Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Desco Vacuum

Desco Vacuum Sales and Service, at 131 West 14th Street, has been around since about 1950. It was (at least) a third generation business. Now it's gone.

A reader wrote in: "Owner of business (and also the building) said that it was becoming increasingly difficult to do business in the city, even with owning the property. He also said that millennials don't buy vacuums and the ancillary products, and it was hard to compete with that."

I bought my vacuum cleaner bags at Desco and always liked seeing its vertical neon sign, but especially the neon vacuum cleaner.

Now the shop is empty and the neon signs are dark.


Tuesday, February 27, 2018



Our neon-loving friend Tom Rinaldi writes in:

"I was dismayed to see (first) that Bosco's coin shop on E32nd St has closed and moved to the holding area for displaced antique shops known as the 25th St Antiques 'Showplace.' I was then further dismayed to see that Olde Good Things, in the same building, has been similarly displaced. I was then still further dismayed to see that the gorgeous (to me anyway) building formerly inhabited by both shops appears to have been completely cleared of tenants."

* UPDATE: Bosco has moved to the Manhattan Art & Antiques Center, on 2nd Ave between 55th and 56th Sts.


I was sorry to hear this. I always liked walking past Bosco, usually by chance, and looking into the fantastic, jam-packed window, filled with coins, antique political buttons, trinkets, all of them described on hand-lettered cards.

It was one of those odd little survivors, the kind of place you come upon and wonder how it manages to remain in a city hell-bent on destroying everything unique about itself.

I took pictures, but went inside only once, because I am not a collector and this was most definitely the realm of serious collectors, and I didn't want to be one of those "just looking" people who take up valuable space in a narrow, overstuffed shop full of enthusiasts trying to spend money and talk about their obsessions.

Still, I liked knowing it was there, attracting the sort of people that it attracted, and offering a wonderful window for passersby to enjoy.

Today the window is empty, blocked with plywood. Nothing to see.

today, photo by Tom Rinaldi

Mr. Bosco always had good signs taped inside the door, written in the tone of a straightforward New Yorker. The last one reads:

By Appointment Only (Building's been sold; everyone must pack up).
Tell us what you want; we will help if we can.
Just want to "have a look"? NOT POSSIBLE!
Want to sell something? It better be small. Like COINS.
See something in the FRONT WINDOW? Maybe we can help. Be fast.
Of necessity, we have to start ignoring people. You are fascinating, and beautiful, but we don't want our stuff put out on the street on Feb. 1. Thanks for understanding.

It appears that, as the clock ticked towards Bosco's deadline, the sign became more adamant. "By appointment only" is crossed out and replaced with a handwritten "Go away, please" and "Don't even say hello."

The land beneath 147 - 149 Madison Avenue was bought last year for $88 million by Columbia Property Trust, according to The Real Deal. "Upon the expiration of the 60-year leasehold in January 2018," they wrote, "Columbia would then own the building outright." All tenants would be cleared out.

They say they plan to renovate the building and rent it out, presumably to higher paying--and far less interesting--tenants.

As for Olde Good Things, they've got a few other locations still open.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Neptune Diner (Again)


For the umpteenth time, rumors are floating about the demise of the Neptune Diner in Astoria, Queens.

We first heard about it last winter, but it was denied. We heard about it in December, but it was some kind of a misunderstanding. Now it returns. This time, though, the rumor sounds possible.

The Queens Gazette reported it on their Facebook page.

"Sadly Neptune Diner Site is for Sale," they wrote earlier this month. And they pasted in a realtor's listing (but no link to the source):

"As exclusive marketing and sales agent, Eastern Consolidated is pleased to present 31-05 31st Street aka 31-01 Astoria Boulevard North in Astoria, Queens (the 'Property' or 'Site'). The Property, which is well-located corner future development site with three sides of legal light and air and a maximum ZFA of ±41,760 square feet. The Site is currently improved with a standalone diner with on-site parking and will be sold subject to the existing diner lease, which expires August 31, 2019 with no further extension options."

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Not Responsible

Back in 2011, La Nueva Rampa closed its doors on West 14th Street. It was one of the city's last Chino-Latino restaurants--and the last one in Chelsea, where they had once been abundant since the 1960s.

It then became El Paraiso, keeping up the Chino-Latino menu. Then El Paraiso shuttered in 2016.

And now?

