Monday, December 3, 2018

Uncle Sam's Army/Navy

VANISHING (for now)

Richard Geist has run Uncle Sam's Army/Navy store on West 8th Street since 1998. The shop feels even older, a place reminiscent of the lost Village, the lost city, when people thrift-shopped and so much more felt scrappy and surprising, before it all became so sanitized and predictable. And boring.

This week, Uncle Sam's is closing shop.



Geist told me the closure is by choice, mostly, and that 8th Street just isn't 8th Street anymore.

It hasn't been for a long time. High rents wiped out the shoe businesses here, leaving a blighted ghost town about 10 years ago. The storefronts sat empty for awhile, and then a few mediocre restaurants moved in, along with a bunch of nail salons. Geist says there's no foot traffic. The street is dead.

As he told the Times last year, "Gentrification is killing us. Eighth Street has lost the magic and we want to bring that magic back, and bring traffic back to help business.”



With his former neighbor, the artist and small business owner Storm Ritter, Geist tried to rename the block for Jimi Hendrix, who had his Electric Lady Studios there, but the BID wouldn't go for it.

"They told me, 'What did Jimi Hendrix ever do for 8th Street?'" Geist said, incredulous. That was the last straw. He realized that he and 8th Street had to part ways.



On the scaffolding that blocks his shop, Geist has hung a banner that reads:

"Small businesses are more important than we all realize. Employers (first timers), employment tax payers, social security contributors, sales tax collectors, property tax payers, service and product providers, community builders and merchandisers, and new & old customer appreciators."

He wishes the city and state would do something to help small businesses to thrive.



This week the shop is in its final days and everything is being sold at deep discount -- up to 90% off. 

As for the future, Geist plans to take some time off and then look for a new space for Uncle Sam's on the Lower East Side. He says there's plenty to choose from there and fully expects to return. Until then, you can find them online at Army/Navy Deals.















Friday, November 30, 2018

A Plea to Protect the Strand

The Strand Bookstore has just issued a plea against the landmarking of its building. I spoke to Leigh Altshuler, Communications Director for the Strand, who explained the unusual situation.



"They're building these big, new tech hubs," she said, describing the tech building boom south of Union Square that is threatening the historic neighborhood, driving up speculation and demolition. "And in a trade-off, the Strand and a few other buildings along Broadway are now being calendared for landmarking." But the bookstore and building owner Nancy Bass has not been part of that decision. She didn't receive the LPC's draft designation report until after Thanksgiving, giving the Strand little time to prepare for the public hearing on December 4.

Leigh explains that the building is already protected--by the Bass family. "The building is already overbuilt," she says, meaning it has no air rights to sell and it cannot be expanded upon. "There is no danger of it being torn down. Nancy has no intent to sell the building. She just wants to keep running the store without added cost or pressure."

Below is the full text of the Strand's press release, with information about the public hearing and a request for help.



Friends of the Strand,

I'm writing today to ask for your support.

The Strand's building is currently calendared for landmarking by the city. The Strand currently runs on thin margins as a bookseller and retailer in New York City, fighting to survive in the era of Amazon. We have over 230 employees -- most whom are unionized -- and unlike large online retailers (like Amazon), have never asked or received tax breaks or other economic assistance to insure business profitability.

All this designation will do is cost us with bureaucracy in time, frustration, money and uncertainty. We will be forced to wait for approvals and debate what is the right thing to do-- both inside and outside of the store for changes like putting in a coffee shop, repairs from a flood or fire, etc. We need to have the flexibility to change with the needs of our customers and community.

Nancy's family worked for six decades to be able to buy this building and is dedicated to continuing the Bass's 91 year legacy forward. The building is already overbuilt -- with no air rights -- and at no risk for becoming a high rise, glass office building, hotel or luxury apartment. Nancy just wants to insure the security of the Strand, giving her children the opportunity to become 4th generation owners.

