Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Cup & Saucer Stripped

This summer we saw the tragic end of the Cup & Saucer, thanks to a non-negotiable rent hike.



It didn't take long for the beautiful old signage to get stripped.



And replaced by a bunch of shitty For Rent banners.








Monday, September 18, 2017

Native Leather

VANISHING

On Bleecker Street since 1968, Native Leather is closing.


photos courtesy of Carol Walsh

Owner Carol Walsh writes in:

"Native Leather, formerly Natural Leather, has been a constant on Bleecker Street for 49 years. I was heartbroken when the landlord told me that he would not be offering me a new lease. The last lease expired 2 years ago and since then he has been trying to find a tenant who will pay double what my rent was."

The shop was originally started by sandal-maker Dick Whalen in a basement on MacDougal Street in 1962. (For more history on the shop, see Mitch Broder's account.) Since then, it's been a favorite of locals and tourists.

Carol notes, "A day doesn’t go by that I don’t hear from someone 'I’m so glad you’re still here,' or 'I was so worried walking over here that you would be gone.' It wasn’t because they needed me to make them a belt or sandals, or they needed a new hat. It was the comfort of knowing that this little plot of Greenwich Village was impervious to the 'progress' that has afflicted so much of New York and notably the Village. I have customers who started out window shopping on their way home from elementary school across the street at the Little Red Schoolhouse."



The high-rent blight that afflicts western Bleecker Street is creeping east. More and more, we see For Rent signs in the windows of shops shuttered by impossible rents and denied lease renewals. They are unprotected by the city. The Small Business Jobs Survival Act would have helped.

Carol says, "The 'Commercial Space for Rent' sign has yet to appear in the window. I expect it any day. 203 Bleecker is destined to join the many empty storefronts which populate Greenwich Village and beyond. The future is still uncertain, but I know that I will need help if this business is to survive to start a new legacy somewhere else in Greenwich Village."





Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Reme Restaurant

VANISHED

Reader Keith Taillon writes in about the recent loss of yet another affordable coffee shop:

"A beloved neighborhood diner in Washington Heights abruptly closed recently, and I don't know why. I visited one week, and walking past a week later, found the space emptied with auction fliers taped to the windows. It remains empty."


photos by Keith Taillon

"The diner was called Reme, and it sat at the northwest corner of 169th and Broadway. It was a classic NYC diner, open for at least 40-50 years, attracting old timers, hospital workers, students, and newcomers (like myself) drawn to the area by low rents and a sense of 'home' you can't find elsewhere in the city anymore. Part of what made Washington Heights home for me was being able to go to Reme, where I knew all of the employees by face if not by name, and where I knew I could get a good hot meal for just a few bucks."



Keith shares a few anecdotes:

"- It was cash-only, and very affordable.
- It attracted a great mix from the neighborhood. Lonely old Dominican men & women sitting alone at the bar, loud multi-generational families spilling across tables in the middle of the room, and doctors & students from NY Presbyterian Hospital all could be found there on a daily basis.
- Sheila was my favorite waitress. She was a short, gruff, and sassy Trinidadian woman who lived in Queens and commuted in almost daily. She was even there during blizzards and immediately after Hurricane Sandy, though god knows how she made it in. She was always ready with her order pad and a 'whattayahavin?' I'll miss her.
- There was an ancient TV above the kitchen prep alcove that was usually tuned to the news or a soap opera, sometimes kids' shows. Next to that was a shelf covered with a menagerie of action figures. I don't know why.
- The breakfast menu, which was used before 11AM, had a long history of the restaurant printed on the back. The details I remember are that it was originally called 'Remel Restaurant' when it opened in the 40s, but that the L fell off at some point. When it was bought by a new owner, he liked the metal lettering, even without the L and decided to just call the place Reme from then on."



He concludes:

"I can't help but think a lot of people in the neighborhood are missing Reme, but Washington Heights lacks the preservationist infrastructure to discuss what's happening or to properly mourn our losses as they pick up speed. Whatever replaces Reme will have to work hard to pry any dollars from my wallet. This is a bitter loss for me."

Monday, September 11, 2017

Greater Than Ever?

In their last issue, New York magazine published an eye-opening interview with Dan Doctoroff, former Mayor Bloomberg's deputy mayor of economic development and reconstruction.

The occasion for the interview was Doctoroff's new book, Greater Than Ever: New York's Big Comeback, about his years working to rezone nearly half the city after 9/11, a Robert Moses-level act that made the city glitter as it helped to boost vast inequality and unprecedented levels of hyper-gentrification.


Doctoroff at Hudson Yards. Photo: Kyle Dorosz

In the interview, Doctoroff acknowledges this. A bit. "The city grew faster than we expected," he says. But he holds to the belief that "You have to treat citizens and businesses like customers." It's a basic tenet of what urbanist Julian Brash has called The Bloomberg Way, "a notion of governance in which the city is run like a corporation. The mayor is the CEO, the businesses are clients, citizens are consumers, and the city itself is a product that’s branded and marketed. And New York is a luxury product."

To create that luxury product, the Bloomberg administration relied on two types of zonings: up and down. They are not equal.

Upzoning opens territories for higher rents and bigger development, while downzoning preserves neighborhood character by limiting growth. As Sarah Laskow pointed out in Politico New York: “Upzoned lots tended to be in areas that were less white and less wealthy, with fewer homeowners. Downzoned lots tended to be areas that were more white and had both higher incomes and higher rates of homeownership.” That meant “more privileged people were more likely to have the city change the zoning of their neighborhoods to preserve them exactly as they were.” Less privileged people got upzoned out.



