We've visited Margon before, but now with Cafe Edison gone, it may the only affordable, authentic, local restaurant left in Times Square. It's certainly worth visiting again--and again.

Margon is an old-school Cuban restaurant, and you can find it at 136 W. 46th St.

Back in 2008, Getty Rivas told me how his father came from the Dominican Republic and first worked in the restaurant as a dishwasher. In 1987, after Margon had moved into its current spot, a former go-go bar, Mr. Rivas took over.

The hopping little place continues to be managed and staffed completely by the Rivas family--"aunts, uncles, cousins..."--17 family members in total. They have since added their own Dominican flavors to the Cuban dishes.

You can sit at the small lunch counter at the front, or head to the steam tables in back. Take an orange tray and the server fills your plates with beans, rice, plantains, roast chicken, beef stew.

They also make Cubano sandwiches and a deliciously frothy morir sonando, which tastes like a creamsicle and means "to die dreaming."

Margon is located in one of a cluster of small buildings that hark back to an older Times Square and an older city. They look out of place, just a block off the tourist-clogged corpo-Disneyland of glass towers and Brobdingnagian TV screens. It is a relief to arrive here. It feels like an oasis.

It's a place of second-story businesses. I am partial to the jumble of signage outside the barber shop. You can also sell your gold and diamonds.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

La Taza de Oro

I've been avoiding this one, because I can't bear to face the possibility that we will lose La Taza de Oro, a warm and lovely Puerto Rican restaurant and last vestige of old Chelsea on 8th Avenue. It's been shuttered for over a month now.

Recently, someone posted a sign to the shutter that says "We Miss You."

Back on April 4, NY1 reported that some bricks fell from the neighboring facade, no one was hurt, but Con Ed turned off the gas in the restaurant's building. Scaffolding went up, one of the metal poles piercing the restaurant's awning.

And then these vacate notices appeared on the door of the building:

#SaveNYC group member Trina Rodriguez checked it out. She wrote in to say:

"I spoke to the owner and they're waiting to sign a contract/get a permit to separate their facade from the building next door--the one causing all the problems. She hopes that when that happens they'll be able to move back in relatively quickly."

Of course, once that happens, they'll need to get Con Ed to turn the gas back on. And we know how hard that can be.

Lately, it seems like the city is waging war on our oldest, most vulnerable, and beloved businesses.

Inspections ramp up. Violations are handed out. Gas goes off. It goes on and on. They shuttered La Taza de Oro last fall, too. Coincidence? With the High Line nearby, Google across the street, and Chelsea being called the new Upper East Side, these are now golden properties that plenty of developers would love to demolish and replace with a glass box and a bank.

See more about La Taza de Oro and its history on Neighborhood Slice. Join #SaveNYC to stop the insanity.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

#SaveNYC Mixer

#SaveNYC is having a meet and greet tomorrow, Wednesday night from 6:00 - 10:00 p.m., at the new Subway Inn, 1140 Second Ave.

You're invited to mix and mingle with New Yorkers who are working hard to raise awareness and protect small businesses and cultural institutions in the city. Share ideas. Drink. Make new friends. 

T-shirts will be available for purchase at $10 (which just covers the cost of making them).

Plus: In addition to our main site, #SaveNYC now has a new action blog: "Action City." It's packed with info about what we're doing, what we've done, and ways you can get involved. Check it out.

-View the mixer invite on Facebook
-Come to the #SaveNYC concert June 6 at Hank's Saloon

Monday, May 11, 2015

Which New York?

For the 50th anniversary of the Landmarks Law, Justin Davidson at New York Magazine talked with me and Nikolai Fedak, blogger of the pro-development NY YIMBY. While mostly polite, it was a spirited conversation, at times a grudge match.

An abbreviated version appears in the print edition of the current magazine, and a longer version appears online.

An excerpt:

NF: ...In East Harlem, you have a proposal for a 50-story tower on top of the Target, which is going to be fantastic. People in the neighborhood object, but they can’t do anything about it.

JD: So powerlessness leads to a good result?

JM: I want to go back to something Nikolai was saying earlier and question the idea that New York has to compete, that the city has to keep growing, that it has to be the best. That’s a very corporate notion, and it’s a foreign concept to me. If we just keep growing and competing and winning, where do we end up, ultimately? With a city filled, from borough to borough, with nothing but gleaming skyscrapers. And then the city will die. At what point do we say that’s enough?

NF: But how could that actually happen —?

