Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Appropriating the Neighborhood

Today I published over at the Village Voice, writing about Target, neighborhood appropriation, and hyper-gentrification.



Excerpt:

What the colonizers desire and replicate is gritty New York without the grit. Punk and jazz and poetry without the enlivening shock of unpredictability. It’s a neat trick that works in part because we are starving for reality and a connection to history. Homesick for our lost city, we can be easily seduced by imitations of life.

At Target’s grand-opening event, it wasn’t the pseudo-CBGB that really got to me. I keep thinking about that fake stoop. The stoop, so utterly urban, normally brings the inside out; facing the street, it engages residents with the sidewalk ballet. But in today’s homogenized city, the new developments turn away from the street, like suburban developments often do, shielding their residents inside controlled private spaces that reject the communality and chaos of city life. Target’s fake stoop haunts me as a ghost of the unreal, an empty representation recalling a reality that is slipping away. As urbanist M. Christine Boyer has written, in her essay “Cities for Sale,” “these tableaux are the true nonplaces, hollowed out urban remnants, without connection to the rest of the city or the past, waiting to be filled with contemporary fantasies, colonized by wishful projections, and turned into spectacles of consumption.”

A haunted feeling is part of the package in today’s commodified cities. Hyper-gentrification is a horror movie mash-up. An invasion of the body snatchers, it zombifies what went before. It kills and then reanimates its victims, sanitized and tamed, to sell itself and expand into further territory, all while working to convince us that it has the best intentions and means no harm. It just wants to be part of the community. Part of the family. One of us, one of us. Like a vampire at the door it asks, with a seductive smile: Won’t we please let it in?

Read the whole article at the Voice

Monday, July 23, 2018

Paperbacks

The paperback edition of Vanishing New York is in bookshops this week--starting tomorrow. Get 'em while they're hot!



There will be plenty on hand at the paperback launch event this Friday night, July 27 at 7:30 p.m., at Books Are Magic. That's at 225 Smith Street in Brooklyn. I'll be signing books and talking about Vanishing New York with Jason Diamond, author, journalist, and founder of Vol. 1 Brooklyn.

You can read more about it at the Facebook invite and the bookstore's Events page.



Here's what people have to say about the book:

“Essential reading for fans of Jane Jacobs, Joseph Mitchell, Patti Smith, Luc Sante, and cheap pierogi.”
--Vanity Fair

“A full-throated lament for the city’s bygone charms.”
--Wall Street Journal

“A wrenching, exhaustive chronicle of the ‘hypergentrification of New York’ [. . .] Every page is charged with Moss’s deep love of New York. It is both a vital and unequivocally depressing read.”
--Molly Fitzpatrick, The Village Voice

“Moss won me over almost immediately and has written a cri de cœur that is essential reading for anyone who loves this city.”
--Michael J. Agovino, The Village Voice

“The pleasure […] of reading Moss is his purity.”
–The New York Times Book Review

"Moss, a cantankerous defender of the city he loves, chronicles its disconcerting metamorphosis from cosmopolitan melting pot to bland corporate lounge with passion and vigor; New York is lucky to have him on its side." --NewYorker.com

“a remarkable atlas charting where New York has gone, and why.”
--The New Republic

“a compelling and often necessary read.”
--The Daily Beast

“An impassioned work of advocacy on behalf of a city that’s slipping away.”
--Guernica

“There is much embitterment, snark, and rhapsodizing about egg creams to satisfy the downright romantic here […] his humanist odes to bygone businesses can move a reader to tears […] But the book is much more than a nostalgia trip.”
--Citylab

“Moss’ book is very much in the tradition of Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities, with a more acerbic outrage suited to our nasty, barbaric times. […] His glimpses of New York can be engagingly personal and eloquent.”
--Los Angeles Review of Books

“Passionate, sprawling.”
--Slate

“A vigorous, righteously indignant book that would do Jane Jacobs proud.”
--Kirkus

“A very good, angrily passionate, and ultimately saddening book [. . . ] brilliantly written and well-informed.”
--Booklist

“A passionate case against the luxury vision of New York that characterized the Bloomberg years […] likely to stir a lot of emotions.”
--Publishers Weekly

“I haven’t read a more impassioned book in over a decade. Jeremiah Moss writes like a man who has lost the love of his life to a junk bond trader. Vanishing New York is angry, incredulous, but also full of insight into a city of legend, where every legend happened to be true.”
--Gary Shteyngart

“Jeremiah Moss came to the party that is New York City just in time to see it turn into a wake. The New York of poets and weirdos and cranks and outsiders and keepers of various flames--and of ordinary hard-working sorts with no aspirations to stardom or wealth--has pretty much receded into memory now, and Jeremiah has become that memory. His book is lucid, eloquent, phenomenally detailed, and terribly sad. Future generations, assuming there are any, will read it in wonder and disbelief.”
--Luc Sante