It's a temporary "immersive installation" called Unspoken. (At least it was when I wrote this post--it closed last week.) Strands of shimmering strings hang from the ceiling.

According to Untapped Cities, the installation by activist artist Ann Lewis is presented by "social impact production company Killer Impact." Viewers are asked to reflect on 'different questions regarding mortality such as “Do we actually exist?' and 'Can death be an adventure?'”

The part I found the most compelling, however, was a revelation in the wall. (I was told it was original and not part of the installation.) I'd never seen it when dining at the restaurant/s, and it's possible I missed it, but I'm assuming it was behind something and now has been revealed -- a beautiful tile wall with hand-lettered signage saying NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR HATS & COATS.

What decade was this from?

According to Lost Womyn's Space, this location was home to Kooky's Cocktail Lounge in the 1960s and 70s. The blog quotes the following description from Karla Jay's Tales of the Lavender Menace: A Memoir of Liberation:

"Kooky, the proprietor, had the air of a retired prostitute or poorly put-together drag queen. She favored pastel prom dresses--the kind that required several crinolines to inflate them properly, were zipped in the back, and called for a strapless bra and large bust to keep the dress up. Perhaps she fancied herself the Scarlett O'Hara of Greenwich Village. Her hair was shellacked into a large golden beehive that suggested that she had last set, teased, and sprayed her hair in the 1950s and then left it permanently in place."

Good stuff there, but that gold-lettered wall looks too early to be Kooky's. If anyone knows what was here before, please let us know.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Roland Antiques


Roland, auctioneers of antiques, has left the city. Family owned and founded in 1973, they've been in the neighborhood south of Union Square since 1974, and in the St. Denis building at 11th Street and Broadway for several years.

But the neighborhood is being rapidly changed.

In 2015, the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) put out a call to redevelop a city-owned site on E. 14th Street. They were looking to “create an iconic commercial development” for tech startups and co-working spaces. Mayor de Blasio soon announced the winning “Tech Hub,” a glass tower that politicians and developers hope will boost more high-end development. It is attracting major real estate speculation, including Normandy Real Estate Partners’ 2016 purchase of the St. Denis building for $101 million.

Normandy stopped renewing leases, and hundreds of small business people--most of them psychotherapists and other providers of wellness--were forced to leave the building. I was one of them. (A longer story about the building is forthcoming.)

Roland is the latest loss.


For years, people in the building took pleasure in Roland's presence. Regularly, the auction house would receive a truck full of antiques from some estate and unload them onto the sidewalk to take photos for their catalog.

Roland occupied a large corner space with several windows along 11th and Broadway, plus two showrooms along the back hallway and more in the basement, but this was not enough to contain all the items.

The antiques would overflow into the lobby of the building, where they'd stay for awhile, providing an ever-changing--and often strange--decor.

Every month, Roland held an auction.

Before attending the auction, you'd go to the preview, wandering in and out of the showrooms, looking at the objects. Sometimes, a prospective buyer would try out a baby grand piano, filling the halls with music. 

On auction day, always a Saturday, the main room filled with New York characters. Brothers Bill and Robert Roland ran the show, with Bill as auctioneer. Bids came in over the phone and the Internet. A few items sold for as little as 10 bucks. Others went for big money. That large nude painting of Milda, Lithuanian goddess of love, sold for $55,000.

I was looking forward to their March auction. I only went a few times, but I loved the energy of that room, the people, the jokes, the excitement. No more.

Roland is moving out to Long Island--you'll find them at 150 School Street in Glen Cove.

When I visited as they were sadly packing up, an employee told me, "Unless you're Christie's or Sotheby's, you can't stay in the city anymore. The rents are too high."

Monday, February 19, 2018

Your Neighborhood Office


The emptying out of western Bleecker Street continues with the coming closure of Your Neighborhood Office store.

Last week, owner Helen Ann Lally sent an email to her customers to say:

"I am sorry to say that after 24 years, Your Neighborhood Office will be closing, effective Saturday, March 31, 2018. I have not come to this decision lightly, but I do know that it’s time for me to move on to the next phase of my life."

Unconfirmed, a couple of readers say it was the rent that did it. As we know, this end of Bleecker has been through hell in the past 5 - 10 years. First, almost all the independent small businesses were pushed out by high rents and un-renewed leases. They were all replaced by luxury shops, many of them global chains.

