Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Broken Angel

Last month, the Times reported on the transformation of Broken Angel, a wildly creative Brooklyn treasure, into high-priced condos.

Wrote Ronda Kaysen: "as Clinton Hill, like so many Brooklyn neighborhoods, reinvents itself as yet another gentrifying enclave, Broken Angel recalls a moment in city history when such a creation could seemingly rise out of thin air."

New York Times

Filmmaker Michael Galinsky of "Battle for Brooklyn" is putting together a documentary about Broken Angel and its creator, Arthur Wood.

He's got a 5-minute short on his site, and hopefully more is to come:

Monday, June 29, 2015

Notes from Neighbors

New Yorkers are really getting tired of watching their local small businesses shutter, forced out by rising rents and demolitions for the construction of condos, hotels, and dorms. They want to do something. Some of us take to the blogosphere. Others get out the Scotch tape. Here are a few notes from neighbors that recently appeared.

1. When Bleecker Street's Mambo Sushi closed some months ago, people were upset, especially by the removal of the blue-green tiled "roof."

photo: NY Magazine

One person put a sign on the window--not to complain about the roof removal, but to make a desperate plea:

"PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don't make this space into some useless tourist trap. PLEASE put something good here that people of the neighborhood can enjoy. We need more neighborhood spots. I know tourists bring in revenue but if the place is truly good, everybody will come. Thanks, your neighbor."

photo: Tommy Raiko

Reader Tommy Raiko sent in this photo of the sign and noted that it "crystallized so much of folks' attitudes about such things." Scribbled on the sign was a response: "Get over yourself. #1stworldproblems."

And then another: "It is going to be a Mexican rest." Of course, the way things are going in the Village these days, the place might just sit empty for a couple of years.

2. When 35 Cooper Square, with its deep and fascinating history, was demolished, people were not happy. Now there's a dormitory in its place, and people are not happy. Someone has posted a sign on the dorm.

It says: "The Federal-Style Row House at 35 Cooper Square was Razed for this Crappy Dorm."

photo by Beth Carey

3. The University Place deli was kicked out recently, after decades in business, so that yet more luxury condos can be built.

In response, someone taped a newspaper article to the door of the shuttered deli: "In NY City, debate over saving small shops amid chains' rise." Handwritten beneath the article, it reads: "WE MISS YOU!"

Friday, June 26, 2015

Save the B&H

On Second Avenue in the East Village, the B&H Dairy has been going strong since the 1930s when it was opened by Mr. Bergson and Mr. Heller (hence the B&H). It is now run by Fawzy Abdelwahed and Ola Smigielska. And it is absolutely adored by New Yorkers all over town. Myself included.

Since the Second Avenue gas explosion and collapse, the B&H has been shuttered. Fawzy and Ola have consistently paid the rent and bills while they struggle to reopen, but it has not been easy.

Fawzy and Ola, today's mom and pop of the B&H, photo from GVSHP

I spoke to Fawzy who explained the barriers they're facing. Due to the explosion, safety requirements from the city have intensified. Before the explosion, the B&H passed inspection. But now they must upgrade the fire system at a cost of $28,000. To do so, they also require permission from Landmarks and the Department of Buildings. The papers have been submitted, but nothing is moving.

Andy Reynolds, local East Villager and ad hoc advocate for the B&H, says, "Things keep getting pushed back another week, two weeks, month, months. They were OK for the last couple months, but with no income, it’s getting critical, unsustainable."

In addition, the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City promised financial assistance to residents and businesses impacted by the Second Avenue explosion, but no funds have made their way to Fawzy and Ola, and no one from the city has been in touch with them.

Mr. and Mrs. Bergson: The original mom & pop, 1950s, photo courtesy of Florence Bergson Goldberg

If the B&H does not get approval soon, and without much-needed financial assistance from the city, they will be forced to close. We cannot let this happen. The little dairy restaurant has a long history in the neighborhood. It is one of the last of its kind, a heritage business in a New York that is losing its New Yorkiness.

Recently, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Councilmember Rosie Mendez held a small business crawl, modeled after #SaveNYC's Small Biz Crawl, for the mom and pops impacted by the Second Avenue explosion. Unfortunately, B&H was unable to open and benefit from these events.

Please write to Speaker Mark-Viverito, Councilmember Mendez, and Mayor de Blasio, and ask that they take action now to expedite permits and funds to keep the B&H alive. We cannot afford to lose this one.

Here's a quick and easy way to do it. Copy, paste, and tweet the following message:

Please save B&H Dairy! @RosieMendez @MMViverito @BilldeBlasio Expedite permits & funds to this EV classic. #SaveNYC http://bit.ly/1BSu4UE

Thursday, June 25, 2015


Romy Ashby writes the blog Walkers in the City, which you should know about if you don't already. She has just published a novel called Stink. The book tells the story of a young person who flees to a mysterious New York-like city for a series of occult adventures. I asked Romy some questions--about dreams, books, farts, and gentrification.

JM: Your book starts with a dream. Do you remember your dreams? Do you write them down?

RA: Usually I don't dream and/or don't remember. I never write them down. I had a wonderful series of dreams once over several years about a beautiful cast-iron train. I'd see it in the distance and marvel, and whenever I would have a new dream about the train, I'd think, oh, it's this dream! Then I finally had a dream of a funeral procession with old men in uniforms carrying a large framed portrait through the streets. I asked what the procession was, and one of the old men said: “This was the conductor of the train you always dreamed about.” And after that, nothing.

