Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Newsstands Dying

Years ago, I wrote a lengthy piece on the history of New York's newsstands, how City Hall and other powers had been trying to replace and control them for decades, and how Bloomberg succeeded.

In 2003, Bloomberg signed the street furniture bill, aiming, in his own words, “to rationalize the streets of the city, where right now it’s a hodgepodge of unattractive things.” The city seized hundreds of stands from their long-time owners, replacing them with identical stainless steel and glass boxes by Cemusa, a Spanish advertising company. As the Times explained, “Before 2003, newsstand operators paid the city a licensing fee, but owned and paid for their newsstand.... Now the newsstands are owned by Cemusa.”

At one point, Bloomberg reportedly wanted the mom-and-pop operators to pay for the new stands—at a cost of up to $40,000 each. That’s like the government seizing your house, building a new house you’ll rent from a corporation, and then charging you for its construction. Luckily, that didn’t wash, but the old stands still fell.

A lawyer for the Newsstand Association called the bill “an unconstitutional taking of private property.” The courts sided with Bloomberg.

Now Thrillist reports that our newsstands are suffering. The Cemusa deal, chain stores, and the usual changes in consumption, are all sucking the life out of them.

“Everything is going down, down, down,” said one newsstand operator. “I’ve been here for twelve years, and every day is worse.” He blamed the proliferation of chains like Duane Reade and Walgreens. “This business will not be around for much longer."

The solution? One guy wants to see updated newsstands selling "millennial-targeted" stuff, like bike helmets and natural condoms. After all, he says--essentially agreeing with Bloomberg--“The [old] newsstands were...pretty crappy."

Or we could, you know, give the newsstand operators their private property back. And maybe, call me crazy, rezone the city to control the rampant virus of chain stores that's killing every small business in town. #SaveNYC.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Lenox Lounge Lost

Here's what's left of the once great and gorgeous Lenox Lounge. There's nothing but a pile of brick and timber, a couple of broken walls, and the ghosts of Harlem past.

photo: Lynn Lieberman (AFineLyne)

Untapped Cities has more photos, if you'd like to rend your garments and beat your breast in grief.

The demolition began earlier this month after a long, sad story--which you can read here. And, yeah, it was the rent. It's almost always the rent. Regulations on commercial rent would have prevented this.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Death Knell of the Peeps

Last week, we heard the news that Richard Basciano, porn king of Times Square, had passed away. He had kept Show World going for decades in a pair of old buildings on 8th Avenue and 42nd Street, remnants of the lost Deuce. Surely his passing will mean the closure of Show World and the sale--and likely demolition--of the buildings.

I went by to check on Show World. Already, much of the place has been closed. The main room is open, still selling DVDs, magazines, and sex toys; and the handful of video peep booths there are running. But the warren of back rooms and basement spaces has been closed. The neon lights are off. Chains cross the entrances hung with "do not enter" signs.

Show World has been diminished.

This week, Crain's offered an in-depth look at Basciano's life with Show World. They came to the same conclusion:

"Regardless of whether his estate sells, undertakes a development itself or finds a partner, the financial pressures from the lawsuit make it likely that Show World Center will close. That would mean the end of an era, reducing to three the number of porn shops operating around Eighth Avenue in Times Square: Vishara Video, The Blue Store and The Playpen.

'Show World was the mega emporium of all things erotic,' said Neil Wexler, a writer for a host of X-rated magazines in the 1980s and 1990s, including Leg World, Cheeks and Girls Over 40. 'It’s a shell of what it was. If it closed, it would be symbolic of the death of the industry in Times Square.'"

Crain's also reveals another imminent vanishing:

"Vishara Video may also be unable to withstand the pull of market forces," they write. ("Market forces" is another way of saying landlord-driven hyper-gentrification.) "Hersel Torkian, the XXX store’s landlord, said he did not plan to renew its lease: 'Their lease is coming up soon, and we don’t want them there.'”