There is a public hearing on:

Tuesday, December 4th at 9:30am

at LPC's office in the Municipal Building

located at 1 Centre Street, 9th Floor

This gives the Strand the opportunity to make a case against the landmark status. Nancy will be speaking, joined by authors Gary Shteyngart and Hank O’Neal, and long time Strand employees. Will you please join us on December 4th to show your support? Strand tote in hand, your attendance is what will make this a success. To share this information with your friends, please use this link: https://www.strandbooks.com/protect-strand.

While well-intended, landmarking the building will undermine the Strand, a place that is already considered a landmark by the community, and ultimately put in peril.

Thank you for your support and we look forward to seeing you there.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Bleecker Bob

Robert "Bleecker Bob" Plotnik has died.



99snapshots_berman posted the news on Instagram yesterday. Academy Records wrote this farewell:

"RIP to Bleecker Bob, a true legend on the NYC record store scene and probably the most singular character among that very idiosyncratic bunch. I first got to know Bob and his wise cracking sarcasm as a teenager in the late 70s as I soiled my fingers flipping through his grimy reused record sleeves. I also quickly learned that he loved an equal dose of sarcasm in return and our interactions were some of my first tastes of what it meant to be a real New Yorker. When I first opened my store in 2001 it was a real badge of honor when he came to check it out and told me it didn’t suck too bad. Catch ya on the B side."



Bleecker Bob's Golden Oldies was a legendary record shop in Greenwich Village. In 2013, after 46 years in business, Bleecker Bob's closed, unable to pay the rent hike. While they discussed relocating, they never found a space and never reopened.

RIP Bleecker Bob.





Integral Yoga

VANISHING

People keep telling me that Integral Yoga Natural Foods on 13th Street is closing after 45 years in the Village.



@MarkMelnick10 shared a photo of the goodbye sign on Twitter. I believe they own the building, but as they say "the retail climate has changed" and "small local stores keep losing ground to big corporate chains." Owning the building doesn't always save you.

Monday, November 26, 2018

New Yorkers Say No to Amazon

Since Amazon announced its controversial plan to move into Long Island City, Queens, New Yorkers have organized in force against the corporate tech giant.



On Black Friday, a group called Amazons Against Amazon rallied on the steps of the NYPL Main Branch and marched to the Amazon bookstore on 34th Street, singing anti-Amazon carols while the NYPD guarded the store.



Songs including "DeBlasio the Neoliberal Mayor," sung to the tune of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Countdown to Amazon HQ2, a.k.a. The 12 Days of Christmas. "Amazon got a buyout and gave to NYC: Skyrocketing rents, No more local bookstores, Tech bro invasions," among other undesirable gifts.



More events and actions are being planned by multiple activist groups. Today, Amazons Against Amazon and the Queens Anti-Gentrification Project are calling for a Cyber Monday blackout of Amazon.

Also today:

Protect Queens: #NoAmazonNYC
Nov. 26, 5:00 - 8:00pm
Court Square, Long Island City, Queens
Rally
View Facebook invite

Cyber Monday Canvass Against Amazon
Nov. 26, 6:00 - 9:00PM
The Creek and The Cave, 10-93 Jackson Ave, Long Island City, Queens
Join Queens DSA as we talk to our neighbors about the disastrous effect Amazon will have on our communities and the importance of strengthening our rent laws
View Facebook invite



Amazon in Long Island City Teach-In
Nov. 28, 10:30AM - 2:00PM
LaGuardia Community College, 31-10 Thomson Ave., LIC, Queens
View Facebook invite

CUNY vs. Amazon
Nov. 30, 11:00AM
100 Wall St., NYC
Rally outside the offices of CUNY Board Chairman Bill Thompson to demand that he rescind his statement in support of Amazon
View Facebook invite



Keep CUNY Out of Amazon
Dec. 3, 4:30 - 6:30pm
205 E. 42nd St., NYC
Meeting of CUNY Board of Trustees, express concerns about CUNY's support for HQ2
View Facebook invite

Resist Amazon Community Forum

Dec. 10, 7:00 - 9:00PM
New York Irish Center, 10-40 Jackson Ave., LIC, Queens
View Facebook invite

To keep up with future events and actions, join Primed Out

Monday, November 19, 2018

Gourmet Garage

VANISHING

The Gourmet Garage in Greenwich Village is closing next Tuesday, November 27.