JM: You don't remember your dreams and yet the whole of Stink feels dreamlike, vaguely unreal. Did you set out to create a dream city of sorts?

RA: No, I didn't set out to make it so. Writing it felt more like decorating an old department store window. And I should add that life to me always feels vaguely unreal. Sometimes not so vaguely.

JM: What does it feel like to decorate an old department store window?

RA: You have the empty window, framed from the street, and you can do anything you want with it. I put in all the things I found interesting from the nabe and whatever else I knew and liked. And then the window looked like a funny junk shop, I suppose.

JM: Like Ad Astra in the book. What was your inspiration for the occult shop?

RA: There were two actual occult shops that inspired it in part. One was the Magickal Childe on West 19th Street, and the other was the original Enchantments on East 9th Street. Both sold books and other odds and ends, and I would go in now and then and buy something. The vibe of the places would linger for the rest of the day. And Enchantments had a big kitty who wore a pentagram. He was the inspiration for my occult shop kitty, Aleister.

JM: How much of New York is in the unnamed city of Stink?

RA: Oh, lots. The diner was modeled after diners in general, but particularly on the doughnut shop that sat on 8th Avenue and 23rd Street. That's where the "real" Violet Rae character would stand by the register and complain. The "amusement park" was definitely inspired by Coney Island in all its ruined splendor, the wharf was largely based on the stinky fish market and seaport and the old winding streets of Lower Manhattan at the bottom of the island in the 1980s. Also, the waitress and counterman in my story are modeled after Charlie and Regina, who had their portraits recently in EV Grieve's blog.

JM: It certainly feels like a vanished urban atmosphere. The people, too, feel like the sorts of characters you don't run into much anymore. Or do you?

RA: No, you don't run into many like them, at least not as often as you used to. There were many more distinctive characters to be seen on the streets of New York twenty years ago than there are today. Most of the old ones have died out. I sort of cast the playwright and actor Harry Koutoukas, of Ridiculous Theatrical Company fame, as Harry the owner of the Occult shop in Stink. Harry Koutoukas died a few years ago, but I can remember so well how the mere sight of him walking along Christopher Street with his colorful scarves blowing behind him had a way of making the whole city feel more magical and interesting. Also, I should add that in Chinatown and Little Italy, and elsewhere, too, there still really were funny little shops that sold things like rubber gaskets.

JM: Did you buy a lot of rubber gaskets?

RA: Yes.

JM: To what end?

RA: For my stovetop espresso maker. When a gasket wears out the coffee tastes yuck.

JM: Of course. Tell me the story about farting in the bookshop.

RA: Years ago I worked at Three Lives bookshop, which is on West 10th Street. It's still exactly the same as it was 25 years ago, which is miraculous. Anyway, people used to come in and go to the back of the shop, the far rear corner where the literature ends and the travel books begin, and fart. I remember the two bosses complaining about how often this happened. And, they said, it was always men. It was never women doing the farting.

JM: I ask this, of course, because it happens in Stink. A lot of stinky things happen in Stink.

RA: Yes. It is a stinky story.

JM: So, because this interview is for Vanishing New York, how do you see Stink speaking to that--to the vanished city?

RA: What comes to mind first is the fact that I wrote Stink 20 years ago, and most of what I took as inspiration for it is gone now. The two big Sixth Avenue flea markets, every single bookshop in Chelsea, every junk shop, the doughnut shop on 8th Avenue, most of the diners I frequented, the fish market, the Magickal Childe, CBGBs, Jackie 60, Don Hill's, much of Coney Island that was there when I wrote Stink—including the old luncheonette in the subway station and the beautiful ruined Thunderbolt rollercoaster that had become a bird sanctuary—has all vanished.

JM: I'm going to ask you the question that people like to ask me, and that always irks me. Maybe you can answer it better than I can. New York is always changing. So how is this any different?

RA: I agree that New York is always changing, and a lot of the change is sad but natural, such as shops closing when someone retires or dies. And there are have been terrible instances of forced change in decades past. Just look at Robert Moses. But the change that has been happening in the last decade or so, as I've noticed it, has been different in that everything seems to be being razed for one replacement, which is “luxury residential.” And some of it defies logic, such as the demolishing of the huge St. Vincent’s Hospital, for yet more "luxury" residences, leaving a huge part of the city without a hospital. Twenty years ago if I had been asked whether or not such a thing could happen I would have said no.

I remember first hearing about gentrification in the 1980s, and it was definitely happening then, but not in earnest the way it is now. And to me, that word, gentrify, always meant what it means, which is literally "Make way for the gentry." It doesn't mean “improve for all,” the way some people seem to want to imply.

JM: Aren't you just being nostalgic? Don't you know that no one goes to doughnut shops anymore? (I’m being facetious.)

RA: Well, apparently people actually love doughnut shops because there are Dunkin Donuts stores all over town. But at the old doughnut shop on 8th Avenue you could also get all kinds of other things--it was a real diner as most doughnut shops actually were, and the best part of those places in my opinion (along with the friendly, funny regulars) was that I could afford it.

I also don't think it's nostalgic to miss the laundromat I liked to use or the corner grocery that I shopped in, because what I like about them is that I could wash my clothes and buy milk conveniently. Those things are getting harder to do. The new luxury buildings have laundry rooms for the people who live there, but at the rate things are going I'll be doing my laundry in the bathtub the way I used to do it in the 80s when I lived surrounded by ruins down in the Alphabets. I didn't like doing my laundry that way then, and I don't think I'll like doing it that way again. So, you tell me, is that nostalgia?