Here's what the last shuttered XXX joint on 8th Avenue looks like today. What was DVD Depot has been sitting empty for 3 years. From smut to high-rent blight:

Monday, May 8, 2017

Lenox Lounge Demolished

After 73 years of legendary life in Harlem, and after 4 years of sitting empty and wasted, the once great Lenox Lounge is currently being demolished. It is a terrible shame that could have been avoided.


If the city had commercial rent control, as it did for many years, it would have been avoided. If the City Council had passed the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, it might have been avoided. But City Hall refuses to protect small business people against landlord greed, claiming that it's a free-market society--which it is not.

Corporate chains in the city are regularly chosen by Business Improvement Districts and given millions of dollars in tax breaks and incentives. That's not laissez-faire. That's corporate welfare.

Thanks to City Hall's catering to big business, we have lost the Lenox Lounge, along with countless other precious local landmarks. For the soul of the city, the price of that loss is high.

Owner Alvin Reed, Daily News photo, 2012

In 2012, the landlord of the Lenox Lounge doubled the rent, from $10,000 to $20,000 per month. This was more than small business owner Alvin Reed could manage. The lease was given to Richie Notar of the Nobu luxury restaurant chain.

At the same time, Whole Foods announced a move to 125th Street--later we would learn that it would land in the empty lot directly across from the Lenox Lounge. In the Whole Foods Effect, rents near the store increase. That's exactly what happened in Harlem. And that Whole Foods would not have been there without the Bloomberg Administration's rezoning of 125th Street, a controversial process that has strangled the historic street in chains.

After being forced to close on New Year's Eve 2013, Alvin Reed stripped the Lenox Lounge of its antique facade, announcing that he would resurrect it all in another location. That did not come to pass.

The landlord sued Reed for stripping the place. Cultural history isn't worth much without those antique details. Notar backed out of the deal, telling the Daily News, "the scope of the project (mostly the overall condition of the building) became bigger than anticipated."

The Lenox Lounge was left to rot. Someone spray-painted "1939 - 2012: 80 YEARS FOR THIS” across the plywood that covered the door.


As the big, shimmery building that will house Whole Foods rose across the street, the rent on the Lenox Lounge space doubled again--to $40,000 per month.

Then we learned that it would be completely demolished and replaced with a dull glass box containing a Sephora. Two glass boxes, two hollow mirrors, will soon reflect each other across Malcolm X Boulevard. What effect will that have on the people there?

Whole Foods coming

In 2011, cognitive neuroscientist Colin Ellard studied what happens to people on the sidewalk when they stand in front of a bland glass façade. He placed human subjects in front of the Whole Foods on the Lower East Side, strapped skin-conducting bracelets to their wrists, and asked them to take notes on their emotional states. He reported, “When planted in front of Whole Foods, my participants stood awkwardly, casting around for something of interest to latch on to and talk about. They assessed their emotional state as being on the wrong side of ‘happy’ and their state of arousal was close to bottoming out.” The instruments on their wrists agreed. “These people were bored and unhappy. When asked to describe the site, words such as bland, monotonous and passionless rose to the top of the charts.” Ellard then moved the group to another site nearby, “a small but lively sea of restaurants and stores with lots of open doors and windows.” Here, these same people felt “lively and engaged.” Their nervous systems perked up.

In his book Happy City, Charles Montgomery calls this “an emerging disaster in street psychology.” The loss of old buildings and small businesses, the homogenization from suburban chains and condo boxes, is more than an aesthetic loss. It is damaging us psychologically and physically. Montgomery writes, “The big-boxing of a city block harms the physical health of people living nearby, especially the elderly. Seniors who live among long stretches of dead frontage have actually been found to age more quickly than those who live on blocks with plenty of doors, windows, porch stoops, and destinations.”

The big shiny boxes are literally killing us.

Small old buildings and businesses, like the Lenox Lounge, have a positive effect on our mental health. Just walking past and looking at them can be an emotional and physical boost.

