Thursday, June 1, 2017

Bleecker's Bust

For years, we've been watching the jet-fueled luxurification of western Bleecker Street, a blitz that started with the biting of a pink-frosted cupcake, pushed out dozens of small businesses--from Nusraty Afghan Imports to the great Manatus diner--and has now collapsed into high-rent blight.

Last week, State Senator Brad Hoylman published a report on Bleecker's blight and offered solutions, including getting rid of tax deductions for landlords who maintain persistent vacancies--often in the hopes of attracting a national or international chain.

Now, in today's Times, Steven Kurutz thoroughly tells the tale of "How Bleecker went from quintessential Greenwich Village street, with shops like Condomania and Rebel Rebel Records, to a destination for Black Card-wielding 1-percenters, to its current iteration as a luxury blightscape."

The story starts with that cupcake, spikes on Marc Jacobs, and descends into luxury waste. Kurutz notes: "While quirky independent stores couldn’t afford the new Bleecker, it became apparent over time that neither could the corporate brands that had remade the street. An open secret among retailers had it that Bleecker Street was a fancy Potemkin village, empty of customers."

Bleecker went from quaint to high-end suburban mall in just five years. It took another five to die. A similar process is happening in neighborhoods all over Manhattan--and has moved on to Brooklyn, where Smith Street has gone from authentic to trendy to empty. As I say in the Times article, this is an expected symptom of late-stage hyper-gentrification. Unless something is done by City Hall and Albany, it's not going to get any better. (Here are some ideas.)

For more on Bleecker's transformation, pre-order my book, Vanishing New York. There's a whole chapter on it.

Further reading:
Luxe Blitz
How the Cupcake Crumbled
Bleak City


Unknown said...

My friend David owned Rebel Rebel.
He was forced out by his landlord and the store next to him.
That is a damn shame.
If landlords weren't given tax breaks but in fact were penalized by the city state and federal governments because they are costing them millions in lost tax revenue, employee payroll tax and having people collecting unemployment when they could be working....
ALMOST EVERY store in NYC would have a tenant in them at a reasonable rent if that happened.
We had commercial rent control before, bring that back at least.

RMAN said...

Magnolia sucks, IMO.

But that was the definitely start of a major shift. When Magnolia opened I was dating a grad student destined to make $150K a year out of the gate, for some unholy reason. We didn't see eye to eye on the Magnolia thing, more importantly what it represented. So I dumped her.

I lived off of Bleecker from '73 until 2015, watched everything I loved get taken away starting sometime in the 90s, when Zito's closed (that was depressing). The Village was once a wonderful place to eat, drink, smoke, and meet people. It was a free place to be and an affordable place to live and stay. What a GD shame how things have changed.

I've since moved away (evicted, actually), screwed by the unique set of rules in place for Manhattan compared to the other boroughs.

I vowed to never go to the Village again, too sad for me.

But I wonder what will happen when the ceiling is reached - when no one can pay $60000 a month for a shoebox size store selling artisanal drinking stores. What then? Do we start from scratch or move to FLA?

I love your site, btw, though I find it depressing because I can relate to so much of it. Look forward to your book too!

rongee said...

Back in the early 80's, I was dating a girl who lived on Barrow St. just off 7th Ave. she eventually became my wife. She lived in a one bedroom, 5th floor walkup, rent stabilized at $250 a month. We loved to stroll Bleecker and the environs, stopping in at many of the small independent and unique shops. Over the years since, we've gone back to the neighborhood only to find the original character of the village replaced by the sterile and boring brands that are found at malls and online. NYC is losing its soul to corporate America and the lure of the almighty dollar. Just as today's NY Times article points out, as the retail glitz for such neighborhoods is not sustainable, I wonder how long, NYC housing will be able to sustain the ever increasing rents, especially when the tax abatements begin to disappear. By the way, the $250 a month rent stabilized apartment my wife had on Barrow, recently sold for $1.4 million! Enjoy walking up those 5 flights!

zuzuzpetals said...

The same arc of luxury blight is now happening slowly in SOHO too. Store front after store front---empty. There are still plenty of high end retailers but many are yawningly empty with a lonely bored cashier sitting in the back.

The places that team with people are the cheaper mall stores--like H&M--but these are full of day trippers who come from NJ or Europe. Nothing against NJ, but tourists do not a neighborhood make.

There's still a surprising number of small bodega-like delis. Everyone should shop at these!

Love your tragic blog.

zuzuzpetals said...

Forgot to add---the tax write off that Landlord's can get from not renting is worse than it seems on the surface. The landlord him/herself can "estimate" what the rent would be and take that as the write-off.

So they can write off almost any amount they want.

They can "estimate" that a place that might actually cost 10K/month at market rates, can be written off as 50k/month.

That's how I understand it.

John K said...

Jeremiah, I'm not sure if you and your readers have seen this call, but the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation is urging people to attend a public forum for Community Board #3's Economic Development Committee next Wednesday, June 7, 2017, at 331 East 12th Street. I know you and others attend these meetings, but for those who are able to but haven't, please consider doing so. The linked page even offers tips on what to say at the meeting. This is to help sustain small businesses in the East Village, but similar meetings are held throughout the year, and people speaking up publicly does make a difference.

Scout said...

As RMAN points out above, the Village has been dead since at least 1990, and perhaps earlier. Those of you who came to NYC after 1990 really have never seen the real Village.

That said, when I came here in the late 70s, I met some older bohemians who told me the same thing, but for them, the Village began dying in the late 60s, but was at it's best around 1950. I imagine someone told them back in the day that the Village was at its best in the 20s. So what's the real story?

Anyway, it's dead, there's no chance of saving it, because there's nothing left to save. And there's certainly no bringing it back. Perhaps if we suffer a financial or military Armageddon, a semblance of reality will eventually return.