I will confess, though. Sometimes I get a pleasant nostalgic feeling when I listen to a nice record by Jack Teagarden. The words to “A Hundred Years from Today” can be a good reminder for how to prioritize one's ideas.

JM: What's on your record player right now?

RA: Well, just before you called I was listening to Trummy Young and Louis Armstrong.

JM: And what's on your current book pile?

RA: Currently I've been laughing my way through Mary Norris's wonderful book called Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen (she's been copy editor at the New Yorker forever, and she's the sister of the marvelous musician Baby Dee). Simultaneously, I'm reading February House by Sherill Tippins, the stories in White Girls by Hilton Als, and The Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto. That's what's piled by the bed. Also Ask Dr. Mueller: The Writings of Cookie Mueller. And in my subway-riding bag is A Superintendent’s Eyes by Steve Dalachinksy and a wonderful book of poems by Yuko Otomo called Study. I never tire of Yuko’s poems, no matter how many times I read them.

You can find Stink at St. Marks Bookshop, or buy it through Romy’s website. The book launch is tomorrow night,  Friday, June 26, 6:30 p.m. At 292 Gallery, 292 E. 3rd.

More Romy on JVNY:
At La Taza de Oro
A story about Debbie Harry on the High Line
On Joey Arias
On Kasoundra Kasoundra

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Quad

This is what the Quad Cinema looks like totally gutted:

It's been closed since May for renovations. You might recall the news last year that the cinema was sold to real-estate developer Charles Cohen, who plans to use it to film selections from the Cohen Film Collection, originally known as the Raymond Rohauer Film Collection, after the man who built it. Cohen acquired it in 2011.

According to Wikipedia, Cohen's realty corporation "owns more than 12 million square feet of real estate" and "specializes in 're-positioning' commercial space to increase its rental income." Cohen is also a film lover.

The Quad opened in 1972. It was New York's first four-screen cinema. It is expected to reopen in the fall.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Taxi Parts

Recently, a store called Taxi Parts, Inc., moved in to the East Village. It had been up on Tenth Avenue for the past 25 years, on the ground floor of an old tenement building near Hudson Yards.

But it had to leave that spot. "The buildings are coming down," a man at Taxi Parts told me the other day.

The buildings sit alone on the corner of 10th and 35th. Earlier this year, Sean at the 116-year-old Veterans Chair Caning shop, across the street, told me that those tenements were still standing thanks to a holdout, a man who lived upstairs. Who knows what happened to him? (Looks like someone tried but failed to prove last year that the building was rent-stabilized.)

And so the Hudson Yards Effect claims more victims -- and takes more space for its bloated glass construction.

Sean told me that developers want "to knock down those buildings and put up the tallest tower in North America."

That would be the gluttonous "Hudson Spire."

Last year, when it was more or less theoretical, the Hudson Spire was rendered at 1,800 feet -- 4 feet taller than One World Trade Center. Now, with the holdout removed, the businesses relocated, and these little tenements soon to be turned to rubble, there will be plenty of room for a colossal monstrosity to rise on the spot.

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Conversation on Gentrification

I chatted via email with DW Gibson, author of the recently published book The Edge Becomes the Center: An Oral History of Gentrification in the Twenty-First Century. Filled with the real voices of New Yorkers, from both sides of the gentrification fence, it’s a must-read for anyone interested in what’s happening to our city in this era of rapid displacement, runaway development, and socioeconomic injustice. Just before our virtual chat, Gibson had come from moderating a conversation on art and gentrification out on Governor’s Island. That got us started on our own conversation.

JM: I was out in Bushwick this weekend for the Open Studios event. It gets bigger every year, and the demographic is shifting--more Greenwich housewife types and financiers in alligator shirts. Near the center of this event, on Grattan Street, a local family had set up a barbecue. Right nearby were all these kids doing performance art. I wondered: What is the relationship between these two groups? Do they communicate and in what way? Which brings me to the question: Is there such a thing as a "good" gentrifier vs. a "bad" gentrifier?

DWG: I think the word “gentrifier” is so loaded that it’s hard to get back to its provenance and make it a useful term. But I certainly don’t want to get bogged down in semantics.

I think what separates a “good” gentrifier from a “bad” gentrifier is his/her willingness to *listen* to the people who have lived or worked in the neighborhood for a long time. A gentrifier who wants to have a positive impact on the neighborhood first needs to learn what that neighborhood is all about — both historically and for the current residents. And then look for ways to get involved. It’s not necessarily about arriving in a neighborhood to bring your ideas there. It should be more about finding out how your ideas and energy can fit into the ideas and energy that are already in place.

That applies perhaps more specifically to artists but also all gentrifiers in general. And backing up a bit, the best starting point for a gentrifier is to look up at the world they inhabit, notice buildings, say hi to the people you see. It’s the best way to start and it’s so simple and achievable for everyone.

JM: Looking up is so important. Reminds me of an anecdote in your book, where one woman says that the new people in her neighborhood are all plugged into headphones, not paying attention, not looking at anyone. What message do you think that sends? And what impact does it have on the people of a community?

DWG: That’s one of the most important points made by an interviewee in the book. It was Shatia Strother, a long-time resident of Bed Stuy. She has the personal campaign of running up to people who have their headphones in, and she jumps in front of them and yells, “Look up!” Which only Shatia can get away with — without getting killed — because of how she comports herself and that big smile.