“Meticulously researched, thoroughly reported, at once a call to arms and a soul cry, Vanishing New York is a love letter to originality and the human spirit. Grab a knish and settle in.”
--Charles Bock, New York Times bestselling author of Alice and Oliver

“I can’t stand going on vanishingnewyork.com and seeing what’s next to go.”
--Andy Cohen, TV personality/ Executive VP at Bravo

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Targeting the East Village

Jane Jacobs is rolling in her grave today. The Target chain has opened a store on 14th Street and Avenue A, and for their grand celebration they have committed what might be the most deplorable commodification of local neighborhood culture I’ve ever witnessed.



Along the first floor of Extell’s luxury monster, known as EVGB for the Trumpian claim of “East Village’s Greatest Building,” Target has constructed a simulacrum of the hyper-local New York street--the sort of street that is being wiped out by corporations and developers--and it comes complete with all the signifiers.

The façade is draped in vinyl sheets printed with images of tenements, the same sort of buildings that get demolished to make room for such developments. Here they sit, hollow movie-set shells, below the shiny windows of the high-end rentals. They are the dead risen from the grave, zombies enlisted to work for the corporation.



A red newspaper kiosk announces the opening of the store with a fake newspaper (decorated with a bull’s-eyed water tower, as if hunters have it in their sights), and it brings to mind the lost kiosks of the vanished Village Voice.

There’s even a fake fire hydrant and red-painted park benches.

In front of an Alphabet City bull’s-eye mural, you can pose for pictures with props—a guitar, a record album, a slice of pizza printed on foamcore--the stuff of the once iconoclastic East Village.



Who are the people in your neighborhood?

There’s a storefront gypsy telling fortunes with Target-branded Tarot cards.

And on a pseudo stoop is a hip-hop dancer, his leg encircled with a Target-branded bandanna. At his feet are red buckets, marked with the Target logo, maybe for someone to later play with drumsticks in the style popularized by bucket drummer Larry Wright.



But worst of all, there’s a simulated CBGB, the celebrated punk club shuttered by a rent hike in 2006, replaced by the luxury John Varvatos store, and replicated in the Newark Airport as a theme restaurant for tourists.

This one boasts the famous awning, but it's printed with TRGT -- in the club’s iconic typeface, the western-style lettering created by owner Hilly Kristal’s ex-wife. (Restaurateur Daniel Boulud tried this in 2007 with DBGB on the Bowery, and the CBGB estate’s lawyer sent a cease-and-desist letter.)

Inside, TRGT is printed on t-shirts, but you can't buy those. You can only get free "bands."



However, it's not rock music bands they’re giving out, it’s hair bands, Band-Aids, and resistance bands.

I asked, “What kind of resistance?” thinking of the political climate at the moment, and the woman answered, “They’re resistance bands for doing exercise.”



This Potemkin Village from Hell is guarded by three private security guards, all dressed in black suits with Secret Service-style earpieces, and one officer from the NYPD. All the workers are relentlessly sunny, like actors at Disneyland.

And people are streaming in for the free stuff—who doesn’t want free stuff?—happy to adorn themselves with the red sunglasses and branded bandannas as they rush into the store, where the commodification continues.

An East Village-themed mural provides a backdrop for the cash registers, decorated with street signs and hot dogs, more tenements, "NYC Nuyoricans," Theatre 80 St. Marks, and a book with the words “Poets Café.”

To see the artifacts of my own life, my cultural and spiritual awakening, my home, displayed above the cash registers in a Target store is to be cast into a state of confusion and dystopic dysphoria. What am I seeing? Who are these people? What happened to the world?





Meanwhile, down the block, EVGB has spray-painted the sidewalk with ads promoting their amenities and their worldview with the slogans:

GREATEST BUILDING
GROUP BONDING
GORGEOUS BATHROOMS

GET BUFF
GET BUSY
GO BIG



They’ve constructed a bright arc of balloons and they're giving out free cotton candy with "snappy toppings" like Pop Rocks, Sparkle, and Mango Pixie Dust.

Many of the people in line can't afford the apartments here, which start at $3,695 per month for a studio. They are neighborhood residents who've lost a number of affordable local businesses to this development, places like the Stuyvesant Grocery, a laundromat, a hair salon, the Rainbow discount store, Bargain Express, and the Blarney Cove.

But today there is a bright and shiny simulation of the real and the local. There is cotton candy and free trinkets. Bread and circuses that appease--and even win over. And everyone is having a terrific time.

As Margaret Thatcher said, "Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul."




Thursday, July 12, 2018

Coffee Shop

VANISHING

After 28 years on Union Square, Coffee Shop is closing.



