Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Taking of Bleecker: 1, 2, 3

The western end of Bleecker Street has gone through three major upheavals since the 2000s began.

1. Skyrocketing rents and non-renewal of leases on mom-and-pop shops created the luxury chain takeover, starting in 2001 with Marc Jacobs. Those blocks went from quaint and local to high-end suburban mall in just five years.

2. It took another five to die, as those big chains departed, emptying the storefronts and leaving the street in a state of high-rent blight.

3. Recently we heard that mega-developer Brookfield Properties would take over, spending approximately $31.5 million for several retail condos to convert them into a concept, a curated consumer experience, “with Brookfield orchestrating…rather than allowing each individual shop to pursue its own agenda,” reported New York magazine. “Let’s look at this as if it’s a mall,” said Brookfield’s head of retail leasing, “even though it’s not.”

Now we know what that looks like.

WWD reports on the program to curate the street. It's called "Love, Bleecker" and it has a creative director, fashion designer Prabal Gurung. There will be a leather "concept store" called Slightly Alabama, a florist/plant-based food shop, and a gallery space with prisms, among other "disruptive" and "innovative" and "creative" businesses.

Writes WWD, "Brookfield considers Bleecker to be a new kind of retail activation and platform for growing online digital native brands that may eventually populate its other properties." (And here I thought it was a neighborhood.) "We'll incubate them here and see them thrive and grow," says Sara Fay, VP of Marketing at Brookfield.

Brookfield, according to WWD, "plumbed Bleecker Street's history as a magnet for jazz and folk music and stomping ground for Beat poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac."

Incubation, artwashing, and the co-opting of the neighborhood's counter-cultural history? Sounds like more invasion of the body snatchers.

The project kicked off yesterday. Do not miss the website.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

#SaveNYC Happy Hour

Sick of watching the small businesses in your neighborhood vanish? Here's your chance to do something about it. Come to the #SaveNYC Happy Hour:

- Wednesday, October 3, from 7:00 - 9:00PM
- Dream Baby Cocktail Bar, 162 - 164 Avenue B, NYC: Extended happy hour for #SaveNYC = $4 for beer and well drinks, $2 off everything else.
- View Facebook invite here

At long last, the Small Business Jobs Survival Act is getting a hearing. Come celebrate, meet and mingle, and strategize next steps for this important event and beyond.

Jeremiah Moss and others will be speaking on the importance of this historic bill. David Eisenbach, the anti-REBNY candidate for Public Advocate, will talk about his work and what we can do to get ready for the public hearing later in October.

Speaker Corey Johson Pledging Support for Small Businesses (WNYC Brian Lehrer) from Wheelhouse Communications on Vimeo.

Monday, September 17, 2018

St. Denis Coming Down

Earlier this year I wrote in detail about the death of the great St. Denis building on 11th and Broadway, a building that should have been landmarked but wasn't, a building full of vital history -- from Alexander Graham Bell to Ulysses S. Grant, Susan B. Anthony, and a whole lot of Socialists, radicals, artists, and psychotherapists.

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, the empty building is being prepped for demolition.

Crain's reported last week that Columbia Property Trust is "paying more than $70 million...to purchase a roughly 50% stake" in the property with co-owner Normandy Real Estate Partners.

The plan is to tear down the St. Denis and replace it with a glass box, "182,000 square feet of boutique office space for New York’s most progressive and creative companies," according to the press release -- which calls this neighborhood below Union Square: "Midtown South."

Of course, the St. Denis was already filled with hundreds of truly progressive and creative businesses, but we weren't the right sort of commodities.

Last week, the awning over the entrance was stripped away, along with a pair of antique lamps.

The asbestos abatement notices have been posted and the asbestos dumpster has arrived, a typical precursor to the wrecking machines.

Back to that press release:

"The new 12-story, loft-style building will comprise 182,000 square feet of boutique office space and will provide a dramatic complement to this quintessential New York neighborhood. With floor plates ranging from 3,600 to 22,000 square feet, 799 Broadway will feature floor-to-ceiling glass, private terraces, and 15 foot high ceilings. This combination of highly desirable location and state-of-the-art design will appeal to New York’s most progressive and creative companies.

'We are seeking selective development opportunities in our target markets to provide value and growth to our high-quality, well-leased portfolio,' said Nelson Mills, chief executive officer of Columbia."

architect's rendering

When the St. Denis is felled, 165 years of real and rebellious history will be destroyed for this cold and soulless sarcophagus.

The Village will be much poorer for it.

architect's rendering

Post Script:

The above rendering shows the dead lobby to come. Here's what one frequent visitor to the St. Denis had to say about its lobby, which was often full of antiques from the first-floor business:

“I loved that every time I visited there were new objects in the lobby. They often seemed to reflect whatever mood I was in. Or they’d reflect the weather. I’d come in on a stormy day and the lobby would be full of dark paintings or bleak statues. On sunny days, there would be golden chaise lounges and chandeliers. There was this one chandelier, massive and dripping in crystals. It was there on a day when I felt really good and it was like the sun was on the inside of the building. This dazzling object.”