The “connectivity” that our wireless devices allow comes at a cost to our relationship with the physical world. The physical world — the streets we walk down, the places where we live and work — matter less because we’re always talking to someone half a world away. This is not about fearing technology, it’s about giving thought to how much we value connecting with the people who share the room or the bar or the office or the subway car with us. Historically, a defining characteristic of New York, particularly in terms of other American cities, has been that, for better and for worse, we are in each other’s faces. We encounter all kinds of people in our daily lives, in all of the small and big interactions we have. And this characteristic of New York is diminished by modern technology that de-emphasizes the physical world.

I feel like we’re less and less open to connect with the physical world, and that is not good for the overall health of any given neighborhood or community.

JM: Shatia is my hero, just for that maneuver. I wish I could get away with it, but I’d probably get punched.

It’s interesting to me, the cultural element of this looking down at phones and being “connected.” I visited East Harlem a few years ago—and maybe it’s changed already—but I went up there to check out the development that was going on, and I noticed that no one was on their phone. I was on 116th Street and it felt like the old New York sidewalk, by which I mean pre-2000s. People were paying attention. We all regarded each other.

Is this a class thing? A race/culture thing? I realize, of course, those intersect and are difficult to impossible to disentangle, especially when we’re talking about gentrification. This comes up quite a bit in your book.

DWG: That’s interesting to hear about East Harlem. I was spending a lot of time up there last year and I don’t think it’s so much the case anymore that there aren’t many phones. I think your observations 15+ years ago are more about the passage of time and cell phones becoming increasingly affordable.

It is a relentless march on the part of humanity toward more wireless connectivity! And I think this is a dangerous thing for cities. It’s hard to have this conversation, though, because it quickly sounds like a conversation about not wanting to embrace the power and potential of the modern age, which is not what it’s about at all. It’s about taking a look at the inverse of the digital “connectivity.” It’s about taking seriously the consequences of this “connectivity” and how it diminishes our ability and/or will to connect with our neighbors, both residential and commercial.

JM: These observations in East Harlem were more like 5 years ago, but that's how fast this stuff is changing.

Your book ends up being very much about racism. Was that something you expected going into it? In general, what did you expect to find when you began the book, and where did you get surprised--or not surprised?

DWG: I moved to New York in 1995 and have learned a lot about the city in my time here, so I certainly expected that race would come up as an issue. I think when I started this book I really wanted to stick to the fact that, at its heart, gentrification is a class issue. But that fact alone ignores this country’s, and this city’s, history with a host of discriminatory practices in housing and business. So in the US, and in New York, we cannot extract the race issue from the class issue. They are, in effect, one in the same.

The fact that stood out to me is that the real problem is the institutional racism — much more so than interpersonal racism. Very few people I talked to expressed racism or bigotry. The problem to solve is the historical, institutionalized systems that have disenfranchised New Yorkers over generations. (Redlining, etc.) Those practices still matter because they still affect individuals and families today — and in some cases those practices are still out there! Which is completely true and terrifying.

JM: One piece that doesn't come up so much in your book is the impact of gentrification on small businesses.

DWG: In terms of small business, two interviewees were important for me--Tarek Ismail and Barbara Schaum.

Barbara has been a leather worker on the Lower East Side/East Village for nearly 40 years, and I think she speaks to a lot of change from the point of view of a small business owner entrenched in her community.

I was really excited to include Tarek because here is a thoughtful young man thinking of opening a business in Harlem, but he is worried about doing so in a way that is not positive for the community. He is of Palestinian descent and, because of that family history, he’s very sensitive to the idea of adding to a neighborhood with a very rich and very certain — African American — history. I think if more business owners had Tarek’s sensitivity and conscientiousness the city would be much better off.

On the whole, I do think the commercial discussion gets lost sometimes in the residential discussion. (That’s one of the things you are doing so well — if I may compliment the interviewer.) And while the residential side of the discussion is of primary importance — we all need a place to lay our heads at night — we can’t forget the changes in New York on the commercial side.

The one caveat to the commercial conversation is that we can’t let it become about nostalgia. Land use is always evolving, I think, so it’s okay if one place closes and another comes in, in broad terms. The problem isn’t new shops. It’s the nature of those shops and the question: Who are they serving?

The sad reality is that so many small businesses are being replaced by big box stores. These types of places: 1. Lead to a further homogenization of what the city has to offer and 2. Are far less likely to be involved in the neighborhood, far less likely to be a part of the social fabric of the neighborhood.

Also, the commercial rents have gotten so out of control in so many neighborhoods, the only companies that can move in to these spaces are big corporations who can take a loss at that particular location but still make it work financially because they view those high-rent locations as advertisements, more so than actual retail outlets. So they basically become three-dimensional advertisements instead of actual stores.

JM: (I need to get in a plug here for #SaveNYC, where we're trying to protect small business and the local streetscape of the city.) I could ask so much more, but in all the interviews you've done, is there a question you wish you'd been asked but haven't yet?

DWG: There are two nuggets of info in the book that I’m surprised haven’t generated more questions:

1. The fact that the Bowery Mission made a market rate offer to the Salvation Army for their building on the Bowery, so they could expand their services to the homeless population. (Never reported before this book.) Of course, the Salvation Army did not take that offer and sold, instead, to the Ace Hotel chain.

