Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Freeze all Commercial Evictions

The following is a press release from the Small Business Congress

Candidates rally behind call to Freeze all Commercial Evictions

Last Chance to Save Mom & Pop businesses on the road to extinction.

Last Wednesday, on the steps of City Hall, independent-minded candidates running for office called for an Emergency Freeze of Evictions of All Commercial tenants. Lead by Mayoral candidate Sal Albanese, Public Advocate candidate David Eisenbach, and six council candidates, they claimed City Hall was not doing enough to pass legislation to protect small businesses from the sky-high rent increases forcing them to close in record numbers. Small Business Congress spokesperson Steven Barrison went further and accused the city’s leadership--Mayor de Blasio, Public Advocate James and Speaker Mark-Viverito--of joining big real estate in “rigging the system” to stop any legislation which gave rights to commercial owners to negotiate fair lease terms.

Barrison stated: “the crisis facing our small businesses has grown worse under these self proclaimed progressive liberals whose policy of 'doing nothing' has not saved a single business or job. In the long debate on passing legislation to regulate the lease renewal process, only once in 30 years has a public hearing been denied, under the de Blasio and Mark-Viverito administration."

To substantiate his claim the crisis is worsening, he gave NYC Court Warrants to Evict Commercial Tenants during Mayor de Blasio’s first three years compared to the last years of Mayor Bloomberg. Every day in NYC since the election of self-proclaimed Progressives, 16 businesses are issued court warrants to vacate, with an estimated 40 businesses closed each day.

Under former Mayor Bloomberg the average court evictions of commercial tenants, his last two years:

Avg. 492 warrants to vacate per month

Est. 1,000-1,2000 businesses closing each month in NYC

Est. 8,000-9,000 jobs lost each month


Under Mayor de Blasio, average court evictions of commercial tenants the past three years:

Avg. 491 warrant to vacate per month

Est. 1,200-1,400 businesses closing each month in NYC

Est. 9,600 – 11,200 jobs lost each month





Bronx Council candidate John Doyle explained how the crisis was no longer a high-rent neighborhood in Manhattan but has spread to even low-income neighborhoods in every borough. He proved his point with the court evictions for Bronx businesses’ increase in 2015 by 30%, leading all the boroughs.

The advocates for small business wanted the public to know the crisis was not just the exorbitant rent increases that are driving businesses to close or destroying their futures. Manhattan Council candidate Christopher Marte, whose father once ran a Bodega in the East Village, stated the growing trend of extorting cash from mostly immigrant owners whose lease expired and they had no rights to protect themselves. Bronx council candidate Michael Beltzer spoke about the shameful short term leases, sometimes month to month given to mostly immigrant owners, as landlords waited for deep pocket renters or speculators to buy their property. Brooklyn candidate Deidre Olivera highlighted the loss of jobs and lower wages that business owners were forced to pay as a result of paying both sky high rents and the landlord’s growing property taxes.

The crisis to survive was not just limited to small businesses. Manhattan candidate Mel Mymore spoke of the many professional businesses who faced this crisis but were being discriminated against in all of the City Hall proposals being discussed to address high rents. None of these proposals: zoning, lease extensions to give time to move, and tax incentives to landlords gave any protection to professional small business owners. Only the Small Business Jobs Survival Act gave rights to all commercial tenants. Rights to renewal leases for 10 years and rights to negotiate fair lease terms.



As this crisis grows worse and spreads to each borough, why would once proud sponsors of the Jobs Survival Act like Mayor de Blasio, Public Advocate James, and Speaker Mark-Viverito now allow their offices to remain silent and deny a hearing on the Jobs Survival bill or any legislation giving rights to the business owners?

The answer came from mayoral candidate Sal Albanese, who supports the Freeze of Evictions because “Mayor de Blasio would never support legislation which regulated his primary campaign donators-- big real estate.” Public Advocate candidate David Eisenbach agreed with Albanese's assessment and said, “the same was true for other leadership at City Hall who were being heavily funded in the election by REBNY and the real estate PACs. Several top leaders, like Public Advocate James had completely 'flipped' their support for the Jobs Survival Act and joined big real estate in denying democracy at City Hall.”

The Small Business Congress endorsed all these independent minded candidates as the ONLY HOPE to stand up to big real estate and the corrupt political machine to end this crisis and save our businesses.