Today, as the Lenox Lounge is demolished, there is no boost, only despair. The inside has been gutted to the beams and bricks. Sunlight streams in through the busted roof and shines in the place where the walls were once flocked in zebra stripes and Billie Holiday sang of "Strange Fruit." On the sidewalk, black Harlemites walk past shaking their heads. They stop to take a final photo, a memory of what's been lost.

Last week we also learned that New York City has lost 30% of its black-owned businesses--in just the five years between 2007 - 2012. The Lenox Lounge was one of them. Its loss was not inevitable. It wasn't normal or natural or part of that tired cliche of "New York is always changing." It was part of a systemic process rooted in the racism and classism of redlining and urban renewal, what James Baldwin called "Negro removal." Today, he could use the same words for hyper-gentrification.

The Lenox Lounge is yet another casualty in the long battle for the soul of New York.

For additional reading, see Michael Henry Adams' "Last Call: Who's to Blame for the Destruction of the Lenox Lounge?"

Friday, May 5, 2017

Canal Rubber

A couple of readers sent in a listing offering the Canal Rubber site for rent. "Currently Canal General Merchandise and Canal Rubber," it reads, with a plea and a renaming: "Join Canal Street’s burgeoning design district."

And, of course, there's a rendering of the blandification that the realtor hopes will come, clearly a dream of Shake Shack (and a different breed of people):

Canal Rubber has been in this location since 1954. I called the place and was told that the building has been sold to a new owner, but the shop is not closing: "We're not going anywhere."

That's good news because Canal Rubber is beloved--by customers, of course, but also by passersby, thanks to its unique vintage signage. IF IT'S IN RUBBER - WE HAVE IT!

(They've got a great Twitter feed that shows all the amazing things you can do with their products.)

Urban miniaturist Alan Wolfson even rendered Canal Rubber in Lilliputian dimensions. Long live Canal Rubber.

mini Canal Rubber, Alan Wolfson

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Show World's Basciano

The Daily News reported yesterday that Richard Basciano, "New York’s former prince of porn who made a mint peddling smut in the old Times Square," has died at the age of 92.

Basciano, the paper notes, "owned several neglected, but highly valuable, buildings between 42nd and 43rd Sts. along Eighth Ave. The former porn purveyor had gotten many offers from major developers for his infamous Show World building at 42nd St. and Eighth Ave." But he lived in the building and, for reasons involving a partner, was not able to sell it. So it has remained.

But what will happen to the Show World building--and Basciano's other "neglected" and valuable properties--now that he's gone?

The former Show World, early 2000s

The original Show World vanished (mostly) in 2004 and became a family-friendly entertainment center.

After Giuliani’s 1995 zoning ordinance, Show World had soldiered on, its naughty bits whittled away piece by piece. By 1998, the live girls were gone and the theater space was leased to an off-off-Broadway company that performed Chekhov plays on stages where naked girls once performed live sex acts, including Face Shows—as the sign said, “Let our girls sit on your face.” (Here's an NSFW look inside in 1980.)

Most recently, it held Times Scare, a haunted-house themed bar and restaurant.

Show World Center, however, remains a XXX joint right next door--originally a sort of annex to the old Show World. It went up for lease or sale in 2008, but never budged.

To walk through Show World Center is to descend into Times Square past, exploring a neon-lit warren of rooms, levels, and staircases, filled with dirty magazines and video peep booths. An attendant makes change and mops the floors. Men shuffle past in furtive glances.

There's a Coke machine for your refreshment.

Signs warn of NO LIVE GIRLS since 1998. In case you missed it, there's an image of a live girl with a big red X through it.

"Sorry for the disappointment," the sign reads.

Of course, they also sell sex toys--the usual double dildos and penis pumps, vibrators and nipple clamps. But the most unusual sight of all awaits you downstairs in the quiet, unpopulated basement.

There you will find, by order of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, entire rooms full of nothing but crossword puzzle books (along with old TV Guides and other supermarket magazines).

When Giuliani passed his unconstitutional ordinance against sex shops in 1998, part of the ruling stated that a store would be considered X-rated if 40 percent or more of their stock or floor space was in adult materials. As the Times reported at the time, the sex shops complied--by loading their spaces with just enough non-adult materials to qualify them as not X-rated. 