Elizabeth sent in these photos and writes:

"The straw that broke the camel's back was when they were forced to close August-October last year due to the 2 or 3 floors of luxury housing being added to the top of the building. Forcing customers to shop elsewhere for 3 months doesn't help... So thanks NYC for approving more luxury housing on the backs of residents."

Westview News reported in 2017 that the closing would be temporary while the building owner installed "columns to reinforce the building in order to add additional floors for new residential apartments."

Temporary has turned out to be permanent.

Gourmet Garage was founded in 1981 and started out in SoHo. There are two other locations left mentioned on their website. Everything at the Village location is now 25% off.

Shakespeare & Co.

In good news for bookstores, Shakespeare & Co. has opened an outpost on the Upper West Side.



From the press release:

The new store is located at 2020 Broadway (between 69th and 70th Streets) and opened its doors Saturday, November 17. The Upper West Side is a homecoming for Shakespeare & Co. as the original flagship Shakespeare & Co. opened at 81st and Broadway in 1982.

“I am thrilled to be returning to our original home on the Upper West Side. We see this as sort of a happier ending to You’ve Got Mail, where Shakespeare finds a new location a few blocks south,” says Dane Neller, the CEO of Shakespeare & Co. “The welcoming and good will wishes from the local residents have been overwhelming. The sales at the Upper West Side store were record-breaking over the weekend.”

The company’s expansion plans continue as the Greenwich Village store is slated to open at 450 Sixth Avenue near 11th Street (the site of the old Jefferson Market store) in the spring of next year.

McHale's Sign

When the beloved Hell's Kitchen bar McHale's was forced to close in 2006 and replaced by a luxury condo tower, New Yorkers wept. In 2012, its neon sign was salvaged and then resurfaced in a nearby bar. It wasn't McHale's, but one could dream.

Now a commenter alerts us that the sign has resurfaced once again--on ebay.


ebay

It can be yours for $2,500 -- or else it gets destroyed.

The seller writes:

"I bought this to repurpose the sign for something else, but was told this was a popular bar in the theater district at one time. Now demolished for more condos. I would prefer this go to someone interested in NYC history or Mchales and so I am giving this one shot, and then it heads off to the shop. This is located in NYC."


2006

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Tea & Sympathy

Opened in Greenwich Village in 1990, Tea & Sympathy is struggling to survive in a hyper-gentrified neighborhood where small businesses have been decimated by high rents and other pressures. (This is the "tea house" that Governor Cuomo politicized unfairly when Cynthia Nixon was running against him.)

Now they've started a GoFundMe online fundraiser to help keep them alive.



Owner Nicky Perry writes on the page:

"We need your help! We have been holding on by the skin of our teeth for years now and with increasing rent prices, rental taxes and overall increases in the cost of doing business our little tea shop is in dire need of your support!

We have stood by and watched all of the local businesses who made the West Village what it is today lose to landlords and buyouts and profit losses. We are trying so hard not to be added to that list.

These funds will be used to help lower our loan repayments, pay our vendors, pay our real estate taxes, assist in our rent which for our three businesses is a whopping $28,000 per month plus real estate taxes which as landlords refinance the building increase yearly."

Give them some love and read more about Nicky and her beloved teashop here.


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Amazon State Building

Yesterday, after Amazon, Cuomo, and de Blasio announced their widely despised plan to move HQ2 into Queens with massive tax-payer subsidies--and a private helipad gifted to Jeff Bezos (on our dime)--the Empire State Building jumped onboard, sparkling Amazon orange in celebration of the controversial behemoth's sucking up of $1,705,000,000+ in corporate welfare.



New Yorkers on Twitter, unhappy with Amazon HQ2, were not pleased -- and swiftly ratioed the tweet with fiercely negative responses.

They said "ugh" and "fuck you," "pathetic," and "this sucks and I hate it." They told the building to "read the room" and "Get wrecked by a giant gorilla."