In his book, Doctoroff argues that this massive rezoning “changed the physical nature of the city in ways that will undergird prosperity for decades,” while attracting new “dreamers and strivers."

Interviewer Carl Swanson calls these people "the new New Yorkers who, while they might claim they long for some filth Camelot of the busted 1970s, happily throng this implacably gentrifying customer-service metropolis."

For Doctoroff, says Swanson, nostalgia is "practically an epithet." Of course. Nostalgia as epithet is a strategy used by pro-development people to discredit and dismiss those who want to preserve the city as a diverse and affordable place. "You're just nostalgic" has become a cliche of the pro-growth mindset.



But it was this bit of the interview that really grabbed me:

"Doctoroff also writes in the book about how he never really liked New York City, much less wanted to live here, which is an odd thing for someone who served for six years as its deputy mayor to admit. When he first visited with his family, in 1968 — he was 10 and a resident of Birmingham, a well-off suburb of Detroit — it was 'hate at first sight.' He moved here in 1983 after his wife got a job at HBO — Doctoroff had been only three times and it never grew on him. The self-described 'creature of the suburbs' helped remake this city, in some ways, for his own maximum personal comfort."

Isn't that what many of us suspected?

It brings to mind something that urbanist William Whyte wrote on the urban renewal of the 1950s and ’60s. While more people were moving into cities and rebuilding them, he said, it was “not the same thing as liking cities.” The people doing the rebuilding “don’t like cities. They do not merely dislike the noise and the dirt and the congestion. They dislike the city’s variety and concentration, its tension, its hustle and bustle.”

And what about the new "dreamers and strivers"? Do they love New York? Or do they love the suburbanized town remade for the personal comfort of a certain class of people?



Doctoroff calls himself a "creature of the suburbs." Throughout the 2000s, we've witnessed the suburbanization of New York City. This shift is not expressed only in the proliferation of big-box chain stores, it also comes in the hearts and minds of many (not all) newcomers.

As Rem Koolhaas has said, "The city has twice been humiliated by the suburbs: once upon the loss of its constituency to the suburbs and again upon that constituency’s return. These prodigal citizens brought back with them their mutated suburban values of predictability and control."


125th St. after a Bloomberg rezoning

Under Bloomberg, the city’s poverty rate rose to its highest levels in a decade. More people became homeless. The income gap in Manhattan rivaled sub-Saharan Africa. By 2016, New Yorkers were spending 65.2 percent of their total income on rent. Small businesses are in crisis. Neighborhoods are hyper-gentrifying -- and re-segregating along race and class lines.

As Michael Greenberg recently wrote in his important New York Review article on the city's affordable housing crisis: "We speak nowadays with contrition of redlining, the mid-twentieth-century practice by banks of starving black neighborhoods of mortgages, home improvement loans, and investment of almost any sort. We may soon look with equal shame on what might come to be known as bluelining: the transfiguration of those same neighborhoods with a deluge of investment aimed at a wealthier class."

Is this really "greater than ever"? As always, we must ask: Greater for whom?



Friday, September 8, 2017

Cafe Orlin

VANISHING

After 36 years on St. Mark's Place, the much beloved Cafe Orlin will be closing.

I confirmed with the cafe that their last day in business will be October 15, but didn't have the chance to find out the reason for the closure.

UPDATE: Grub Street followed up and said, "An employee who confirmed the closing said, 'I don’t know. I think the owner is tired, after 36 years.' He did say that Orlin’s owner owns the building, and a new restaurant will open in its place."


"Bohemian hangout," New York magazine, 1987

This is one of those favorite neighborhood spots you tuck into with a friend and say: Thank goodness this one's still here. (Seriously, I just said that a few weeks ago over the breakfast sandwich.)

The closure is surprising if only because Orlin is always packed for weekend brunch, with lines of people waiting to get a table. Since 1981, it's been a go-to when you wanted a "nicer" bacon and eggs than diner fare.

And now? Yet another nail in the coffin for dying St. Mark's Place.

Well, you can always go to the St. Mark's Starbucks.




Friday, September 1, 2017

Cube Christened

The Astor Place Cube has been christened.


photo: Joe Preston

After getting spruced up and sanitized almost a year ago by the Village Alliance BID for the new, more controlled, and semi-privatized Astor Place, The Alamo has finally attracted some good old-fashioned chaos. In yellow spray paint. With a Pac-Man and a heart.

Unless, of course, that's some stealthy authentrification.

Happy end of summer.

And Grieve reports -- the private forces of the Village Alliance have already been on it:




Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Last Supper at The Riviera

VANISHING

The Riviera Cafe will have its last day of business tomorrow, on August 31, as previously reported here. So I went for a last meal.



They've redone their menu to feature a goodbye note and family photos.



"Yes, it's true," the menu reads. "We will be closing our doors for the last time on August 31. It has been a great run of 47 years." The letter recalls the old days--and the old prices--and says, "the current landscape is nothing like it was... we are now saturated with restaurants that keep coming and going. They usually don't last long, but sure enough someone else always shows up to take over. After nearly a half-century, we decided it was time."

"Simply put, given the current environment we can't survive and be what we've always been: a nice neighborhood coffee shop/restaurant that welcomes all with no pretense at an affordable price. And we aren't going to change that format to 'keep up with the Joneses.' It is for that reason, and that reason only, we decided to wrap it up."



Whether it's the rent or the taxes, the price of doing business in a hyper-gentrified neighborhood is usually to blame for these closures.

I'll miss the Riviera. It was always there when you needed an affordable and unpretentious place for a meal. Something that's becoming evermore impossible to find.