I rather like the crossword puzzle book room at Show World Center. It gives you an odd, disorienting sensation to come upon it in the midst of smut and neon lights. No one is ever there. No one is looking at the crossword puzzle books. And no one -- I would wager -- ever bothers to buy them.

They sit there, turning yellow and crinkly over the years, doing their job of keeping the cops from the door. These little crossword puzzles have kept Show World Center open for the past 20 years. But for how much longer?

We've seen it before. When an old-time property owner passes away, there's always a feeding frenzy for his buildings. The developers descend. The descendants fight among themselves, trying to get the most money. Eventually, everything is sold--then demolished and replaced with something expensive and made of dull glass.

Now is probably the time to go and say goodbye. The last gasp of smutty old Times Square may not be here tomorrow.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Phil's Stationery

I like paper. I like pretty much anything on paper. I like how it looks, feels, and smells.

Some people go around smelling old books. Lagerfeld makes a perfume that mimics the odor of books, called Paper Passion. Book smell, say researchers at the University College London’s Centre for Sustainable Heritage, is “a combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness.” It is the smell of decay.

Stationery stores don't have the full-bodied aroma of a used bookshop, but they're a close second, especially an old, cluttered stationery store like Phil's on E. 47th Street.

"One of the last old fashioned stationery stores," as they say on their site, Phil's carries vintage stationery supplies: "Airmail envelopes. Onion skin paper. Many Boorum & Pease record and columnar books. Old typewriter and printer ribbons. Rolodexes. And more!"

Genuine means product from the original manufacturer!
When Phil's says original -- It's original!
When Phil's says genuine -- It's genuine!
When Phil's says authentic -- It's authentic!
Everything is original and never used before!

Buy Real! Buy Phil's!"

And here's the latest Yelp review:

"If you're a New Yorker who, like me, grew up idolizing the New York of the pre-Giuliani age you owe it to yourself to make a pilgrimage to Phil's and buy yourself a pen or notebook. If you want a spic'n'span experience where you are waited on like a princess (I'm looking at you, 3 star Georgina!), go to Staples."

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Hotel 17


A sort of little Chelsea Hotel, the famous Gramercy lodging spot Hotel 17 has closed down, Town & Village reports.

They have "stopped taking reservations and has been cleared of guests. According to the general property manager of the business, Eyal Siri, this is not due to lack of business but due to the city’s crackdown on illegal hotels, which Siri said he’s been unfairly ensnared in." A few permanent residents remain.

A notice on the hotel's website reads: “We thank you for your patronage and it has been our honor to serve you during the last 67 years that Hotel 17 has been in operation. Unfortunately the city of New York has decided to close down this generations old family business and we therefore can no longer accept any reservations. Our family and employees thank you and all wish you safe travels.”

Over the years, many artists and club kids stayed at Hotel 17. It was a popular place for drag queens and other transgender folks. Madonna reportedly lived there before she was famous. And Woody Allen shot scenes from Manhattan Murder Mystery there.

Lola at Hotel 17, 1994, by Linda Simpson

I asked artist John Toth to share a few memories of his time at the place--the rest of this post is all Toth:

via sexgoddeathandus

My stay at Hotel 17 was during an interesting chapter in my early New York City experience. It was 1992/93 and I was working at (stylist) Patricia Field's store on 8th St., as well as her short-lived location on 6th Ave. I remember I was a bit desperate and frantic the night I moved in, as the girl I had been staying with in the East Village, who also worked at Pat's for a brief time, had kicked me out rather suddenly to make room for her boyfriend. It may have been her who told me to try Hotel 17.

When I phoned the hotel I received a lot of attitude from the manager, who very curtly asked me "who I was" and "where I worked." As soon as I told him I worked at Pat's (aka: The House of Field) his tone changed and he told me yes, he had a room and to come by immediately. My working for Pat, as one "downtown legend" said to me a decade later, "meant something" then. A job in her store was a coveted position because of the "scene" (which for the most part meant "nightlife") that orbited around it. "Downtown" Manhattan was still an adjective then and the manager of Hotel 17 understood that.