Keith Olbermann weighed in:



And a couple of folks compared the shameful spectacle to the evil Eye of Sauron:



Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Just Say No to HQ2

It's official. Amazon has announced they are opening a headquarters in Long Island City, Queens.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York State has handed the mega-corporation a sweetheart of a deal--not yet including, as Cuomo suggested, renaming Newtown Creek the Amazon River. Until now, that deal was a protected secret.

Here are the jaw-dropping details--from a PDF from the New York State Urban Development Corporation, d/b/a Empire State Development. (Thanks Robin Grearson for sharing on Twitter via Amazon's announcement):

If I'm reading this right, Amazon gets:
- a 99-year lease on a whole shit-ton of square footage (more than I can calculate)
- base rent of $850,000 per annum ($70,000 per month -- perspective: when Florent was kicked out of the Meatpacking District, its rent went to $50,000 a month. For a small space. Ten years ago.)
- a package of incentives valued at up to $1,705,000,000

Those tax-payer funded incentives include:
- A capital grant in the amount of $505,000,000
- Excelsior tax credits of up to $1,200,000,000

Oh, yeah, and Jeff Bezos gets a private helipad. Paid for by you and me.

Crain's is now calling this "the richest-ever incentive package offered to a corporation in state history."



Who of your elected officials urged Amazon to move to New York? Sethmpk shares on Twitter: "Here are the officials who signed a letter last October urging Amazon to expand in NYC. @TishJames signed. So did my House @RepYvetteClarke and my State Senator Montgomery. Candidates for Public Advocate @JumaaneWilliams, @MrMikeBlake, @ydanis, @MMViverito all signed too":





Anticipating this announcement all week, the backlash has been swift, with journalists explaining how Amazon HQ2 will create more hyper-gentrification (see Seattle), displacing and disrupting residents, small businesses, and artists. And the deal might even be illegal.

Even the Times admitted, "The process means the rich get richer, the biggest companies, bigger. And the gulf widens between the country’s haves and have-nots" and "the tech industry isn’t culturally urban." The Times also noted, "it’s how this city works." But it didn't always work this way.

As I outline in my book, Vanishing New York, until the late 1970s, the city was moving in the direction of social democracy. And then it shifted. City Hall and Albany turned away from the people and began to court big business and real estate developers, handing over billions of dollars in tax-payer money to seduce them into moving to and staying in the city. One could argue that this approach was needed in fiscal crisis New York. It is absolutely not needed now. In fact, it is killing this city.

It's time for another change. It's time for New York to re-orient away from giving corporate welfare to big business and developers, and give back to its people. You can exercise your right as a citizen of this democracy and push this shift.

Tomorrow, show up and say no to Amazon HQ2. Phone blast against HQ2. Protest. Resistance can work.



Phone blast info from the Queens Anti-Gentrification Project:

Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer: 718-383-9566 [press "0" for person]
Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: 929-388-6141 [leave a message if no one picks up]
Congressmember Carolyn B. Maloney: 718-932-1804
State Senate Michael Ginaris: (718) 728-0960

Phone Blast Script:

It was recently announced that Amazon has chosen Long Island City, Queens as a location for its new Headquarters, a move that would lead to skyrocketing rents and record levels of displacement throughout the entire borough. We are outraged that there were no public hearings on this proposal and that none of us have had the opportunity to voice our opinions, despite the fact that every single Queens resident will be impacted by this decision. The situation is so bad that in July, Assemblymember Catherine Nolan called for a ‘Moratorium’ on new LIC developments¹, but her proposal was ignored by most politicians and newspapers. Today, I am calling [politician's name]'s office to demand that [politicians name] stand with Queens residents and reject the Amazon Headquarters proposal, as well as any other move to transform Western Queens into a so-called "tech hub". The Queens that so many of us know and love is under threat and we're going to fight back.





Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Two Boots Seized

Two Boots Pizza on Greenwich Avenue in the Village has been seized "for nonpayment of taxes and is now in the possession of the State of New York."



A note from Two Boots in the window says the closure is only temporary and they will reopen shortly. Let's hope so.



While we're in front of this lovely antique facade, and while we've been diving into the Municipal Archives tax photos from the 1940s...