2. The EB5 visa program that Alan Fishman talks about. This is a visa program that allows foreign nationals to buy a green card by making a $500,000 investment in a distressed neighborhood. The fact that we are allowing the world’s wealthy to buy residency in the U.S., and this is not part of our immigration discussion, is nuts!

JM: I’m glad I asked that question. And I do have one more. In the book, Celia says there are "ways to have less crime and more economic justice without displacement." In all the discussions you had, did you discover the secret formula for that ideal situation?

DWG: I agree with Celia that these are achievable things, but they require heavy lifting.

With regards to less crime without displacement, we would need to radically rethink how we approach policing altogether. Law enforcement would need to be ingrained in the community and understand it is in place to *serve* the community.

More economic justice without displacement can be achieved on a policy level using several tools. Two things that would immediately help: raising wages across the board, and making developers hire local. But even beyond that we can rethink giving tax breaks to developers. Why do we need to incentivize building in New York in 2015? And we can create taxes targeted at those with the most resources (expansion of the mansion tax, taxing those who do not occupy the multiple homes they buy, etc.).

No secret formula to solve all. But certainly clear steps we can take now to get moving in the right direction.

Find your copy of DW's book at your local independent bookshop.

Thursday, June 18, 2015


You've seen them around town. Rolling on the asphalt at Astor Place and Union Square in their underwear. Sometimes in the rain. Bearded men in women's one-piece bathing suits and motorcycle helmets, women in glitter and furry brassieres, getting dirty, joyfully grappling one another, repeating the same words over and over. (Sometimes, the Van Gogh lookalike walks by.) They operate like a hive-minded flock, moving like starlings, in fleshy murmurations. Coming together, splitting apart, reforming in a new shape each time.

Some weeks ago, I came upon them in dishwater-dull Times Square, during a hunt for something New York, something startling and weird. Some sign, to quote Frank O'Hara, "that people do not totally regret life." In the soul-deadening crush of selfie sticks and Bubba Gump, I felt greatly relieved to see them in their strange and sweaty scrum of pre-Bloombergian delirium. But who are they and what are they all about?

I reached out to group co-organizer Fritz Donnelly to ask him about this thing they call "looping."

Fritz looping in Times Square, at TKTS

Q: What is looping?

A: Looping is what we call getting together and performing spontaneously with an orientation toward playful subversion. You're invited! We all lead and follow. We repeat for emphasis and to move the form, to get into a groove and then roll and see where it goes.

Q: Who is your group of loopers?

A: Many of us know one another from Circus of Dreams, a monthly variety performance art show at Bizarre Bar in Bushwick that Matthew Silver started and hosts, and which is now run by House of Screwball.

Looping specifically arose out of collaborative films and a workshops that I led earlier this year. Some characteristics of looping so far: Listening and offering. The body unsexualized, gender morphs, the audience is the performance, contact improv, undressing and redressing, language plays, absurdity, undrugged exuberance, unexpected but nurtured political gestures, normalizing weirdness and weirding normalcy.

Q: When you bring a performance (is that the right word?) to a place like the TKTS ticket lounge area, filled with Times Square tourists, what is your aim? What do you hope will happen?

A: Throwing our hands up and calling, "I'm a tree. Are you a tree?" And being joined by a family--including a little girl in a rainbow vest was one highlight. In a way, that's the point of looping: magical participatory moments. People smiling, laughing at themselves, at us. That's the good stuff.

I love it when people join. They step out of their day and into the wave. Whoosh. In another moment, a woman observing us threw off her dress and climbed a lamp post with our help, while another guy stripped to his underwear and rolled on the ground. "Life has its highs and lows!"

Looping is about feeling alive and challenging zombie culture, and recognizing community is a hand hold away. Love and acceptance for our strangeness is right here. We're all there inside just waiting for an excuse to peek out. "One of these kids is doing his own thing," why not join him!?

We all have different particular aims and interests but the overall point of performing like this in the place where people go to see spectacle, where they go to buy tickets for these multimillion dollar packaged productions, is to say that we can create theater in the everyday, in the moment. We can sing on Broadway. We did. The audience is here and the stage is set. Life can be a dramatic and ridiculous experience in just the way our 'entertainment' is.

I wore a costume from a former Broadway show, for example, and a lot of our loops resulted in singing or plays with the idea of theater, a chorus line, props, dance. It's not to reject that entertainment, just to point out the capacity we all have for that and to show the power of collective imagination and of performing for each other even in the smallest way. We're a beacon and a license.

A police officer said "you can't perform here," and I said, "this is a public space. That's a sidewalk. We'll perform here. We're respectful." And he said, "I look forward to seeing the show." Of course, you are told to stop and move so we stop, we freeze, and then we move, we boogie. The biggest laws are all on our side (speech, assembly), even if the smallest regulations and marching orders are not.

Some people pass by saying, "only in New York." My hope is they say, "anywhere in America, heck, the world."

Q: How do you see looping connected to a history of performance art or "happenings"? Specifically, to a New York history.

A: It's funny, the '70s in New York City, for example, are looked back on as a time of destitution, grime, crime, but oh-so-interesting and culturally rich. Danger and artistic edginess get interrelated, like we can't have one without the other. But there's a rich tradition in New York of happenings, be-ins, other shaped group experiences where the edgy art or community experience is safe for everyone. It may challenge the hegemony, but it exists because it creates a haven, a space for speaking or sharing that wasn't otherwise there. I find this kind of thing incredibly inspiring.