From The Post:

Co-owner and President Charles Milite says:

"The times have changed in our industry. The rents are very high and now the minimum wage is going up and we have a huge number of employees.”

Personally, I never went there except once or twice. It was too expensive and full of models. But, you know, the rent. And God save that neon sign.


Monday, July 9, 2018

One Manhattan Expands

Your own private driveway. Your own private bowling alley. Your own private movie theater. Your own private spa. Your own private lookout.

These promises of privacy are repeated on banners that circle Extell's One Manhattan Square on the Lower East Side, the latest luxury monstrosity to vandalize our skyline and bully its way into our low-rise neighborhoods. (There will also be a private golf simulator, a private pet spa, a private fitness complex, a private squash and basketball court, and an entire acre of private gardens.)



With so much private space, why venture out of the complex at all? Why engage with city life? The insistence on privacy and the turning away from the street exemplify the suburban mentality come to the city in the 2000s.

One resident of a luxury building loaded with suburban amenities told The Observer in 2008, “Everything's always convenient, always safe, always clean. You don't have to worry about gross things. Like mice! And creepy things like that." Said another, "It sometimes feels like I'm not in New York when I'm in the building... It's trying to have things that a suburban housing complex would--everything at your fingertips, where you don't have to leave [the building] much if you don't want.”

As Sarah Schulman has noted, “They came not to be citified, but rather to change cities into places they could recognize and dominate.”



This process of domination has just begun.

Under the FDR, along the East River Esplanade, someone has taped several flyers from One Manhattan Square, saying: "Join us for weekly complimentary cross fit classes." They are posted all over the spot used by local Chinese people for Tai Chi and other exercise.

It's clearly some kind of tool for selling more condos, but we have to ask: Why, when the people of One Manhattan have so much private space, do they also need to expand into the public space?



I was recently watching the 1979 movie "Breaking Away." It's about conflict between working class townie kids and upper class college kids. On hot days, the townies swim in the quarries where their fathers once cut stone. When the college kids go to swim at the quarry, one of the townies gets angry and says, "They've got indoor pools and outdoor pools on the campus, but they still got to come here!"

One Manhattan has a private spa, a private fitness complex, and an acre of private gardens, but they still have to use the space long enjoyed by the lower income local people.

It doesn't matter if the cross fit class doesn't happen at the same time as the Tai Chi sessions. It doesn't matter that it's free for anyone to join. It is quite clear who the cross fit classes are for. Just look at the people on the flyer.



Recently I was introduced to the concept of "ontological white expansiveness." Shannon Sullivan writes, "As ontologically expansive, white people tend to act and think as if all spaces—whether geographical, psychical, linguistic, economic, spiritual, bodily, or otherwise—are or should be available for them to move in and out of as they wish. Ontological expansiveness is a particular co-constitutive relationship between self and environment in which the self assumes that it can and should have totally mastery over its environment."

I would add that it's not only whiteness, but also the power of class that convinces people that the whole world is for them. Try making this argument to the people who benefit from that expansiveness. They will often tell you that this is public space and "We have a right to be there." They might even say, "We're integrating this neighborhood." And they'll use language like, "Everyone is welcome here."

But all of that covers up what's really going on--the semi-privatization of our public space, and the turning of public spaces into amenities for luxury developments (like we've seen at Astor Place).



The thousands of new people who will flood in to this neighborhood are already changing the East River Esplanade.

More upscaling is coming.



The city just installed a ferry landing nearby. It is an absolute eyesore, blocking formerly uplifting views of the harbor as you walk or bike downtown. But as City Realty pointed out, "Residents of the Lower East Side apartments for sale at One Manhattan Square will have access to a brand-new stop on the NYC Ferry at Corlears Hook."

Who is the ferry meant for?



And, of course, the whole gritty, open esplanade is being renovated -- better to fit the needs and aesthetics of the condo developers and their clients.

More mega-towers are coming. Activists are fighting them.

When the towers come, they will bring more people who don't want to engage with the city as it is. They will emerge from their private pleasure gardens and they will expand into the public space, only to alter it to their taste. And it will be too late to fight it.






Monday, June 25, 2018

Bring Back Mom and Pop

In my latest op-ed for the Daily News, I debate the myths that the real estate industry is putting forth about the Small Business Jobs Survival Act and the demise of brick and mortar retail:

More and more, in rapid succession, our streets are dulled by corporate chains, big banks, systematized “concept” shops and too many vacant storefronts. This is not New York.



If you want to stop massive commercial rent hikes that put small businesses out of business, take action:

- Write to the mayor and ask him to support the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA). Here's a quick form you can fill out in just a few easy steps.