More recently, many of those luxury corporations decided to shutter their Bleecker locations. Storefronts have since sat empty, creating high-rent blight.

After the closure of Manatus and a few other small places on this block, Your Neighborhood Office was one of two shops that weren't luxury and/or a chain. Now there's just the Village Apothecary pharmacy, currently undergoing a renovation. And Manatus is still sitting empty--after four years.

Your Neighborhood Office is beloved by many--voted "Best Doorman Substitute" by New York and winner of a GVSHP Village Award. It will surely be missed.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Lanza's Murals

The great Lanza's restaurant shuttered in the summer of 2016. It had been in the East Village since 1904 and I miss it.

When we heard that Joe & Pat's pizzeria would be moving in, it seemed okay. I worried about Lanza's antique murals, but a peek inside showed they were being preserved under plastic during renovations.

A more recent peek shows the murals have been revealed--and they look good.

In the very back, the lady with one bared breast lives on.

Joe & Pat's has added two walls of vintage photos, presumably from their 57 years of family business on Staten Island.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

NY Cake


NY Cake, the much-loved cake supply shop on 22nd Street near 6th Avenue is closing its doors.

"We're Moving," reads a sign in the window. They're not sure where they're going yet, but you can put your name on the mailing list to be notified.

A multi-generation family business, NY Cake was started by Joan Mansour in 1991-- it was previously known as the Chocolate Gallery in 1989.

The shop is a wonderland of cake supplies--shelves of sprinkles and sugars, racks of molds for making chocolate lollipops.

And lots of those plastic novelties for decorating cakes for every occasion.

They also have this amazing door, for reasons that remain a mystery:

I haven't been able to get through to NY Cake to find out why they're closing and hoping to relocate nearby. Back in 2011, they inked a 10-year lease extension, according to the Commercial Observer. “They’d been wonderful tenants,” said the landlord at the time. “The neighborhood is conducive to their business.”

The building has also been filling up with tech companies as the neighborhood changes.

Grub Street followed up on this story and reports:

“We have to be out by June; we’re looking for somewhere to go,” says co-owner and co-founder Lisa Mansour. “You can imagine the rent prices. I am looking diligently. Our old landlord passed away, and a niece and nephew took over a little before January. We never had problems before; we’ve been here 30 years.”

Monday, February 12, 2018

Artwashing the Sunshine's Demise

The Sunshine Cinema closed last month--bought by developers who plan to demolish the historic building and put up a glassy office tower that will surely help to further hyper-gentrify the neighborhood.

All photos by Herb Jue

On Thursday of this week, those developers, East End Capital & K Property Group, are hosting a party to celebrate--what exactly? Their triumph over history? The invitation says it's to "CELEBRATE THE LOWER EAST SIDE & PREVIEW OUR NEW OFFICE DEVELOPMENT."

I'm not sure how one can do both simultaneously.

Anyway, it's free and we're all invited.

The party will feature some artwashing--or poetry washing, I suppose you'd call it. Yes, poets are performing at a party thrown by luxury real estate developers to hype a project that is literally demolishing Lower East Side culture.

Some protesters might show up, but probably not.

This is the new Lower East Side.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Hudson Diner Goodbye

As earlier reported, the Hudson Diner has closed.

A reader sends in these shots of one regular's heartfelt goodbye note, taped to the window below the roll-down gate:

We hear that Babu and much of the Hudson staff have moved on to the Moonstruck Eatery on E. 58th Street.

photo: Justin Hicks

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Boots & Saddle

There's a marshal's seizure notice on the door of Boots & Saddle, the popular gay and drag bar that's been in the Village for over 40 years, and fans are panicking.

I've been unable to reach the owner for comment, but people close to Boots on Facebook say the place is temporarily closed--there's a dispute with the landlord--and they hope to reopen soon.

As you may recall, the bar was priced out of its long-time home on Christopher Street back in 2014. They relocated to 7th Avenue South.

Court St. Office Supplies

Reader Mark Satlof writes in:

"Court St. Office Supplies here in Downtown Brooklyn is going. They say they will be closing in about two weeks and have been there 40 years. Old-school, old-fashioned stationery and everything else store. It's really a wonder, not a small store. Really a loss of the fabric."

On the shop's Facebook page, they write:

"Our shelves are emptying as we say goodbye, and the store has been full of well-wishers. We'll be closing in a few weeks, but we're staying in the office supply business. So like us on Facebook, join our email list or stop by just to say hello."