Think of all the creative effort, all the loft build-outs and building squats and people who've stood up and gone to jail for trying to save a tiny square of green space in their neighborhoods. Or the few women who are responsible for planting most of the sidewalk trees in New York. Looping is a kind of echo of these struggles, of those beautiful and daring personalities, the superheroes of our city. It's a kind of celebration of the freedoms that we have here, that we've fought for, but that we may be generally too busy to exercise. Now there are other people to be silly with.

Imagine if Bloomberg had convened a special committee not to deal with getting rid of Occupy Wall Street, but to see if there are ways to address the systemic issues being raised. We are eating the hand that feeds us because our hunger knows no end. Zombie time!

photo: Matthew Silver

For more looping: The next event will be today, June 18 ("5:30PM - meet at W. 23rd st. and 10th Ave. wear outlandish costume or underwear. Extra points if you bring weird prop.").

Find more info on Facebook, check out videos at TotheHills and on Fritz's youtube channel. You can also find Matthew Silver at Man in the White Dress -- I've written about him a bit here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

NYC Firestore


The NYC Firestore has been in business since 1991, first on Lafayette and then on Greenwich Avenue. Owner Noam Freedman wrote in to let us know that his shop has been forced to shutter.

"The end came five years ago when they closed St. Vincent's Hospital," Noam says. "This pulled several thousand people out of the area each day. For the past five years we have been dying a slow death, borrowing from here to pay there, depleting our savings, selling our home, trying to find a level where the math worked, but each year the target moved a little further away. This year we were finally done in by construction all around the shop, road closures, and the final blow--the building was wrapped in scaffolding two months ago. A perfect storm for retail failure."

It's an all too familiar story for small businesses in the post-St. Vincent's urban blight of the Village.

Noam and Annie. Photo: DNAInfo

Noam offers the following description of the shop's final hour:

Tonight we pulled the gate on the Firestore for the last time. It's been over 24 years, but I can remember so vividly the guys from L20, and other units visiting the old FDNY Medical Center on Lafayette, asking "What's all this?" when we opened "New York Firefighter's Friend" in March of 1991. They seemed surprised that anyone would open a "Fire Store.” They knew about "Cop Shops," but a "Fire Store"?

It was the very definition of a local "Mom & Pop" store. The entire space was maybe 250 Sq Ft. I built much of the shelving and storage from scratch, and my mother and father, Ellie and Nate, were there most days for the next 12 years. My sister Talia and I would work when it was busy or the parents needed time off.

A year or so later we expanded next door. And in 1997 we opened our own "Cop Shop" next door to that called "New York 911." We had 15 years at Lafayette St. and now more than 9 years on Greenwich Ave. It has been an honor for my family to be a small part of the First Responder Community.

Now, what I opened with my parents and sister, and where many other friends and family have worked, I close with my wife and son. Three generations have worked the store.

Our very last customer was a family with a little, chubby-cheeked blonde two-year-old boy. He wanted the fire rain boots that were still in the window. Annie got the boots out and showed them to him. He grabbed them and held them to his chest. The parents offered to pay for them, but Annie declined. Then she said, “Here, he should have the helmet to match,” and handed them a kids’ helmet. The little boy’s smile was huge. Then Annie handed them the kids’ fire raincoat so he could have the full outfit. He was a very happy little boy. I cannot think of a better last customer than a wide-eyed little boy who wants to dress like his heroes, and maybe, like many of the kids that used play with the trucks on the floor of the shop, he will one day be a real firefighter.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Parkchester Mom and Pops


In the Parkchester section of the Bronx, an entire block of mom and pops -- run by dozens of small business people -- are about to vanish, thanks to one $15 million development deal. The Real Deal reported last month: "The buyers are planning to demolish all structures and will likely construct one large building on the site."

Google street view

Local resident Nicholas Farfan alerted me to the story and kindly supplied photos, quotes, and reports from just a few of the many business people who are being pushed out with little notice.

all photos by Nicholas Farfan

Delia Velovic has owned Leonard's Bake Shop for over 37 years.

"I'm not ready to move," she told Farfan. "I don't want to go somewhere else. This is where we started. We're an old-fashioned bakery. We can't compete."

She explained how her former landlord, Mr. Eisenberg, allowed the bakery to operate out of the back of the building after a car crashed into the storefront. He didn't even charge them rent during the repairs. But Mr. Eisenberg has since died and his heir decided to sell.

Glenn Velger owns Harmony Records, a shop that's been in business here since 1956.

Farfan asked him if he'll try selling records online once his brick-and-mortar business is demolished. Velger responded that he prefers to work and interact with his customers directly.

Velger's shelves are jam packed with vinyl treasures. "It's all about the search," he said.

Here's Alonzo Monroy, who runs the Shoe Repair shop. (On the sign outside, the name PETE'S remains as a ghost, but Pete is long gone.) The eviction letter he got last month came as a complete surprise.

And there's Stephen Asare and Joseph Assimor, employees of the Lady Afrique International Market, specializing in African and Caribbean products. A number of the businesses here cater to the African and Caribbean communities.

There are many more small businesses in this block-sized cluster of low-rise buildings -- pizza places, 99-cent joints, hair salons, a thrift shop, a gas station. The buildings may not be pretty to look at, but they provide space for people to make a living and have a home in this city, offering necessary things for everyday New Yorkers.