- Write to Council Speaker Corey Johnson and ask him to support a strong SBJSA and bring it to a vote. Here's a quick and easy form for that, too.

- Here's more you can do.

- And talk about it. Talk to your friends, family, and co-workers. Tell them that mom and pops aren't vanishing "because of the market" or "all because of the Internet," they're vanishing because the city and state support landlord greed -- but this can change. There are solutions. The first step is raising consciousness. We have to imagine a different city.

Friday, June 22, 2018

High-Rent Blight Monopoly

You may have seen them popping up on high-rent blight around town. Monopoly cards pasted to the windows and walls of shuttered shops. They list outrageous rents and come with a Jane Jacobs quote.



They're the creation of an artist called Symbol. I asked Symbol to explain the project and what inspired him to do it. He told me:

"Everywhere I walked in Manhattan there were empty storefronts, and it seemed like one big game between landlords and tenants. All these landlords waiting for a pharmacy or bank to sign a 10-year lease. Is there a better analogy for that then the game of Monopoly?

Seems like no one really wins at Monopoly but everyone just tires out. All the little stores just seemed to disappear. There were no replacements and Manhattan lost its juice. Bleecker went from high rent/Sex and the City famous to an empty side street.

The signs on Lexington are Amazon-colored orange. The online shopping has only added to the problem and added to my tipping point. Yeah, I can buy cufflinks on Amazon but where's the fun of wandering into some old lady store and finding a cool pair? Same thing with flea markets. Sure, it was mostly crap, but it was fun crap.

I'm not sure what the answer is and I doubt the politicians can deal with what is essentially a free market issue. Hence the Jane Jacobs quote. I'm an artist in a different medium and I wanted to make a statement instead of crying about what was happening. (And buying a box of Kleenex on Amazon Prime.)

I grew up idolizing the city from nearby and have lived here for some time. Every kid growing up just outside of Manhattan has that same feeling. Let's go to the city are the words that are electrifying. I mean anything could happen on a Friday or Saturday night and usually did. Fell in love, danced, drank, got lost, ate at a now closed diner, ended up at home as the sun came up and before my parents woke up.

I hope kids still feel that way. I don't. You want fun? Move to the boroughs."

You can find more Monopoly cards on Symbol's Instagram page



This is actually not a free market issue, although the politicians and real-estate industry want us to believe that. As I explain in detail in my book, Vanishing New York, the market isn't free. It's rigged heavily in favor of big developers and landlords, giving them tax breaks and other incentives, and it works against small business people. There are many things that can be done to remedy this. One is the Small Business Jobs Survival Act.

If you want to stop massive commercial rent hikes that put small businesses out of business, take action:

- Write to the mayor and ask him to support the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA). Here's a quick form you can fill out in just a few easy steps.

- Write to Council Speaker Corey Johnson and ask him to support a strong SBJSA and bring it to a vote. Here's a quick and easy form for that, too.

- Here's more you can do.

- And talk about it. Talk to your friends, family, and co-workers. Tell them that mom and pops aren't vanishing "because of the market" or "all because of the Internet," they're vanishing because the city and state support landlord greed -- but this can change. There are solutions. The first step is raising consciousness. We have to imagine a different city.


Thursday, June 21, 2018

Legacy Records and Black Branding

In his Times review of a new Hudson Yards restaurant, Pete Wells writes that Legacy Records has "ginned up a history for itself that brings together sloppy research with a superficial tribute to black culture."

I haven't been inside the place, so I'll leave it to Wells, who describes images of black musicians on the walls, stars like Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye, who supposedly recorded in a studio on the site. Except they didn't. There was a studio there for a few years in the 2000s, he says, "mostly used by orchestras, Broadway cast recordings and commercials."

There's also a photo by Mickalene Thomas of a black woman with an Afro in a sexy pose.


photo by Gary He

Wells concludes:

"Legacy Records has taken this shred of history and turned it into a fantasy of black American music.

Exhibited in a museum or gallery, Ms. Thomas’s photo might be taken as a comment on the different postures and personas available to black women. Hanging it next to the counter where pastries and coffee are sold by day strips out some of its meaning; it looks like an attempt to buy a personality for a restaurant that doesn’t have one of its own.

If anyone gets to decide who can use black culture for what purposes, it surely isn’t me. But Legacy Records uses it in a gratuitous and offhanded way that made me uncomfortable. Stevie Wonder will always be cool, but a restaurant dreamed up by real estate developers doesn’t automatically become cool by putting him on the wall."


photo: Mo Gelber

What Wells describes is not just cultural appropriation, it is "black branding" for the purposes of commodifying an urban space for the wealthy and mostly white. It is a trend that comes with hyper-gentrifying cities across America.