...here's what Two Boots looked like when it was the Hanscom Bake Shop.



Municipal Archives Online

In some very exciting news, the New York City Municipal Archives has put their 1940s tax photo collection online. That's hundreds of thousands of historical photographs of every (or almost every?) building in New York City. And you no longer have to go down to the Archives to see them (although that makes for a great adventure).

Last night, within an hour of sharing the link on the Vanishing New York Facebook page, the Municipal Archives' Online Gallery crashed. People are clamoring! (It's back up now.) Before that happened, I went down the rabbit hole and got screenshots of a few of my favorite spots.

On 8th Avenue off Times Square, here's the vaudeville house built in 1916 that later became The Playpen and then was demolished in 2007 (to become a hotel with Shake Shack):



Here's Charle's Garden (which I always thought was spelled Charlie's) before it was Fedora on West 4th Street:



And Julius' Bar -- still Julius' Bar (but with a different clientele):



Here's the grocery store delicatessen that preceded Three Lives & Company Bookshop across the street from Julius' Bar:



And the site of CBGB's before it was CBGB's:



And long before it was John Varvatos (today):











Tuesday, October 23, 2018

SBJSA Hearing

Yesterday was the SBJSA hearing before the City Council at City Hall. Thank you to everyone who showed up for the rally and the hearing itself, and thank you to Speaker Corey Johnson and the City Council for giving this the time and space it deserves.



At noon, a large crowd of about 100 SBJSA supporters gathered on the steps of City Hall for a rally and press conference. David Eisenbach, who is running for Public Advocate, led the rally at which several people spoke on behalf of the bill.

At the same time, supporters of REBNY, the powerful real estate lobby that opposes the bill, streamed in. At the gates they received blue baseball caps printed with a white slogan making the claim that the SBJSA is commercial rent control. (It is not.) The optics on this had an unsettling effect. Later in the day, SBJSA supporter James Klein said during his testimony, "If New Yorkers have learned anything over the last two years, we have learned that when a mob shows up in colored hats, New Yorkers lose."

As DJ Cashmere reported in his thorough account of the day at Bedford & Bowery, "Council member Mark Gjonaj, chair of the Committee on Small Business, asked whether the hats had been purchased from a local small business. Nope, came the reply from REBNY. They were purchased online."



The hearing, hosted by Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Member Mark Gjonaj, chair of the Council's small business committee, lasted until 9:00 at night, with a tremendous 200 people signed up to speak. For the first two hours, Small Business Services Commissioner Gregg Bishop represented Mayor Bill de Blasio's office, which does not support the bill.

Johnson repeatedly spoke passionately about the loss of the city's mom and pops--and he talked about it today on the Brian Lehrer show.

Next came panels both for and against the bill, including speakers Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, State Senator Brad Hoylman, David Eisenbach, and Ruth Messinger, the former Councilmember who first introduced the original SBJSA in 1986.

I testified on a panel of pro-SBJSA activists, including Harry Bubbins of GVHSP, Kirsten Theodos of TakeBackNYC, and Justin Levenson, who created Vacant New York to track high-rent blight.



It was a long day -- you can watch the whole 8 hours here -- the first big step in what will be a complicated and important process.

If you support this bill and want to see it come to a vote, write to the City Council. Here is a quick and easy guide to doing that.

And the fight to save small businesses in New York goes on.



For more coverage on the hearing:
AMNY
Commercial Observer
Real Deal
Curbed
Gothamist

Glaser's Interior

Everything we love will become salvage. The Demolition Depot just announced they're selling the interior of Glaser's Bake Shop, closed earlier this year after 116 years on the Upper East Side.


via Instagram

While they were unable to save the antique floor tiles, this could all be yours:

"Elements include the beautiful, turn of the century wood showcases, having ample storage below, marvelous, upward sliding glass doors above and decorative fluted Ionic pilasters. The upper section of open cabinetry has original silvered mirrors, original milk glass upper panels, and marble counter top. Also available are Schoolhouse pendant fixtures, pressed tin ceiling, a vintage refrigerated case, and contemporary display cases."