JM: It already is happening. Julian Brash wrote the book Bloomberg’s New York, in which he described how Bloomberg changed the way we think of the city. He talked about it as a luxury product and about himself as CEO. He treated New Yorkers like consumers rather than citizens. That is a very different way of thinking about people. Citizens speak up and fight for their rights. Consumers don’t.

JD: Fighting for your rights and interests is obviously an important part of citizenship, but it also creates the adversarial situation that Nikolai was describing, in which the wealthy will always have the upper hand. A lot of planning takes place through litigation, which can be democratic without being fair.

JM: Sure, in an ideal world, everyone would have equal access and power, but if they don’t, that just means they have to fight for it.

NF: There’s room here for everyone if you build adequate housing for them. Prewar neighborhoods like the Upper West Side have buildings that don’t meet the standards of 2015. Why should the poor live in such places in order to preserve the architecture?

JD: There are plenty of wealthy people living in old buildings with creaky plumbing, too.

JM: So, Nikolai, do you have a fantasy that if you tore down and rebuilt all those buildings, the people who live there would be able to move back in?

NF: My fantasy is a New York where everyone has access to comfortable housing.

JM: Well, yeah, how can I disagree with that? My apartment is a shithole. But I have to hold on to my shithole. I have to fight for my shithole.

NF: That mentality is what makes it impossible for the city to accommodate more people.

JM: I don’t want to accommodate more people. There are too many fucking people here already.

NF: There! That’s the difference between us. I think the city needs to evolve, and Jeremiah’s nostalgic for the city of the past.

JM: What I’m nostalgic for is the city of the present...

Click here for the full discussion

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Lydia Lunch

The legendary No Wave performer Lydia Lunch returns to New York with a photo exhibition and installation. Chris Nutter interviewed her for HuffPo.


An excerpt:

CLN: Why did you decide to come back to New York now?

LL: I left New York in 1990 before it turned into Disney. I'm here now for the people who still remain who know what this place once was. That's in part what I wanted to do with So Real It Hurts. Coming back now just feels right.

CLN: Who is your New York audience today?

LL: To sum up an audience is to insult the individuals who are there. Anyone who comes to me comes for the comfort that I can bring them. My work is for people who aren't afraid to go into the deepest corner of their obsessions, who need to understand and exorcize their demons, and the horror of it all. To break it down it's almost always the most sensitive, the shy boys, the weirdoes, the non mono-gender, the outsiders who come to me.

CLN: You mean the archetypal old school New Yorker.

LL: Absofuckininglutely.


CLN: Do you feel the need to live in New York again?

LL: I wouldn't say I need New York, but I would say New York needs me.

Visit HuffPo for the whole story.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

No Your City

Nicolas Heller is the creator of "No Your City," an episodic documentary film project that captures the special characters that keep New York City's street life, well, alive.

In this post-Bloombergian age of sterilized sidewalks and fussily manicured parks, the street character is a vitally important citizen--and a vanishing breed. We used to see them everywhere. Today, less and less. But a few remain. From Larry the Birdman to colorful Ms. Colombia, they're getting their close-up in Heller's lens.

I asked Nic a few questions:

Q: First off, why the NO in "No Your City"?

A: Ah, the first question everyone asks… There is no deep meaning behind it, I just wanted to keep the NYC acronym so I could use the subway token as a logo.

Q: You grew up in New York. What characters do you remember from way back?

A: I grew up on 16th and 5th in Manhattan. Union Square was my backyard, so most of the people I remember were from there. Te’Devan the 6’ 7” Freestyling Jew (who at the time was a spiritual healer), Wendell the homeless Fashion designer, the asshole with the cat on his head, the little man who sold hot dogs, Roman the pervert. The list goes on.

Q: What made you want to capture the characters of New York on film?

A: At first it was an excuse for me to get to know these people I have seen around the neighborhood for years but too afraid to approach. In the second season, it turned into a form of preservation. You know as well as I do that NYC is losing a lot of its charm. And with it, the city is losing a lot of its characters. I wanted to tell the stories of New Yorkers who might not be around much longer. So that kids can see these videos 40 years from now and be exposed to what NYC was.

Q: What do you think of that word, "character"? Is that the right word?

A: I consider the word “character” a positive way to describe someone. I remember my parents describing friends, clients, etc., to me when I was a kid. They would describe them as “a real character.” It was because they had something very unique about them. A vibrant personality. All my subjects are these things and more, therefore they deserve the honor of being called a “character.” I don’t just throw that term around. It takes a special person.

Q: What do you think is valuable about these people, and others like them, to the urban fabric of the city?