In his book "Race, Class, and Politics in the Cappuccino City,” Derek S. Hyra writes: “Not long ago, an urban community’s association with blackness was mostly perceived as detrimental. But nowadays...neighborhood-based organizations, real estate developers, restaurant owners and urban planners commodify and appropriate aspects of blackness to promote tourism, homeownership, and community redevelopment.”

We saw it most famously at the Summerhill restaurant in Crown Heights, where locals protested the use of supposed bullet holes and Forty Ounce Rosé.

Black branding is happening in hyper-gentrified cities where actual black people are being removed. With hyper-gentrification, New York City is getting whiter. And, as we've seen in many recent news reports, as middle and upper-class whites move into black and brown neighborhoods, they call the police on black people--for barbecuing, playing music, and just hanging out. These attacks happen simultaneously with the commodification of blackness.

Lower-income black people are pushed out. Their images and symbols are kept by the race/class victors as trophies and marketing opportunities. It can be seen as a form of revenge.


Barbecue Becky, Oakland, CA

“The rallying cry of the revanchist city,” wrote urbanist and gentrification expert Neil Smith, “might well be: ‘Who lost the city? And on whom is revenge to be exacted?’”

The notion of the lost city, the stolen city, goes back to white flight, a phenomenon engineered by the federal government beginning in the 1930s. Without Jim Crow in the northern United States, the government had to use stealthier methods of segregation. They developed the racist housing practice of redlining to confine black and brown people in disinvested cities, while luring whites away with good deals on houses in whites-only suburbs. This drain of the city’s tax base played a major role in the fiscal crisis of the 1970s, which provided the economic excuse for New York’s reorientation away from social democracy and towards neoliberalism, the radical free market, aka "trickle-down economics." And it is from there that hyper-gentrification, as a top-down tactic of state and city government, began.

We cannot talk about hyper-gentrification without also talking about racism. The story of American capital cannot be disentangled from the story of slavery in America. Neoliberalism, while it is an economic approach, was a white supremacist solution. It was, and continues to be, a powerful method to “take back” the city -- and, ultimately, the country—from black and brown people and to re-establish the power of the wealthy white elite. 


Inside Legacy Records, photo: Gary He, via Eater

So it seems appropriate that this restaurant is part of Hudson Yards, the fake city within a city, a curated space for the ultra-elite, and the perfect product of neoliberalized New York -- with all its corporate welfare, Hudson Yards has cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars.

As I noted in my book Vanishing New York, Hudson Yards is a "dreamworld of exclusion," one of those places Mike Davis describes in Evil Paradises: “where the rich can walk like gods in the nightmare gardens of their deepest and most secret desires.”






Monday, June 18, 2018

Cafe Espanol

VANISHED

On Bleecker Street since 1976, Cafe Español has shuttered.



There's no note to say why the sudden closing, only a sign that reads: "This restaurant is closed. Trespassers will be prosecuted."

On their website, they write, "Thank you for all of these years by our side, the Cafe Español family."



This is the latest in a string of closures for Manhattan's old-school Spanish restaurants, including El Quijote, El Faro, Francisco's Centro Vasco, and El Paso.

What remains? There is Spain on 13th St., an absolute treasure, and Sevilla on Charles.

Go while you still can.



Sylvia Pines Uniquities

VANISHING

Since 1981 there’s been a little vintage jewelry shop on the corner of 77th and Lexington called Sylvia Pines Uniquities. By the end of June, it will be gone. It won’t be vanishing because the Internet killed it. It won’t be vanishing because no one buys Victorian handbags or Art Deco necklaces anymore. It will vanish for just one reason: The rent has more than tripled.



On a warm evening, Sylvia Pines’ daughter, Judy Freedman, is behind the counter, taking care of a customer who has been shopping for three hours straight. The customer, a local doctor with a passion for antique beads and opera glasses, points to rings, necklaces, and handbags, wanting to see it all.

“Is that real coral?” she asks.
“No,” Judy replies. “That’s fake.”
“Good,” says the customer. “I don’t want it. How about that handbag?”
Judy gets on a step-stool and pulls down a pink and white beaded bag. The customer runs her fingers over the beads and the two women talk bags.

“Judith Lieber,” Judy says, “was one of the most famous pocketbook makers in the city. She’d come in to this shop to buy vintage bags and then reproduce them.”
“She did,” says the customer. “And now her bags sell at Sotheby’s. On the Upper East Side, when all the old broads die, their Judith Liebers go to Sotheby’s. I want to see one more thing. Are those glass beads Murano? As opposed to moronic.”

Judy reaches into the window, pulls out a string of beads, and hands it to the customer, who holds it up to her throat, letting it dangle down the front of her t-shirt.

“Those are not for you,” Judy says confidently. “They’re gorgeous, but they’re not your colors.”