For more on high-rent blight, read:
Bleak City
Save New York
Unchain the City
Vacant New York

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Mini Lower East Side

Over the years, I've profiled the work of a few miniaturists on this blog (Alan Wolfson, Randy Hage, Nicholas Buffon), artists who render the city smaller -- and thus preserve some facsimile of what was.

This week, Sensitive Skin magazine shares the work of Dennis Gordon, who created a whole Lower East Side in miniature -- or, at least, a dreamlike representation of what the Lower East Side once was.



Here's Gordon:

"I felt extremely comfortable in the midst of neglect and decay. The abandonment, loneliness, and isolation inside the structures grounded me despite the risk (though the buildings were abandoned by society, I was hardly alone). I discovered an escape from the boredom of inhabited space, and grew lost within the wealth of bygone architecture and design. I felt like I was participating in some grand installation of living art. The decay was dynamic, the interiors different if I revisit them in a year. New levels of rust and mold. Brick disintegrating and nature slowly prevailing, ailanthus trees growing through floors, replacing man-made elements. Where some people saw eyesores, I saw the labor of architects, craftsmen, and assemblymen using complex machinery built as durably as the products they made. To me, each abandoned building tells a story from our past, and all these buildings tell a collective story of our present, of an era of greed when everything–from architecture to wares to art–is disposable, replaceable."

Read more and see more at Sensitive Skin.




Thursday, June 22, 2017

Second Ave San Loco

The Second Avenue San Loco taco joint supplied my first meal in the East Village, 23 years ago. I ate those crunchy tacos on my fire escape after a long day of moving in. Back then, it was across Second Avenue, a hole in the wall bedecked in yellow and red.

The place was always full of customers. On its last night, it was packed. And now it's gone. The rent was too damn high.

In the plastic-covered windows, the owners have posted an "I Love NY" sign. The neon lights are dark.



I talked to co-owner Jill Hing last year about San Loco's struggles. She told me:

"There are many factors that contribute to our struggle to survive--and the noose definitely keeps tightening. Our customer base has been mostly squeezed out of this neighborhood as a consequence of hyper-gentrification. Rent is a constant source of stress. In our case, as with many long-standing businesses, we are at the mercy of the landlord and live in fear of our next rent renewal."

That fear has come true. As it does every day for many long-lived small businesses in New York City.


The last--as good as the first

For other San Loco locations, click here.




Wednesday, June 21, 2017

SP’s Nuts & Candy

Tribeca Citizen reports:

"SP’s Nuts & Candy, the store at 166 Church that you probably know as We Are Nuts About Nuts, is closing at the end of July."

Why is it closing? Is it because people don't buy enough nuts? Is it because tastes have changed? No, it's because "the landlord didn’t seem to want him to renew."



As the Times wrote in 2010:

"There are plenty of places to buy nuts in Manhattan, from Whole Foods to CVS to the occasional subway platform. But if you want them fresh, perhaps even still warm, from the roaster, SP’s Nuts and Candy may well be your only option.

Once upon a time, shops like this were a staple of city life, quick stops for a cheap, salty snack and a whiff of nuttiness. Today, SP’s owner, Michael Yeo, is keeping alive a New York tradition that has all but vanished over the past several decades, one he simply happened into."



Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Vanishing New York Book Party

Come celebrate the publication of Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul.



Where:
Housing Works Bookstore Cafe
126 Crosby St, NYC

When:
Thursday, July 27, 7:00pm

Books will be on sale. I'll be reading and signing. There will be refreshments. And--bonus!--downtown legend, the great Penny Arcade, will be performing. Looking forward to seeing you there!

View the invite and RSVP on Facebook







Monday, June 19, 2017

Talk of the Town

For the past 10 years, since July 2007, I've written this blog openly under a pen name. Now, as my book is about to publish on July 25, I figured it's time to come out of the blog closet. A decade is long enough.

I tell my story to Michael Schulman in this week's New Yorker magazine, on the pages of the "Talk of the Town."




Thursday, June 15, 2017

Croman + Rikers

On E. 6th Street, someone has spray-painted a big yellow heart encircling the words "Croman + Rikers":



The graffiti refers to the local "Bernie Madoff of Landlords," as the attorney general called him. He is serving a year in jail at Rikers Island after being charged with 20 felonies.

(Thanks Michael Hirsch for the tip.)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

More High Line Gloss

So this building is gone. Was it the last of the scrappy meatpacking buildings? The only one not to be demolished or gutted and glossed?



It had sat empty for years, blue and gloomy, waiting for slaughter. Nothing this close to the High Line is allowed to live.