I remember him describing his criteria for selecting who was allowed to live there long-term, which was similar to how (notoriously selective) NYC doorpeople used to vet the crowd at various nightclubs: how you looked, how you dressed, and sometimes what you did, all of which had to be "unique" and/or "artistic."

One of the regular fixtures at Hotel 17 was, and still is, the famous transsexual and nightlife personality, Amanda Lepore, whose room, when I was living there, I remember was all red, including the lightbulbs. I also remember stepping into the elevator one night and encountering London-based fashion designer and performance artist, Leigh Bowery (who stayed there frequently), who was heading out to a nightclub with a plastic vagina glued to his face.

The place definitely had a Chelsea Hotel sort of vibe, as it housed a mish-mosh of people and had an easy-going community spirit (including shared bathrooms). Billy, the manager, was very kind to me and helped me out a lot, as I was basically subsisting on the 50-cent hot dogs from Gray's Papaya next to Pat's 6th Avenue location.

That's why places like Hotel 17 are important. It allowed me, and many others, to exist in Manhattan, in between a permanent residence, fairly inexpensively. Something which is pretty much impossible now. New York City was very much about experience then, and the kind of experiences it offered required little money and were incredibly thrilling. The disappearance of places such as Hotel 17, as well as astronomical rents, make it harder and harder for the next generation to come to New York City and live a (chosen) non-traditional life.

Amanda Lepore at Hotel 17--where will she go?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


Unitard, "NYC’s naughtiest, nastiest, no-holds-barred comic trio," just announced its new residency "Tard Core: There Are No Safe Words" at Joe's Pub, starting May 3. The group is made up of Mike Albo, Nora Burns, and David Ilku. They poke fun. It has come to my attention that they'll be poking fun of the hyper-gentrified city, so I asked Albo a few questions.

With Unitard, and in your solo work, you've roasted gentrifiers and gentrification. What makes the topic so right for comedy?

Well, greed is always something ripe for satire and parody. Its always amazing to watch, especially in this city, and now elsewhere, how insane and absurd-minded people get about real estate and what they can accomplish by selling avocado toast for 12 dollars.

What's so wrong about 12-dollar avocado toasts?

Oh, they are delicious! Especially when you make it yourself for an eighth the cost! Its just friggin' toast with some avocado on it! We have fabulized ourselves into financial oblivion. Somehow we need to make bad coffee and oily omelettes at diners cool again.

I'd love to hear your suggestions for how to do that.

Get Gigi Hadid or Kendall Jenner to take a pouty Instagram photo? One weird mutation with our food culture now is how people just buy things to take pictures of it. Have you seen the new “Unicorn Frappucino” at Starbucks? It's basically diabetes in a cup. But it's more a photo op than it is food.

I’m afraid diners don’t have eye-catching entrees, so maybe if we opened a diner and stuck a bunch of Smurfs and confetti all over it, we would have a business.

What gentrifi-centric subject matter can people expect in this upcoming show?

Oh, so much! We have “Ruiners,” who are three types of people who come and ruin your city. But then at the same time we also have a sketch of people who sit there and complain about how great things used to be.

So you'll also be roasting people like me! And yourself. When you complain about how great things used to be, what do you complain about?

See above about diners. Most everything I complain about has to do with the affordability of things before, say, 1999. My life “before” was so cheap, but I barely remember it. I made about $1,500 a month tops and somehow afforded to go out, eat out, enjoy myself. I produced a solo show or a play every year, too. I was still poor (I am always poor), but I wasn’t in a constant state of financial panic like I am now. A swarm of hidden fees and costs plague me now--my cellphone, my Netflix, my everything.

And this has affected me artistically. I can’t afford to publicize myself or my work and I feel like I am languishing in obscurity while the moneyed have assistants to tweet and Instagram and get their T magazine sidebar article. Have you noticed that everything is about publicity now? PR and events are what keep this city alive.