After the customer completes her purchases and leaves, Judy tells me that a new owner bought the building a couple of years ago and renovated the apartments, turning one-bedrooms into two and hiking the rents.

“I’ve been paying $6,200 a month,” Judy says, “and it’s going to $20,000. What can you sell in a store this size? Drugs. Or Cartier. You can’t sell enough to make that rent. I’d have to sell three $3,000 bags a day. You can’t do it.”

The building, 1104 Lexington, was purchased in 2016 by Friedland Properties. According to The Real Deal, "Friedland acquired the properties from the estate of Marie Cowing, with property records indicating the buildings last changed hands in 1971."

Judy figures the place will sit empty, like other shops on the street, blighted by high rent. This emptying out troubles her, along with the homogenization from chains. “Part of the beauty of New York is the nitty gritty,” she says. “This is a damn great city.” But it’s just not the same. “We’re all feeling it,” she says. “We’re losing the character.”



Sylvia Pines, who started the family business 38 years ago, still works the shop, providing a good portion of its character.

“My mother is 97 years old,” Judy says. “She smokes cigarettes and drinks vodka. She comes in every day from the Bronx. She sits on that fire hydrant out there and smokes. And she’s tough. When she saw a guy sitting on her fire hydrant, she kicked him off. She told him, ‘That’s my fire hydrant.’ You don't mess with her.”

And Sylvia is not a patient shopkeeper either. If a customer takes too long to make a decision, Sylvia will say, “I helped you enough. I’m not spending anymore time with you,” and that’s that. Judy is much more patient, a fact that sometimes irritates Sylvia, who says, “That’s aroisgevorfene gelt,” Yiddish for a waste of money.

Still, for all her toughness, Sylvia takes care of people. One morning, she watched a woman park her car in front of the shop and run with her young son to Lenox Hill Hospital around the corner. All day, Sylvia fed coins into the parking meter so the woman wouldn't get a ticket. Later, the woman sent flowers to the shop with a thank-you note explaining that her son, with a burst appendix, had made it out okay.



Like her mother, Judy takes care of people, too, embodying the ways small shopkeepers contribute to the emotional health of the city.

She gives food and clothing to Carlos, the homeless man who sits on a stool by the shop. She sometimes gives away inexpensive pieces, just to make people happy. Recently she gave away a trio of “Speak No Evil” monkeys to three young men who’d come in covered in tattoos. They looked intimidating, but they appreciated the jewelry and other antiques, and Judy could see they were “old souls,” so they deserved a gift, because “everyone needs a little gift sometimes.”

As we talk, an elderly woman walks in, dressed in linen and a broad-brimmed straw hat. She opens a box and tells Judy, “I want to show you something.” From the box she takes out a pair of large pearl earrings. Judy tells her, “These are stunning. Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. And you can wear them with anything.” The woman is having trouble securing the earrings in her ears, so Judy tells her what to do, explaining that the backs are tight, but they’ll loosen up. “It’ll get easier,” Judy says.

Slowly, the woman goes on pulling items from her box. A bracelet that belonged to her grandmother. A gold necklace from an aunt. A watch chain from her father. She holds it up for Judy to see.

“Don’t sell these,” Judy says. “Give them to someone who’s special to you.” The woman explains that she’d like to make a bracelet from her father’s chain, but the clasp is broken. “Come back tomorrow,” Judy says, “and I’ll take care of it.” She refuses to charge any money for the repair. The woman, who doesn't like taking things for free, leans over the counter and whispers, “I'm a therapist. I’ll give you therapy in exchange.”



When the woman leaves, Judy and I talk about the shop’s customers, how they come looking for connection and conversation, along with the wares. What will they do when Judy and Sylvia are gone?

She tells me about the goodbyes, the customers who lean over the counter to kiss her cheek, who promise to have her over for dinner, and who bring gifts, like the woman who made a memory box for Judy and told her, “Put your memories in here.”

By now, we’re both fighting back tears.

“In order to pacify my sadness,” Judy says, “I’m going to cultivate the other part of me.” She plans to spend more time painting and playing classical piano. She wants to learn Spanish. The shop will be gone in another week and Judy needs to fill the days. A part of her is looking forward to the time. It's been many years behind that counter.

“I’m gonna miss the clowns,” she says, “but not the circus. I’ll miss my people. What is beautiful about this place is that I have relationships here.”

She wonders if, in another life, she would have been a therapist. I tell her, “You are one,” and then we’re fighting tears again.

Judy says, “The city used to be full of little stores like this, where you could go in and talk, and people cared. It was like talking to your local bartender. In this shop, I was like a bartender of jewelry.”



If you want to stop massive commercial rent hikes that put small businesses out of business, take action:

- Write to the mayor and ask him to support the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA). Here's a quick form you can fill out in just a few easy steps.

