Monday, April 10, 2017

Dressing Up High-Rent Blight

Two years ago, Icon Realty purchased 57 Second Avenue for $30 million.

The two retail tenants, Alex Shoe Repair and Allied Hardware, were on month-to-month leases and soon removed via steep rent hikes -- $26,000 per month for the hardware shop and $14,000 for the cobbler.

Both businesses were mom-and-pop run for decades. They provided necessary services to local residents, and their storefronts provided visual interest to the avenue.

I liked walking past to see the giant hammer in Allied's window under their colorful sign. I especially liked the odd paintings that framed Alex Shoe Repair, and the typed poem in the window that Hettie Jones wrote for the cobbler.

These places were useful, local, and idiosyncratic.

Then they were gone.

The signs came down. The funny little paintings were painted over. And Icon's advertisements went up. The two storefronts sat that way for awhile, the picture of high-rent blight.

Now, Icon is dressing them up--and they're getting that look. You know the look. The "nice" look.

It's the look of sameness. The look of nothing. The look of the zombie city.

We see these same facades everywhere. Soon will come little chains--little taco chains or "juicery" chains--decked out in Edison bulbs and subway tiles. Or maybe a Starbucks. Maybe a place that feeds you charcoal shots so you shit black, because shitting black is now good for you. Or maybe an Aesop with their "fragrant botanicals and skin-softening emollients," or else that other place, the one that looks like Aesop and sells candles for $450.

Better yet, how about a bone brotherie? How about some more macarons?

Whatever comes, it won't last long. It won't last decades. It will come and it will go, and the neighborhood will feel that much less like a neighborhood. Again.


Brian said...

About 20 years ago, lower 2nd Ave below 14th Street was visually very much a land lost in time. It was hard to tell if it was 1997 or 1947 or 1917 depending what block you were on. And there were many what I would call ethnic neighborhoods on various blocks. Puerto Rican, Indian, Ukrainian, polish, jewish, etc. And many storefronts were decades old like this hardware store. 2nd Avenue Deli was my favorite, but there were dozens of places to choose from.

The Other Gail said...

Hahaha! 'a both brotherie' -- it'll be a gold mine!

Ilyse Kazar said...

For those with an interest in knowing more about Alex of Alex Shoe Repair, I interviewed him on the eve of his departure from 57 Second Ave:

I have lived right across the street from these stores for 40 years ... and now I look out my window at what, to my sensibilities, is utter desolation. I hate living on lower 2nd Avenue now. It's a wasteland! I preferred seeing the men from the 3rd Street shelter, back in the day, over the facelessness of now.

JB said...

I don't understand why the IRS or the AG isn't putting busloads of landlords in jail for tax fraud. These landlords are content to leave the spaces vacant because they simply fabricate a "fair market rent" that is 10x the existing lease, and then deduct it as a loss. Eventually, they have a year where they don't need the loss or are over their carryover limit, and they rent the space for 1/4 of what they were asking. It's really simple to execute, and requires only the creation of a single shell company that magically converts non-deductible loss of income into a bad debt. There is no muster to high rent blight; it is the byproduct of fraud.

Unknown said...

Jeremiah said it best, but I too am sick of this look, It's the look that says whatever will be here will have nothing to do with day to day living needs and essentially will be a novelty shop. It's that New England Summer getaway village look, the kind of village that has tourists from June to September and then the town waits through winter for summer again to sell to visitors. The new storefronts, with their classy trimmings to look timeless are made with cheap materials that anyone can see that after 10 years will have pealing paint and rot. This is also by design because developers know the businesses they are trying to attract wont be here long anyway. Perhaps a boutique Spa, or Ice cream/yogurt shop, or an olive oil on tap shop and soap boutique? because olive oil isn't just for the cook anymore, but for the connoisseur! Maybe a cargo pants and Flip Flop shop? So the uber wealthy can dress down and pretend they are bohemians with regular people problems! Blah Blah Blah! As per JB's point, this is not business as usual, it's government funded speculation for development firms.

JQ LLC said...

Charcoal shots to shit black because shitting black is now good for you

Can't think of a more apt analogy and metaphor for the presence of luxury tower pestilence and abandoned storefronts in the city and even in the other boroughs (yes high rent blight is happening in areas in Queens and Brooklyn too)

Moshe Benyamini said...

The loss of Allied Hardware and Alex Shoe Repair was especially hard. Allied was run by Jovita and Alex, a married couple. (Different Alex from Alex Shoe Repair.) The shoe repair store next door was run by Alex. These people were a fabric of the neighborhood. People like them helped make the East Village safer. And all three were super nice. There for so long that you took them for granted. Until they disappeared. Support local stores! We need them.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this piece. Is Alex the owner of the other location?

starzstylista said...

When will the transformation be complete? It seems to be nearing its end.

Unknown said...

You said I best... a shonda! Just more evidence that consumerism will finally eat us alive.
I haven't lived in NYC since 1998, but having found your blog, my love has been rekindled, along with my unmitigated horror at the hyper-gentrified-wasteland it has become. There is no reason for NYC to exist if it looks no different than suburban Atlanta; what's the point? The joy of the place was to be found in the grotty bookstores, the undulations of the sidewalk facades, and the questionable, yet cheap, gastronomic options. And, I am happy to say I just recently, (as in last week), learned the difference between a macaroon and a macaron.