A: Street culture is what makes a city unique. You can go anywhere in the United States and there will be similar restaurants, stores, parks, etc. But there is only one of every character. There is no one else like Wendell, Larry the Birdman, Mrs. Colombia, Clayton Patterson, etc. You have to come to NYC to experience them.

Q: How do you approach your subjects? Is everyone open to being filmed -- or have you had some misses?

A: It usually starts with a photograph. Then I will talk to them and tell them about my series. Most of these characters love the attention so they are eager to be filmed. I’ve had a few misses, mostly because there was no way of getting in touch with them. But for the most part everyone is appreciative of the message and wants to be involved.

Q: Looking just at your films, one might think New York is still a weird, vibrant place. Do you think it is?

A: Totally. I am only 26, so I can’t quite remember what NYC was like over 10 years ago, but luckily I have Clayton Patterson’s archive available to me. In a sense, I am doing what he was doing 30 years ago. Documenting a moment in time that will inevitably change in the coming years. I still think the city has tons of personality. More so than anywhere else I have been to. I think my films do a good job of providing evidence of that.

Q: Will there be more films? What characters are you still hoping to get on film?

A: I will always be filming. The city plays a huge role in everything I do. I just finished a series on Brooklyn Drag Queens called Queens of Kings which will be coming out shortly after No Your City season 2 ends, and I am in the process of making an animated short film which will be a part of No Your City. Making these docs costs next to nothing, so as long as I am physically able, I will continue to tell people’s stories.

- Watch "No Your City" online
- Like it on Facebook

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Revolution Books


Revolution Books, opened in 1979, has lost their lease. They've called an "emergency meeting" for this Thursday at 7:00 pm at the shop.

On the Facebook invite, they write: "Friends! Revolution Books has lost its space and must move out of 26th Street store by May 30. We come to you -- the thousands of people who know and love this bookstore -- to help us re-locate right away.

As the planet burns up, as immigrants drown at sea fleeing countries ravaged by imperialism, as our youth are murdered by police in epidemic numbers, and as a beautiful new rising bursts from Ferguson to Baltimore to New York City, Revolution Books is needed more than ever. It is also a moment when Revolution Books could be lost... There is no bookstore like Revolution Books -- it cannot become one more in the string of important places forced to close."

Back in 2012, they nearly closed when their landlord issued a major rent increase. Prior to that, they lost their long-time space on 19th Street.

Dedicated to social justice and change, Revolution Books is a non-profit with an all-volunteer staff. They survive in part by donations (click here to donate). They are also one of an ever-dwindling number of bookstores in Manhattan.

#SaveNYC. Lend your help to Revolution Books. And please sign the petition to pass the Small Business Jobs Survival Act to protect our small businesses from massive rent hikes and lease renewal denials.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Caffe Capri

Amy Rose Spiegel writes in with some unsettling news:

"I have a really saddening tip to share: Mike, who runs Uncle Louie G's on Graham, exacerbated my suspicions that Caffe Capri is closed. It's been gated and locked for days, and he told me other neighborhood heads have told him independently that it's done for good. I'm heartbroken and hoping Sarah and Joe, the elderly brother- and sister-in-law who run it, are all right."

Here's hoping this one is just a rumor, and that the folks at Caffe Capri are simply on vacation, returning any day now.

The Williamsburg treasure has been here since 1974, but we know Graham Avenue is changing. The boutiques and upscale "specialty" coffee shops are moving in. Idiosyncratic Italian-American businesses like Grande Monuments are moving out. Simply put, the loss of Caffe Capri would break a lot of hearts.

For more on this beloved place, see my interview with filmmaker Casimir Nozkowski and his short documentary.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Penn Books


Just in March, I reported that Penn Books was struggling, but still managing to survive. Now we hear they've been forced to shutter.

Mindy writes: "Just stopped into Penn Books tonight on my way to the opera and found bare shelves... They'll be gone by the end of the week."

Penn Books was started three generations ago, in the original Penn Station, in 1962. They survived the destruction of Penn Station. They survived citywide fiscal crises. They even outlasted Borders. Business was still bustling. But they could not afford the rent hikes.

Landlord Vornado started pushing out businesses in 2014, according to Crain's. Now they're revamping Penn Station and the area around it.

In the Wall St. Journal, Vornado's Chief Executive said earlier this month, “There is no reason that we cannot achieve very, very substantial rising rents in Penn Plaza—very substantial, enormous--with a little TLC."

Tender. Loving. Care.

Penn Books
Sign the petition to pass the SBJSA