- Write to Council Speaker Corey Johnson and ask him to support a strong SBJSA and bring it to a vote. Here's a quick and easy form for that, too.

- Here's more you can do.

- And talk about it. Talk to your friends, family, and co-workers. Tell them that mom and pops aren't vanishing "because of the market" or "all because of the Internet," they're vanishing because the city and state support landlord greed -- but this can change. There are solutions. The first step is raising consciousness. We have to imagine a different city.

Friday, June 15, 2018

St. Denis' Last Days

Earlier this year I wrote about the death of the great St. Denis building on 11th and Broadway, a building that should be landmarked but isn't, a building full of vital history.

The building was bought by Normandy Partners in 2016 and all of the tenants were removed--hundreds of small businesspeople, myself included, put out. Today, a few remain, but they will soon be gone.


photo: Phil Penman

Now we hear that Normandy is "hungry for a refinancing," as The Real Deal reports. They want $187 million for the St. Denis.

Writes TRD:

"At 799 Broadway, the funding would in part go toward the construction of a new, nearly 190,000-square-foot office building replacing the existing office property... The existing building, formerly known as the St. Denis Hotel, will be completely vacated this month and readied for demolition this fall."

And there's a new rendering of the soulless, dead-eyed nothing pile of glass to come:



What was here before? What will they be murdering? Something more alive, more haunted, more storied than most buildings -- and certainly more than this zombie stack of hollow boxes.

Beyond the St. Denis, the entire neighborhood is under threat. Send these quick and easy pre-written letters to the Mayor, the Borough President, and Councilmember Carlina Rivera. Add a note to say that the St. Denis should be protected from total demolition. You can include this history to argue for protection.






Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Lincoln Plaza Cinema Reboot

As I first reported in April, the shuttered Lincoln Plaza Cinemas has attracted a band of angels working to bring it back to life, including Norma Levy, who told me at the time, "I decided there has to be a way to recreate the cinema. It's too tragic to lose."

Now, with New Plaza Cinema Inc., we're getting a new version of the cinema. Through a press release today they announce a partnership with the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan "to host first run and independent films in its 250-seat auditorium throughout the summer."



“We’re excited that the JCC has graciously agreed to screen our films this summer,” said Levy. “We’re working to find a more permanent venue which will offer first run and independent films.”

Toby Talbot, who co-founded Lincoln Plaza Cinema with her late husband, Dan Talbot, supports the New Plaza Cinema’s goals. She says, “Although Dan is no longer with us, I’m sure he would have been heartened—as am I—that a band of devoted theater goers have taken upon themselves the arduous task of creating similar cinema anew. I fully support their effort and look forward to their ultimate success.”

According to the press release: "The series will have a soft kick off with an uptown run of the IFC release The Catcher is a Spy by Ben Lewin with multiple screenings on June 24, 25 and 26. The following week, the series will honor the passing of Philip Roth with a marathon of films based on his books."

For more information visit:
www.newplazacinema.com
www.JCCFilm.org

Read more on the fight to save the Cinema.


Click to enlarge schedule

Monday, June 11, 2018

Searching for Soul

On Thursday, June 28, from 6:30pm – 8:30pm, I'll be at the Museum of the City of New York talking with author Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, cartoonist Julia Wertz, and New Yorker staff writer Vinson Cunningham about what it means to capture the “soul” of the city, even as many longtime New Yorkers question its survival.

Get your tickets and more info here. Use the code SOUL1 for a discount.



In other news, my book Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul will be out in paperback July 24. You can pre-order it now from any bookshop.



From the reviews:

“Essential reading for fans of Jane Jacobs, Joseph Mitchell, Patti Smith, Luc Sante, and cheap pierogi.” —Vanity Fair

“A full-throated lament for the city’s bygone charms.”—Wall Street Journal

“A cri de coeur that is essential reading for anyone who loves this city.” --The Village Voice

“The pleasure of reading Moss is his purity.” –The New York Times Book Review

“A remarkable atlas charting where New York has gone, and why.” –The New Republic

“Passionate, sprawling.” --Slate

"Moss, a cantankerous defender of the city he loves, chronicles its disconcerting metamorphosis from cosmopolitan melting pot to bland corporate lounge with passion and vigor; New York is lucky to have him on its side." – NewYorker.com

"a vigorous, righteously indignant book that would do Jane Jacobs proud." --Kirkus

“This is a very good, angrily passionate, and ultimately saddening book.... a brilliantly written and well-informed account.” –Booklist

“Every page is charged with Moss’s deep love of New York. It is both a vital and unequivocally depressing read.” – Village Voice

“an impassioned work of advocacy on behalf of a city that’s slipping away…a brawny book…a full-throated argument for New York City as a particular kind of place, and for a certain kind of life lived within it.” –Guernica

“a compelling and often necessary read.... One of the great accomplishments of this nearly 500-page polemic, is that even as I read through in a state of outrage and sadness, I was also reassured: I am not crazy. The city really has vanished…” – Daily Beast






Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Caffe Vivaldi

VANISHING

On their website, the folks at Caffe Vivaldi write:

"With heavy hearts we announce the upcoming closure of Caffe Vivaldi and the conclusion of our 35-year run at this magical room on 32 Jones Street in our beloved West Village."