News 12 in the Bronx reported on this story last week. ZP Realty, who took over in April according to News 12, handed letters to all the business people last month, giving them only 30 days to vacate. That means 38 mom and pops must get out by June 30. Watch the heartbreaking video here.

Join #SaveNYC and tell the city: Enough is enough.

(The addresses are 1609 and 1623 Unionport Road, 1897 Gerlain Street, 1578-1592 White Plains Road and 1880 East Tremont Avenue.)

Monday, June 15, 2015

Funeral for a Shoe Repair Shop

Earlier this month I shared the sad news that Louis Shoe Rebuilders, after 94 years in business, is getting the boot from the Empire State Building. (And it was there before the Empire State Building.)

This Thursday, June 18, starting at 12:00 noon, #SaveNYC is holding a funeral for the shop. Please take some time on your lunch break to show your support, not just of Louis, but of all small businesses in the city that have stood the test of time, continue to be good tenants and provide valuable services, but still have no power when the landlord hikes the rent and says it's over.

Enough is enough.

Meet at the shop, 25 W. 33rd Street, street side of the Empire State Building. Bring old shoes and flowers as an offering. Dress in funeral black. Eulogies welcome and encouraged. We expect the great Penny Arcade to deliver a fierce one.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Enormous Eye

Last week, author and journalist Amy Rose Spiegel asked me to make a diary of my Saturday for her site Enormous Eye, where writers record the details of their Saturdays, including people like Luc Sante and Tavi Gevinson, and a whole bunch more.

Here are a few photos to accompany my Saturday diary, which you can read here, should you so desire.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

University Place Deli

The deli/market on University Place and 13th Street is no more. On Twitter, Deb Schwartz posted a photo of the shuttered spot and noted that the place has been here for 47 years:

Chris Bandini sends in a shot of the market's heartfelt goodbye sign. Lee, its author, begins: "Thank you for letting us serve you for last 30 years," and remembers watching children grow into adults, get married, and pass on.

This is why we grieve the loss of mom and pops as they're evicted and replaced by national chains, luxury condos, and banks -- because they are family. They know us and we know them. This was a good market--an alternative (one of the last) to the glut of ever-spreading chains in the area.

I don't know why the University Place deli has closed, but this entire area is being wiped out. The deli's building is right next to what had been the Bowlmor Lanes building, gutted and soon demolished for luxury condos. What will be the fate of this little tenement?

University Diner was kicked out a couple years ago and it's been gangbusters since. Right around the corner, Bennie Louie Chinese Laundry is getting kicked out after two or three generations. A block away, Jack Bistro was kicked out to become a TD Bank. Realtors and developers are hyping the area around 12th and University as the new "Gold Coast."

And I have heard some unsettling chatter about the future of Cinema Village, which is right in the middle of this endangered zone.

Somebody, do something. #SaveNYC.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Palm


This past April, the nearly 90-year-old Palm Restaurant closed for renovations. Now we hear speculation that The Palm may never open again.

A tipster who wishes to remain anonymous shared the following in an email:

"There are very strong rumors that the original Palm Restaurant is not merely closed for renovations. I have heard from a very reliable source, who is in touch with people who work at other Palm restaurants in the city, that the building is not salvageable. What was supposed to be less than a one-year renovation may actually be a tear down. This would be another major loss for NYC."

I've shared rumors here before -- the takeover of El Quijote, the destruction of Caffe Dante, the murder of Manatus --  and I don't do it lightly. Unfortunately, while owners deny and neighbors say "no way," the rumors usually turn out to be true.

If this is the case for The Palm, it will be another tragedy on the scale of Chumley's collapse. Or worse--because the walls of The Palm are covered with original artworks, drawn and painted directly on the plaster, like precious frescoes.

As the Palm's website explains, "When Pio Bozzi and John Ganzi opened The Palm Restaurant in 1926, they had no money to decorate. Luckily, their location on Manhattan’s Second Avenue was in close proximity to the headquarters of King Features Syndicate and attracted a large clientele of cartoonists. In exchange for their meals, artists would often draw their own creations on the walls of The Palm."

Here, the cartoonists and their cartoons include Mort Walker with an original Beetle Bailey, C.D. Russell's Pete the Tramp muttering, "Let's get some wimmen," Bill Dwyer's Dumb Dora.

The cartoons' talk is from an earlier time. "This is a swell place," they say. "Doin' anything tonight, Toots?" And "Monkeys is th' kwaziest people!"

Most of the caricatures are not famous, but forgotten men once known for having "bedroom eyes" or loving the song "Autumn Leaves."

The cacophonous result is a sepia-washed portal into old New York. Men with big cigars and fedoras, Clark Gable-style mustaches and bowties joke around with naked ladies, superheroes, and John F. Kennedy. Through their skins you see the original yellowed walls, stained by tobacco smoke.

I regret that I only recently discovered The Palm. I went inside last year, in the no-service lull between lunch and dinner, and took in the dark-wood splendor of the place, vowing to go back for a meal. I never did. Now I worry that I never will.

Fingers crossed that the rumor isn't true. Still, our tipster provides a lot of details. They heard from sources that "restoration has not begun, and that other interested parties are looking at the property. The work was supposed to be finished by the end of this year."

In April, a "waiter said the plans were to move the coat check to the front on the north side, tear down a wall separating the two dining rooms, which would mean removing some of the oldest caricatures," and more. "Many employees were moved to other locations or were dismissed."

This sounds very different from "It won’t be a radical renovation," as the Palm Restaurant Group's chief operating officer told Crain's. Shouldn't this be an interior landmark?