Read more about the St. Denis here.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Artwashing 14th and 8th

About a decade ago, I had a dream that the southeast corner of 14th Street and 8th Avenue was being torn down to make room for WalMart. That didn't happen. At the time, I checked with one of the business owners (there was a popular Korean deli, a bodega, and a liquor store). He told me that the owner of the buildings had turned down offers of up to $45 million for the whole lot.

But then, last year, it all went.

We learned that a 10-story office tower is coming, designed by architect Gene Kaufman and developed by the Chun Woo Realty Corporation.

Chun Woo Realty Corp, DNA reported last year, "has owned the two properties for around three decades...noting that redevelopment was something they’d 'been contemplating for over a decade.'"

“We’re not developers who moved in and are pushing small businesses out. We’re actually the longtime permanent owners of the building, and it was actually our business,” the developer said of the deli. He didn't mention the other two businesses or any residents upstairs, or the impact this high-end office tower will have on the neighborhood.

In the meantime, until demolition, they're doing a little artwashing with Bombay Sapphire.

I walked by yesterday to find "Art in Progress" signs on the deli. Bombay Sapphire says, "Stir Creativity."

Security guards policed the installation of several canvases.

The booze corporation has a message for us:

"Creativity has no boundaries. It can flourish in art galleries, and it can thrive on the streets outside them. With Art in Progress, Bombay Sapphire is transforming the city's construction sites into open air art galleries to inspire New Yorkers' own creativity."

This is artwashing.

Defined by Feargus O'Sullivan, artwashing is a "profit-driven regeneration maneuver" in which "the work and presence of artists and creative workers is used to add a cursory sheen to a place's transformation.... It often happens...when developers spot areas that have attracted residents from creative industries, then earmark them as ripe for investment and remarketing to a new kind of customer."

Artwashing attracts hyper-gentrification and it is also public relations. And murky advertising. If you're looking at this and thinking it's an unmitigated good, well, they've got you right where they want you.

This is not spontaneous creativity. It's not bohemian aliveness in the Village. It's the spoonful of sugar that helps the poison go down.

This is a corporate-development collaboration that artists have agreed to participate in, though it would be better if they did a little more critical thinking about that participation.

It reminds me of when luxury neighbor, One Jackson Square, went up next door in 2007. The developers wrapped that site in billboards that capitalized on the creativity and bohemian history of the Village. "To this day," said the ad materials, "the birthplace of bohemian culture is still home to an eclectic mix of artists, iconoclasts and cognoscenti."

On the billboard, it read, "The Spirit of Greenwich Village Is Alive and Well."

Today, One Jackson Square is home to a Starbucks and a TD Bank.

Monday, September 10, 2018

2nd Ave Deli Sign

Now and then, the lost artifacts of vanished New York will resurface.

I heard from a painter who recently moved his studio into a former woodshop's space in the East Village. In the backyard, under piles of junk, he unearthed the double-sided neon sign of the old Second Avenue Deli.

Opened in 1954, the deli (and the sign) stood on the southeast corner of Second Avenue and East 10th Street until 2006, when it closed due to a rent dispute with the building's new owner.

Reported the Times, "Jack Lebewohl said he faced an increase in monthly rent to $33,000 from $24,000. The space also needed substantial renovations he was unwilling to invest in without a reasonable long-term lease. His landlord told The Times that Lebewohl owed $107,000 and that eviction proceedings had started. They settled for $75,000."

Comic Jackie Mason told the paper, "It's almost like wiping out Carnegie Hall. A sandwich to a Jew is just as important as a country to a Gentile."

photo by James & Karla Murray

A Chase bank moved into the space, installed just two blocks away from the next nearest Chase bank, and a block or two from several more banks.

As I wrote in my book, Vanishing New York, "Today, the Second Avenue Deli’s Yiddish Walk of Fame remains, out of context and rapidly fading. Carved in stone on the sidewalk are names from the days when this strip was the Jewish Broadway—Fyvush Finkel, Ida Kaminska, Lillian Lux, Ludwig Satz. The names are worn down, ignored and flattened by the crowds walking past, grabbing cash from the ATM before making a beeline for the next pitcher of beer and bucket of Buffalo hot wings...at one of the many laddish sports bars that have sprouted along the avenue."

A new Second Avenue Deli opened in Murray Hill, and then the Upper East Side, but the old signage did not go with them.

I came upon one, some years back, at the City Reliquary museum in Brooklyn.

at the City Reliquary

And now the other has been found and rescued. The painter who discovered it reached out to the Lebewohl family and they picked it up.

The painter says that Josh Lebewohl, grandson of deli founder Abe, was glad to get the sign back. "I think he's going to try and place it with the Jewish Museum," the painter told me, "or maybe the New York Historical Society or Museum of the City of New York."