I liked walking around it, behind it, where people rarely walked. The tourists and shoppers, so cautious, stayed away from it. It must have frightened them in its ragged old bricks. Now that it's gone, the tourists and shoppers are suddenly there.



What's coming to take its place? As the big machines dig their hole, a sign on the horizon urges, "GLOSSIER." Of course. The new building must be glossy. Made of glass and twist. Even though so many glass towers are bad for city life.

The shiny box coming to 40-56 Tenth Avenue has been named "Solar Carve Tower." Because, in the deadly age of global warming, the sun worshippers will not be deterred.



“In addition to producing a faceted, gem-like facade," reads the press release, "this integrated response allows the building to benefit the important public green space of the High Line—privileging light, fresh air, and river views to the public park—while also becoming a new iconic silhouette on the New York skyline."

Here's the rendering on the plywood wall.



I like to play a game with architectural renderings called Count the White People.

I counted approximately 70 cut-out people total -- on the street, on the High Line, and inside the building itself. They are shiny-happy, strolling, working, talking on cell phones. And 68 of them are (apparently) white.

Then there's this guy. He's the only one who might obviously be a person of color. He's also the only one I found who is used twice--his clone stands across the street, back turned.

Make of this what you will.



Now I'm worried about the Liberty Inn. It stands across the street, behind the construction site, where it was always protected from MePa's reach. Like I said, the tourists and the shoppers never went back there. Now they will. Now the little Liberty will be exposed. We've seen that happen many times before.

Back in the day, the building housed The Anvil. Today, the Liberty Inn is a "romance" hotel. They offer short stays. By the hour. You know what that means. If you want to experience it, I suggest you go sooner than later.

How long will the glossy people let it remain?




Monday, June 12, 2017

Ray Today

Ray Beauty Supply had been on 8th Avenue off Times Square for over 50 years. They claimed to be the oldest beauty supply shop in the city. They had personality. And a great sign.



They vanished in 2013 and the storefront sat empty for awhile.

Recently, I noticed it's been turned into this chain that sells "artisanal" gelato. They have dozens of "boutiques" all over the world.





Tuesday, June 6, 2017

New York Minis

"The Arcades Project: Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin" is on view until August 6 at the Jewish Museum. It's about wandering the city, with works by various artists, and poems by Kenneth Goldsmith. Here's a good review to read.

One room features New York City miniatures by Nicholas Buffon.



There's Katz's deli, the "new" Odessa (the old one vanished), Stonewall, and the Coffee Shop on E. 14th Street.

(Buffon has also done a mini of Sophie's bar, but it isn't here.) 



According to the words on the wall, they are “panoramas of the unspectacular: instead of offering escape to a faraway place or time, they radiate tenderness for the careworn, disheveled places in which we live.”

(Although, in the tenement window above Odessa, there's a Hillary for president poster. A faraway place and time.)



I like miniature New York City dioramas. Many times on this blog I've featured the works of Randy Hage, who perfectly captured the dearly departed Mars Bar, and Alan Wolfson, whose gritty little Times Square might make you wish you were Lilliputian.

With so much vanishing so fast, eventually all we'll have left of New York will be this mini city. Maybe then someone will assemble all the miniatures in one room and the people of the dead, glass city will stare in wonder and disbelief at what was lost.



Monday, June 5, 2017

Squeezing Out a Living in NYC: The Gerry Project

The following is a guest post by Michelle Standley:

Over twenty years ago, my friend, Gerry Ranson, a British-born illustrator, did a series of pen-and-ink illustrations of dozens of small retail and service shops that he had noticed during long walks throughout Manhattan: shoe repair shops; flower and accessory stores; sandwich and coffee shops; locksmiths and dry cleaners; barbershops, boutiques, and book stalls.

What they all had in common is that they were tiny, really small, sometimes no more than a few feet wide and not much higher than a few feet above your head. And for all appearances they looked as if they had wedged themselves into the narrow, forgotten spaces left between two skyscrapers.


Syed Candy Store at 1236 Lexington Avenue and East 84th Street

Gerry fell in love with these quirky little shops and deeply admired their plucky owners. He called the project, “Squeezing Out a Living in New York City,” based not only on their appearance but also on his conversations with the shop owners. Like Gerry, they had come from elsewhere, ready to roll up their sleeves and do what they needed to do, in order to make it in their new home.