Cartoonist Milton Caniff, whose work adorns the walls, once recalled to an interviewer: "After Prohibition, the owner threatened to redecorate the place, but such a hue and cry was set up that he didn't dare. And he hasn't dared since."

When the Palm in LA relocated, its caricatures (of a more recent vintage than New York's) did not follow. Many of them were cut out of the walls and given to their subjects.

After the April announcement of the New York Palm's face-lift, regulars like Alfred E. Nass worried about the fate of their caricatures. Nass told the Times, "The last thing I’d want is for this to be a Penn Station, where they come in with jackhammers."

Requests for a statement from the Palm Restaurant Group have not been returned.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Tribeca Cinemas


Reader Shade Rupe writes in with the news that Tribeca Cinemas will be closing: "just last week the landlord told them they have to move out by the end of the month. They’re razing the building and...you know the drill."

The drill, according to the New York Post, is that the building is on the market and "could be transformed into all residential or all office... 'We think it will trade for over $120 million,' the broker told the paper. 'It has high ceilings and is great loft space--it’s what Tribeca is all about.'" As the Real Deal reported last year when the building was first being shopped around, "The property also comes with unused air rights which could allow for the construction of more units."

While the Post does not specifically mention the cinema's closure, a source close to Shade spoke to some employees: "They told me they just found out last week. Everyone there is really shocked as this came out of nowhere... Apparently, the landlord wants to tear the building down."

I have not been able to confirm with anyone at the cinema.

The little independent movie house opened as The Screening Room in 1996, a combo restaurant and theater, the "dreamwork of two young corporate malcontents in love with the movies," according to Gael Greene in a 1996 New York magazine. Every Sunday, they showed "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

The Screening Room closed in 2003. "The venue had been struggling since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11," reported the Post at the time, "as well as suffering from competition from newer venues like the Sunshine Theater in the East Village." The theater was then purchased by Robert DeNiro and his Tribeca Film Festival partners.

Since then, the theater has not been a regular for showing films, but dedicated to festivals, special screenings, and private events. At the moment, they're still scheduled for June 11 to host a 30th anniversary screening of Berry Gordy's "The Last Dragon": "An urbanized flip on Bruce Lee movies and chop-suey cinema," says Tribeca Film. "The Last Dragon combined NYC’s mid-’80s hip-hop culture with vintage kung-fu storytelling into what’s become a beloved cinematic time capsule."

Monday, June 8, 2015

Alan's Alley


Last year, after more than 25 years in Chelsea, Alan's Alley video store, beloved by many, was forced to close. The rent was too damn high and, as Alan told me at the time, "the landlord's got plans. He's looking for a new tenant."

The shop relocated to West 25th, to a fifth-floor location far away from pedestrian street traffic. Now we hear that Alan is having to close again. The follow message appeared on his Facebook page last week:

Meanwhile, the store's old space on 9th Avenue remains empty, another example of "high-rent blight."

Friday, June 5, 2015

Super-8 Poetics of the Lost City

Filmmaker and poet Stephanie Gray has been filming the city since 1998. From June 12 - 14, she's having a three-day retrospective at Anthology Film Archives. On June 14, her experimental films of lost places, like Zito's Bakery and the Cheyenne Diner, will be the focus, accompanied by live musical performance and her own poetry.

I asked Steph to tell us about her work:

"I made the films to preserve what is fading from NYC authenticity and from our memory due to hyper-gentrification. I picked places that were closing soon or places that evoked a certain kind of NY character. Of course, not all places have I gotten to film. The music and poetry allows for viewers to move into their own reflection of these disappearances.

These authentic mom-and-pop places often disappear when we are not looking. Each and every one of these places holds a piece of a real and not hyper-manufactured NYC.

Gertel's and Five Roses Pizza got some attention but not as much as other places. These were special shops, sometimes unsung in the grand scheme of things. Stand outside one for a long period of time and see what happens when the regulars go in. It's a certain kind of neighborhood dance like what Jane Jacobs wrote--the 'neighborhood ballet' of the truly alive and authentic city streets.

Because we walk by the city so fast, or are on trains underground or buses or sometimes too busy to notice, I want to call attention to the inner-stories of these places, and make people think about what those inner-stories were, even if we don't know all the information. What about the shopkeeper who let you pay the next day or who shared cupcakes with you (both have happened to me), or holds your keys for when you get locked out? Zito's bakery had a small part of a wall filled with keys of neighbors. Some places I didn't film. Sometimes a place--it's hard to explain--feels too sacred to even film and I don't film it. I may take pictures or get its reflection in another film for another place. Sometimes it's best to just let people's memories be and not document everything.

The music and poetry go with the films as an opening, as an avenue (no pun intended) for the viewer to enter more fully these vanished places on their last days. Sometimes just a silent film might feel cold or wanting. By providing a meditation in music or film I hope it leads the viewer to thinking further on how unique these spaces are and what we gain by having them in our neighborhoods.

I'm always a little sad when some places just really disappear with hardly any commotion. That was the feeling I had when buying the last four bagels at Jon Vie pastries. There were people there, but not a lot or what I expected. It was New Year's Eve. It was obvious the shop meant something to many people and the owner was beloved in the neighborhood. But it was sad leaving the shop with the few that were there and peeking in backwards and seeing the routine of a shop closing up, like in slow motion.

I want people to think about those moments, after the doors close, the final movements in slow motion."

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