We also didn't used to see the rich everywhere. Now they're everywhere--or just about. And they're very conspicuous with their wealth. I think this constant visual has a big impact on how it feels to live in New York and not have that wealth.

Yes. And it sort of creeps into your psyche. I learned a hard lesson on how our culture is designed for the wealthy when I was canned at the New York Times, something I explain in my solo show and Kindle Single The Junket. In a nutshell, I was a freelancer there with no contract or salary, and I was invited on a free trip (which I made sure was on my own time and in no way associated with the Times), and that was “exposed” by Gawker (r.i.p., you bitch!), and I was "let go" for violating their ethics code. Now I totally understand journalistic ethics of keeping your reporters free of commercial influence, but there is a secret system of bread buttering going on that is WAY more egregious than one low-income freelancer taking a trip on his own time. Essentially, if you want to write about anything, especially travel or style, you have to be able to afford to pay your own way, know the right people, have the right access. It's why you see articles like “The Alluring Treehouses of Mozambique” in that insane T Magazine and wonder who the fuck wrote that. They are written for rich people by rich people.

And you are right the rich people are everywhere now! How are there so many?! Do they grow them on trees? After he saw The Junket, my friend, the talented Rob Roth, told me how, back when the legendary weirdo dance night Jackie 60 was happening in the Meatpacking District, there would be just one or two rich people in the mix of queers, trans people, drag queens, and artists. They were just part of the mix.

It’s awe striking how long ago and completely unlike our current climate it was when going somewhere fancy was getting a burger at Bowery Bar or maybe a mimosa at the Four Seasons if you were feeling ironic. But you went to Florent mostly to just feel the energy and be among your artsy peers, and get their goat cheese salad and spend under 25 bucks and feed your soul.

We have this whole repeat gag in our Unitard show about an 18 dollar glass of wine. I love that there are people out there who actually just pay for that breezily. If I did that I would be essentially taking a fork and stabbing myself in the stomach.

Check out Mike Albo and Unitard at Joe's Pub--starting May 3.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Fight the Vanishing: Tonight

Tired of watching your local small businesses disappear? There are solutions. Tired of complaining about it while doing nothing? Here's your chance.

Tonight, the Artist Studio Affordability Project is hosting a discussion and organizing meeting on the topic from 5:30 - 7:00 p.m. at Jimmy’s 43, 43 East 7th Street in Manhattan.

They write:

"We have a commercial rent crisis in NYC. Bodegas, bookstores and hardware stores are closing. Working artists, dance troupes and musicians are leaving the city. And manufacturers are leaving our industrial zones, taking their good jobs with them. Why? High commercial rents, and no lease rights.

Learn about some possible solutions, including one approach introduced in the City Council: The Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA). The SBJSA would help all commercial lease holders in NYC, from mom & pop stores to artists to manufacturers. It offers an opportunity to restore economic equality to our business owners, save our art and cultural institutions, maintain the character of our neighborhoods, preserve a pathway to social mobility for hard-working families, and could even function as a brake on gentrification. The SBJSA has the potential to do all this, while dealing with only one aspect of “small business:” the lease renewal process. What is it, how would it help? How can this bill get a hearing and ultimately a vote of support? How can we pressure our elected officials to show real leadership? Come to this discussion and brainstorming session. Your input is important."

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Hyper-gentrifying 14th

I was just thinking about how truly remarkable it is that much of 14th Street, from east to west, has not been hyper-gentrified.

Yes, there's the Apple Store at the western end. Yes, a Target and maybe Trader Joe's is coming to the east. And Union Square is strangled in chains. But much of the rest miraculously remains Chinese takeout joints, 99-cent stores, other discount shops, diners, and one beloved doughnut shop. It attracts a diversity of New Yorkers, many from lower socioeconomic circumstances.

And now this.