Gerry did his last sketch sometime in the late 1990s. A lot has changed in New York City since then. Most of the shops Gerry sketched have closed and most of their owners seemed to have disappeared into the city’s landscapes of memory. I’m on a mission to excavate them, to find these former shops, and their owners, and recover a bit of the city’s lost history before it’s too late, before they are buried beneath the rubble of construction.


La Di Da at 2410 Broadway and West 88th Street, opened in 1993

For the past two years, I have been walking around the city with Gerry’s pictures, gathering clues by looking closely and by talking to people who work or live nearby. Finding the shops took some time, but was not too difficult. But locating the owners or any information about them has proved more challenging. With so many newcomers and such rapid change to the cityscape over the past twenty years, very few of those who now live or work near the former flower stalls or novelty shops remember them, much less those who used to run them.

Gerry’s sketches capture a particular moment in New York City’s recent past. The 1990s were in some ways a boom time in Manhattan for newcomers and ambitious, local entrepreneurs. But today’s New York is not the same city that Gerry observed. Not only has crime dropped dramatically, the murder rate by 85 percent since 1990, but the city’s population has grown, from roughly 7.3 to over 8.5 million; subway ridership has doubled to its current rate of nearly 1.8 billion riders; and last year the city attracted a record 60.3 million visitors.

While those changes might sound positive on the surface, they only tell part of the story. Over the course of the 1990s rent in Manhattan has increased by 84 percent, and during the early 2000s by 116 percent. Rates of homelessness have now reached levels not seen in New York City since the Great Depression. And despite increases in the Asian and Latino population in certain parts of the city, overall in Manhattan the percentage of white residents has grown while those of blacks and Latinos has declined.

Along with increased rent, and a whiter Manhattan, has come a commercial and residential landscape increasingly dominated by mega-corporations, chain stores, and luxury sky rises. On the street level this has meant more glass-box architecture, more national and international chain stores, and streets populated by empty shops, as landlords hold out in hopes of landing a Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks.


249 Columbus Avenue and West 72nd Street in the 1990s


249 Columbus Avenue and West 72nd Street today

When he did them, Gerry saw his pictures as a way to capture the spirit of the city as he had experienced it, as a tough place to land but one that ultimately rewarded those who worked hard. It’s a particular vision of New York, and of America for that matter, that is increasingly difficult to maintain in the face of untrammeled globalization and city policies that favor corporations and those passing through town over small businesses and committed residents.

My hope is that maybe instead of nurturing nostalgia for what’s lost that we can instead take inspiration from the stories of these unique spaces and the lives that have passed through them. Maybe they will help us cast off the shrug of indifference and reinvigorate our vision of New York City as a place not only for the wealthy and well-connected but as a place for newcomers and old-timers, wealthy and poor, immigrants and native born, as a place that makes room for everyone with a dream and the willingness to dare.

That’s the New York City, the America, that Gerry saw and the one to which we should again aspire.


Still going strong. Angelo’s Shoe Repair at 228 Columbus Avenue and 71st Street, for over 40 years

I am hoping that you can aid me in my search and perhaps contribute to “The Gerry Project” yourselves by sharing with me any tips you might have or your memories of the spaces or shops. The easiest way is to do this is to go to the website: The Gerry Project.

The site includes pictures of the missing shops, field notes about the search, and photos and observations about what is there today.

Can you perhaps help me find the missing shops and their owners? Can you help me gather their stories and save a vital piece of New York City before they are lost forever?

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Fire on Grove

There was a multi-alarm fire this morning at Grove and Bleecker, with large clouds of black smoke billowing out from what spectators assumed to be the basement-level 49 Grove nightclub.

No one in the building appeared to be hurt.



New York describes 49 Grove:

"This subterranean lair reeks of exclusivity—from the seasonal stretch limo for winter smokers to the chilly PRIVÉ sign posted on the VIP door year round. Inside, uptown Ivy Leaguers and their less intellectual but equally moneyed cohorts people-watch from the plush velvet couches lining the stone walls."



The FDNY responded rapidly. They broke open the door, taking a circular saw to it. When the door opened, the street filled with smoke.





The firefighters smashed and ripped out the front door of the Scotch & Soda clothing chain store on the corner.



This is the location of the shop that took over Rebel Rebel Records' space when they were pushed out.

One Villager in the crowd noted, "I guess they're gonna have to have a fire sale."

Within minutes, the smoke had diminished. The fire appeared to be under control.











Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Last Love

VANISHING

The last Love store in New York City is closing.


photo & tip from Mimi Fischer: @mimi_yes_and_u

After 35 years, the Love store (discount health and beauty aids) on West 72nd Street will be closing on June 25.

Love was once a local, homegrown chain with 35 locations around the city. In the late 1990s, the bigger Duane Reade bought up a bunch of Loves. New Yorkers were not happy about it. One customer told the Times, ''It's just another megastore thing, and nobody likes it.''

In their goodbye note, prominently displayed in their window, the Love people write: "The climate for small businesses like ours has fallen precipitously. This reality is ever present as you stroll along the streets of a city marked by empty storefronts where thriving independent businesses once stood. Many have or will be replaced by national retail conglomerates or consolidated by 'big box' stores. Small businesses like ours also see customers come into their stores to learn, and then they make their purchase online." (A shonda. And then there's these people.) (But, once, there was Johnny the Love guy.)

As Love says goodbye, they urge you to shop at your local small businesses. While you still can.








Bleecker's Bust

For years, we've been watching the jet-fueled luxurification of western Bleecker Street, a blitz that started with the biting of a pink-frosted cupcake, pushed out dozens of small businesses--from Nusraty Afghan Imports to the great Manatus diner--and has now collapsed into high-rent blight.

Last week, State Senator Brad Hoylman published a report on Bleecker's blight and offered solutions, including getting rid of tax deductions for landlords who maintain persistent vacancies--often in the hopes of attracting a national or international chain.



Now, in today's Times, Steven Kurutz thoroughly tells the tale of "How Bleecker went from quintessential Greenwich Village street, with shops like Condomania and Rebel Rebel Records, to a destination for Black Card-wielding 1-percenters, to its current iteration as a luxury blightscape."

The story starts with that cupcake, spikes on Marc Jacobs, and descends into luxury waste. Kurutz notes: "While quirky independent stores couldn’t afford the new Bleecker, it became apparent over time that neither could the corporate brands that had remade the street. An open secret among retailers had it that Bleecker Street was a fancy Potemkin village, empty of customers."

Bleecker went from quaint to high-end suburban mall in just five years. It took another five to die. A similar process is happening in neighborhoods all over Manhattan--and has moved on to Brooklyn, where Smith Street has gone from authentic to trendy to empty. As I say in the Times article, this is an expected symptom of late-stage hyper-gentrification. Unless something is done by City Hall and Albany, it's not going to get any better. (Here are some ideas.)

For more on Bleecker's transformation, pre-order my book, Vanishing New York. There's a whole chapter on it.




Further reading:
Luxe Blitz
How the Cupcake Crumbled
Bleak City

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Bleak City

For years, we've been watching the hyper-gentrified parts of town wither under the strain of what's become known as high-rent blight. The city is being hollowed out. Small businesses are vanishing--not because of random "market forces" or changing consumer trends, and not only because of online shopping, but because the rent is too damn high.

The issue is finally getting traction in higher places.

State Senator Brad Hoylman, a long-time advocate for small business, has published an in-depth report: "Bleaker on Bleecker: A Snapshot of High-Rent Blight in Greenwich Village and Chelsea."


Hoylman trying to save Cafe Edison, 2014. Photo: Peter Ajemian, twitter

In the report: "Senator Hoylman’s office found numerous examples of high rent blight, where independent businesses are forced out because of 'exorbitantly high rent…being raised astronomically.' In case after case, landlords push out local businesses in order to hold out for luxury retail or corporate chains capable of paying higher rents. The result is a glut of empty storefronts, chain stores, pharmacies, and high-end national brands that often lack local character and don't provide goods and services the community needs."



Hoylman isn't just reporting on the situation. He also proposes a multi-pronged approach to solving the problem, including the policy recommendations we've been advocating for at #SaveNYC. He plans to introduce legislation in the State Senate to:

- Create a New York City Legacy Business Registry
- Create Formula Retail Zoning Restrictions

He also recommends:

- Phasing out tax deductions for landlords with persistent vacancies
- Eliminating the commercial rent tax
- Collecting sales tax on online sales

In addition, he puts in a good word for the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, an alternative to commercial rent control that would help small businesspeople negotiate fair lease renewals and stay in place.



You can help, too. #SaveNYC has made it easy for you to write to City Hall with our letter campaign. And here are more ideas for how to get involved.

Further reading:
Save New York
Unchain the City
Vacant New York




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.


today

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.


2016

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?"