Opened in 1983, Vivaldi has been fighting to stay in business for several years now.

Back in 2011, Vivaldi was being forced to close by a tripled rent hike from their landlord, the infamous Steve Croman. They survived and got a new lease, but the struggles continued. In 2016, they reported landlord harassment.

This April, Vivaldi owner Ishrat Ansari wrote on the site's blog about his struggles:

"My untimely stroke occurred two weeks before a crucial court hearing about the Caffe’s future—that has continued to drag on to the present. In 2011, my tormentor, Steven Croman, became the new owner of the building where Caffe Vivaldi resides. From the beginning, his conduct has been belligerent and illegal, unilaterally breaking the renewed lease, which commenced on January 1, 2012, that I signed with him for the Caffe Vivaldi space, and treating me with dismissive contempt. My emotional distress reached its most damaging state as Mr. Croman’s conduct towards me rose further and further above the law. The menace that Mr. Croman continues to pose threatens to destroy 35 years of history nurtured by Caffe Vivaldi in the West Village... I want to let you all know that Mr. Croman, a convicted felon, is taking us to court again, and we might be forced to close our doors."



Mr. Croman was released from prison last week. He served eight months of a one-year jail sentence.

Vivaldi's fight has come to an end.

They explain: "our legal and financial difficulties with our landlord came to a head this spring. To continue to fight would be self-destructive in many, many ways for the business and for all of us. Because of these extenuating circumstances, we will be closing our doors for the final time on the evening of June 23."

The live music cafe has been featured in Woody Allen and Al Pacino films, and their old wooden chairs have seated Andy Warhol, Bette Midler, John Cusack, Rob Reiner, Joseph Brodsky and many neighborhood folks and other New Yorkers.

You can share your Vivaldi story here.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A Good Corner

The surviving peep shows at the margins around Times Square keep vanishing. Yesterday I reported on the demise of old Show World. There's a smaller, less storied spot a few blocks south on 8th Avenue at 39th Street--and it's vanishing, too.



Vihan's Video, with the ever-photogenic neon sign on the front, has a giant FOR LEASE banner on it.

"3-Floor Flagship," it says. "Restaurant/Bar."



Sadly, this whole corner is being destroyed--and it was a good corner, too, an old slice of the old city hanging on at the edge of the Garment District.

Last year, the marvelous Mayfair Barber Shop was replaced by the boring, useless Corvo Coffee. More recently, NYC Fried Chicken shuttered. It was always a good spot to watch the people seated at the windows. The Shoe Repairs place next door is still open, but for how long? And there's a liquor store with two antique neon signs--for some reason, it is shown in the realtor's listing.



Barber shop, cobbler/tailor shop, fried chicken joint, liquor store, peep joint. It was a rare corner, a scrappy survivor, and it's being chipped away.








Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Show World Center

VANISHED

Last year, Richard Basciano, "New York’s former prince of porn," died, leaving behind the Show World building at 42nd St. and Eighth Ave. While the big Show World closed in 2004, the next door Show World Center remained, a glittering warren of peep booths, sex toys, and crossword puzzle books. I wrote, "Now is probably the time to go and say goodbye. The last gasp of smutty old Times Square may not be here tomorrow."

Well, Show World Center is now gone.



The lights are off and the shutter is down.



The inside is empty. A peek around back shows the hallway with its mirrored diamond decorations, along with stacks of boxes waiting to be moved out.



A number of other businesses in this building have also shuttered, making me wonder if the place has been sold and will be demolished for another glass hotel tower.

I talked to the Nuts 4 Nuts guy who works outside and he told me that Show World Center closed last month. He said the building will not be torn down. A security guard confirmed that information, saying the place will be renovated instead.

It's totally unlikely that a new Show World will open in the spot. We'll probably get a chain store of one kind or another. That's what the new Times Square deserves. But some will remember that for 40 years, Show World was here, smelling of bleach and orange-scented mop water, doing its service for New Yorkers, commuters, and tourists alike. With one more down, only a few peeps remain.

See inside Show World:
Last year
Before the closure in 2004 
In 1980
And read Death Knell of the Peeps

(Thanks to Warren for the tip.)