They will continue to run the shop online. Owner Jacob Gutman told Brooklyn Paper, “Our challenge has been the shift in how people purchase things these days. Our decision to close the store has nothing to do with rent.”

So blame this one on Internet shoppers.

Monday, February 5, 2018

69 West 14th

Neil Greenberg, Professor of Choreography at the New School, recently wrote on his Facebook page: "Another dance studio bites the dust--a location with a lot of history." The dance studio was PMT, located on the third floor of 69 West 14th Street at 6th Avenue, above Sol Moscot's.

Pavan Thimmaiah, director of the studio, tells me the building was bought by Extell -- and it will likely be demolished.

Tax photo (1940s?)

On the history there, Neil writes:

"From 1959 - 1963 The Living Theatre, directed by Judith Malina and Julian Beck, occupied floors two and three. Merce Cunningham had his dance studio on the top floor, which is where Robert Dunn taught the composition classes that launched the Judson Dance Theater. In 1977 Peter Saul, who once danced in Merce’s company, taught ballet classes in this studio. I’ve taught here, for The New School, since 2010, and have rehearsed my work here as well. Goodbye PMT Dance Studio. Goodbye this potent history. Soon to be gone, but not forgotten."

photo: Neil Greenberg

One of the studios in this building was the site of the first post-Stonewall gay and lesbian dance. That was 1970 and the dance was held by the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) at a place called Alternate U.

From Come Out!, the Gay Liberation Front’s official newspaper, via Box Turtle

In a review of the dance in the Come Out! newspaper, Kathy Braun wrote, "The purposes which we set out for the dances were, to provide an alternative to the exploitive gay bars in the city, to raise money for a GLF Community Center, and to politicize the homosexuals hanging around this town."

She noted, "The records played were exciting, danceable, and at the right volume. My current favorite song is 'And the World will be a Better Place'... The dancing was of the usual superlative quality. Them queers can sure shake a leg... 600 people, music, lights, costumes, kissing, seductions, promises made, truths explored, conflicts, politics. Hit it, sisters & brothers."

GLF members preparing for a GLF dance at Alternate U, 1970. Photo by Diana Davies, via NYCLGBTSites.

The Gay Liberation Front formed in July 1969 and used Alternate U. as the location for many of its meetings and social events. Soon after Stonewall, a flyer for Alternate U. read: "Do you think homosexuals are revolting? You bet your sweet ass we are. We're going to make a place for ourselves in the revolutionary movement. We challenge the myths that are screwing up this society."

reports that "Alternate U. was a free counterculture school and leftist political organizing center in Greenwich Village, founded around 1966 by Tom Wodetski. It had several classrooms in a former dance studio on the second floor of 69 West 14th Street."

Gay night at Alternate U. included classes on: "medical, legal, demonstration, gay squatters, racism, gay history and literature, sexism, exploration of roles and identity, and Marxism and political workshop."

In addition, "Protests were organized here against politicians and The Village Voice (which refused to print the word 'gay' in ads), and meetings were held here in the aftermath of the Snake Pit raid in March 1970."

GLF meeting at Alternate U, 1970. Photo by Diana Davies, via NYCLGBTSites.

PMT Dance Studio will be moving to a new space. On their Facebook page, they wrote, "It's the end of an era. January 31st will be the last day 69 West 14th Street will be open. Afterwards, preparations to demo the building and create new developments, reportedly luxury high rises, will be underway."

Richard, the reader who tipped me off to the closure of PMT, writes, "Curious how far whatever's going to get built is going to go, since several of the storefronts north of this building on Sixth Avenue are vacant -- perhaps extending to Lester Bangs' former abode" at 542 Sixth Avenue.

Indeed it looks like Sol Moscot is the only business left open in the building--and in the three buildings to the north. Nine storefronts have been shuttered here. That's nine businesses, plus those upstairs, put out. And who knows what happened to the residential tenants in the smaller buildings.

What if we had commercial rent control once again? Would buildings like these be protected by protecting their small businesses?

Meanwhile, across the street, another building is coming down for another luxury tower. 101 West 14th was built in 1953 as the Greenwich Savings Bank. It was soon decorated with a large mural by the artist Julien Binford. After an effort to save the mural, it has been removed and put into storage--making way for the wrecking ball and the luxury condos.