Gothamist reports that, in response to the impending L Train shutdown, Transportation Alternatives has a plan that "envisions a 14th Street free of car traffic—a concept with the endorsement of city planners, politicians and advocates—plus a six-stop shuttle bus operating on dedicated lanes, and protected bike lanes. The shuttle would connect to a new cross-bridge bus, carrying Williamsburg commuters on a dedicated lane over the Williamsburg Bridge. Among the runners-up are a proposal for temporary barriers separating dedicated bike and bus lanes on 14th Street, and a plan that would close certain blocks of 14th Street to traffic."

We all know that one powerful way to hyper-gentrify a neighborhood, or a cross-section of the city, is through transportation alternatives, i.e., bike lanes and trolley cars. Pedestrian plazas, as Bloomberg's transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn showed, made property values shoot through the roof in Times Square. These are proven tactics. Conservatives love them because they're good for the rich. And liberals love them because they're environment friendly. But they are not friendly to a diverse, affordable, and equitable urban environment.

This plan is not a done deal by a long shot. But it's worth noting that developers and urban planners have their eye on the scruffy remains of this holdout corridor. Enjoy it while you can.

Any time I've ever mentioned bike lanes as anything but an all-good thing, people become apoplectic, both the pro-development neoliberals and the lefty bike advocates. For the record, I own a bike and I ride in the bike lanes. I enjoy them. They still are used by mayors to spur and reinforce gentrification by attracting "creative economy" consumers, tourists, and residents (see the work of Richard Florida and Jamie Peck). Same goes for pedestrian plazas (though I don't like them). See Google. See also Google. See also this PDF from Sam Stein.

Monday, April 17, 2017

No Thanks, No Tech Hub

This Saturday, April 22, show up for a rally to save the neighborhood just south of Union Square Park.

Over just the past couple of years, we've watched this area be demolished and rebuilt into yet another dull center for luxury housing and corporations. Speculators are buying up whole buildings and evicting them of their small business tenants.

This is happening, in part, because of Mayor de Blasio's plan for a "tech hub."

the proposed tech hub on 14th st.

As GVSHP's Andrew Berman wrote in The Villager: "the new building would tower over its neighbors and form the lynchpin of a new 'Silicon Alley' the mayor hopes to develop between Union Square and Astor Place."

This is not a neighborhood in need of revitalization. It is already vital, its old buildings buzzing with small businesses from bottom to top. Say "no" to more luxurification. Say "no" to more corporate chains. Say "no" to more small business evictions.

Rally with GVSHP on Saturday at 3:00pm, on the east side of Broadway at 11th Street.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

New Quad Signage

Yesterday, the new Quad cinema got its new sign. It's a 3-D effect. With slots along the sides for digital display of current movie titles.

I took a peek inside. There are digital movie posters where there used to be paper. A wall of TV screens in the back. On the side, there's a wine bar with a tile floor that spells out QUAD.


The website is up and the new place opens this Friday. Early word has been good, so let's hope it's still welcoming to the city's scruffy cinemaniacs.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Dressing Up High-Rent Blight

Two years ago, Icon Realty purchased 57 Second Avenue for $30 million.

The two retail tenants, Alex Shoe Repair and Allied Hardware, were on month-to-month leases and soon removed via steep rent hikes -- $26,000 per month for the hardware shop and $14,000 for the cobbler.

Both businesses were mom-and-pop run for decades. They provided necessary services to local residents, and their storefronts provided visual interest to the avenue.

I liked walking past to see the giant hammer in Allied's window under their colorful sign. I especially liked the odd paintings that framed Alex Shoe Repair, and the typed poem in the window that Hettie Jones wrote for the cobbler.

These places were useful, local, and idiosyncratic.

Then they were gone.

The signs came down. The funny little paintings were painted over. And Icon's advertisements went up. The two storefronts sat that way for awhile, the picture of high-rent blight.

Now, Icon is dressing them up--and they're getting that look. You know the look. The "nice" look.

It's the look of sameness. The look of nothing. The look of the zombie city.