Black-and-white cookies not included.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Rally & Public Hearing for SBJSA

Today's the day. Right now, we've got one weapon to fight the vanishing of New York and it's the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA). If you've been following this blog, you know we've been fighting for this for years. Today, come to the rally and open public hearing at City Hall and let the City Council know: Enough is enough. Pass the SBJSA.

12:00 Rally & Press Conference
1:00 Public Hearing
New York City Hall


View the Facebook invites here and here.

The SBJSA could have saved: The Lenox Lounge, Florent, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, Big Nick's, Avignone pharmacy, St. Marks Bookshop, Colony Records, Bleecker Bob's, 8th Street Gray's Papaya, Bill's Gay 90s, The Stage Deli, Rocco's Ristorante, and so many more. But there's much left to save.

If you can't be there today, here's what you can do:

1. Write and/or call your local Councilmembers--your messages go into the record--and tell them to pass the SBJSA:
- Fill out this easy-to-use form to email the City Council
- Or find your individual Councilmembers here and contact them directly
- Councilmember Mark Gjonaj is Chair of the Council's Small Business Committee--write or call him, too. You can also contact the members of that committee: Diana Ayala, Stephen T. Levin, Bill Perkins, and Carlina Rivera.
- Find them on Twitter and tweet your request: Pass the #SBJSA

2. Write and/or call the Council Speaker Corey Johnson and tell him to pass the SBJSA:
- Fill out this simple form, already written for you
- Or you can call or write to him directly here
- Tweet him @CoreyinNYC

3. Spread the word:
- Share this blog post on your social media
- Inform your local businesspeople that this hearing is happening and encourage them to show up. Tell your bodega people, your barber, your therapist, your dentist, your bartender, the people who fix your shoes and do your laundry, the folks who serve your lunch and pour your coffee. Tell them all that there is a solution, there is a protection, and we all can make it happen.
- Print out and share this flyer, available in English and Spanish

- If you are not a New Yorker, you can still write and call the City Council and the Speaker. Tell them you don't want to bring your tourist dollars to a city that's full of nothing but chain stores and luxury glass towers. Tell them to pass the SBJSA.




About the SBJSA:
Legally vetted and deemed fully constitutional, the SBJSA gives existing commercial tenants a few basic rights, including: 1. the right to renew the lease, 2. a minimum 10-year extension, and 3. equal rights to negotiate a fair rent, with third-party arbitration if an agreement between tenant and landlord cannot be reached. In that case, the arbitrator may determine a reasonable increase, a decision based on multiple factors, including current fair market rates for similar properties.

-Read more about the SBJSA here and here and here.
-View the 10/22 meeting details and agenda here.

If you've been complaining about the vanishing of New York, now is your chance to change things for the better. At this point, you really have no excuse. If you do nothing, then quit complaining.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Coffee Shop to Chase Bank

A tipster friend tells us that the famous and just-shuttered Coffee Shop on Union Square is rumored to become yet another Chase Bank.



He attended the post-closing auction this week and chatted with insiders there. They told him: 1. The space is going to Chase, 2. The rent was hiked to $3 million annually, and 3. Chase might be keeping the antique neon sign and re-doing the letters so it spells out CHASE instead of COFFEE SHOP.

None of this is confirmed for sure, but if the sign switcheroo happens, it would be yet another example of New York City soul snatching, a.k.a. authentrification. (See also: Village Den, Rocco's, Bill's Gay 90s, and too many more to list.)



Ironically, the original coffee shop here before Coffee Shop was called Chase--possibly Jack Chase in the 1950s. The name is still in the floor of the doorway.

In the 1980s, it was Jason's Restaurant.


photo by Karen Gehres, via Flaming Pablum


Tax photograph

Now it's empty, the pots and pans auctioned off, the lamps and decorations removed.

It's time to pass the Small Business Jobs Survival Act and protect places like Coffee Shop from becoming more banks (and Starbucks, and Targets, and pricey boutiques). Go to the public hearing on Monday, October 22. Speak your mind. If that's not possible, here are more easy, quick ways you can make a difference today. The future of this city depends on you.