We see these same facades everywhere. Soon will come little chains--little taco chains or "juicery" chains--decked out in Edison bulbs and subway tiles. Or maybe a Starbucks. Maybe a place that feeds you charcoal shots so you shit black, because shitting black is now good for you. Or maybe an Aesop with their "fragrant botanicals and skin-softening emollients," or else that other place, the one that looks like Aesop and sells candles for $450.

Better yet, how about a bone brotherie? How about some more macarons?

Whatever comes, it won't last long. It won't last decades. It will come and it will go, and the neighborhood will feel that much less like a neighborhood. Again.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Angelica Sale

Angelica Kitchen closed yesterday after 40 years in the East Village. The place was mobbed. If you missed out on a final meal, you can visit today and tomorrow for their memorabilia sale:

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Save Our Small Businesses

As more and more mom and pops vanish from the face of New York City, people are getting sick of it, and the idea of saving them keeps coming up in the media.

This past week, NY1's "In Focus" with Cheryl Wills had two segments on the subject.

In the first (watch here), Wills talked with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Queens Councilman Eric Ulrich about the problem of chain stores in the city. As Brewer noted, "We don't live in a mall in the middle of Minnesota. We live in New York City."

Of course, without real policy changes, like the Small Business Jobs Survival Act or commercial rent control, like we had from 1945 - 1963, New York's looking an awful lot like a mall in Minnesota. And it will only get worse.

In the second segment (watch here), Wills spoke with The Commissioner of the NYC Small Business Services, Gregg Bishop, and the President and CEO of the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, Mark Jaffe.

Unfortunately, neither had any meaningful response to the problem of unreasonable rents.

Over on the Brian Lehrer Show, Tony Danza called in to ask Mayor Bill de Blasio what he was doing about what he called "neighborhood wasting disease."

Said Danza, "You know we have so many longtime establishments that have anchored neighborhoods in this city that are just being pushed out by exorbitant rents. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t know how you legislate that. But I’d just like to know what your thoughts are about going forward. Like, where I live on the West Side, on one block – and this is the truth, this is what’s really kind of startling, is that Starbucks had to leave because they couldn’t pay the rent."

The mayor did not have a useful response (read the full transcript). At one point, he replied, "Look, let’s be really cold here. It’s a free enterprise society that is not particularly warm and friendly to things like older stores, mom-and-pop stores. I would urge the landlords to be less greedy." (Three years ago, when I asked him on Reddit what he would do, he had a few better answers.)

The only way to regulate human greed is through policy. And, let's be clear, this is not a free enterprise society. It's a rigged society that gives deals to large corporations and developers.

Chain stores get taxpayer subsidies in this city. They get selected by Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). They get preferential treatment from banks. This is not "market forces." This is corporate welfare. It's time to put an end to it. There are solutions.

Visit #SaveNYC and learn more about what we can do to stop the death of New York's soul. We've even made it easy for you to write letters to City Hall.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Cat's Paw Girl


There has been a shoe repair shop at 74 E. 7th St. for many years. Most recently, it was David's. Before that, it was A. Brym's. And for all those decades, a Cat's Paw advertisement stayed stuck to the entryway window.

Now it's gone.


"Thin heels by CAT'S PAW," the circular sign read. "For those who want the best!" In the center of the circle, a smiling blonde cuddled a pair of kittens.

In this following photo from the 1960s, we see that Brym's had two copies of the ad--one decal on the front window and the other in the entryway.

Edmund V. Gillon, Jr.

You can catch a glimpse of them again in this next shot from 1980. That's likely the year that David's moved into Brym's. The front-most Cat's Paw girl probably vanished when David painted the window with his name, but the second sticker stayed.

And stayed.

I liked seeing her when I brought my shoes in for repair.

photo: Michael Sean Edwards, 1980

David's Shoe Store closed in 2013 when the landlord hiked the rent too high. It sat empty until recently. Workers are now building out something that looks like it will serve food. Maybe Japanese. Anyway, not shoes.

As expected, they have scraped away the Cat's Paw girl and her kittens, the last remnant of what was.