Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Another Laundromat Gone

A few years ago I did a post about the laundromat on West 4th and Bank Street. Marc Jacobs had just expanded into part of it, and I wrote about how I always took its picture because I worried about it vanishing.

"It has that look," I wrote then, "old and shabby, and therefore real, a Velveteen Rabbit of a place." I also liked how the laundress decorated the window with orange peels.

Well, that's all gone now.

I took these pictures a couple of months ago and haven't been back to look, but I figure the place is either still sitting empty or has become another luxury shopping mall chain store.

If you know what happened here, please let us know.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Alex's Shoe Repair


Reader Sasha writes in to report that Alex's Shoe Repair on 44th and Vanderbilt, across from Grand Central, is closing.

Sasha says: "They've been there for ages, and do great work but just lost their lease. He's closing down and not relocating. I was in there for a shine earlier and Alex is bereft, as were many of the customers coming in--lots of head shaking and sad words. Pretty much all the midtown shoe repair places are disappearing, it's a real shame."

The sign in the window says May 27 will be their last.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Papaya Dog Down

Reader Richard writes in to let us know "the Papaya Dog on the corner of 42nd and 9th Ave shut down overnight. I spoke to some of the doormen at a nearby building and they said the employees were ripping the place up overnight."


This Papaya Dog was one of four in the city (I visited all the hot dog and papaya joints last year).

It was located in the Elk Hotel, a former flop, nearly a century old. The Elk was sold in 2012 and emptied of tenants. (I took a tour of the place with one tenant back then--seriously don't miss that one.)

We heard awhile back that, along with most of the low-rise block, the hotel was sold again and all the businesses on the block would soon be kicked out. Is that why Papaya Dog closed?

Or maybe it was doomed by the luxury hotel rising across the avenue--the one that pushed out Big Apple Meat Market and Stile's Market and 99-cent Fresh Pizza.

Then again, maybe it was just that magically powerful tyranny of nostalgia that did it.


Friday, May 20, 2016

Surma the Ukrainian Shop


Located on 7th Street in the East Village, Surma the Ukrainian Shop has been in business since 1918 -- nearly a century.

photo via Mille Fiori Favoriti

Reader Andy Reynolds hears some news that sounds a lot like they're closing in the next month.

He writes, "Was helping the older woman who works there open the gate this morning. She's like, 'Three more weeks and I'm outta here.' I asked her if it was a landlord/rent thing. She told me the owner--of the shop and the building--was selling the building. She's worked there 38 years."

(Rumor confirmed.)

photo: Gudrun Georges

Last year, The Ukrainian Weekly did an in-depth story on the shop and its history.

Mike Buryk wrote that Surma "was like a lens sharply focusing all those bits and pieces of my Ukrainian ancestry in one very inviting place. The smell of beeswax and the sounds of Ukrainian music coming from the record player always greeted me. As you walked through the door a bell tinkled in a welcoming way with each new customer."

photo: Gudrun Georges

When his grandfather, Myron Surmach, passed away, Markian Surmach returned to New York from Colorado and took over the shop.

“If I didn’t come back, the store was going to close,” he told the Times in 2009.

"No place stays the same for 15 years," remarked Jim Dwyer in the paper, "certainly not in Manhattan. With a few exceptions, Ukrainians have long since drained from the Lower East Side. So have the artists living cheaply. 'The homogenization of city life is not unique to New York, or this country,' Mr. Surmach said. 'It’s all over the world.'"

In Ukrainian Weekly, when Buryk asked Surmach how long Surma would last, he answered, “As long as my personal interest in Ukraine continues and evolves, Surma will be here.”

This weekend is the annual Ukrainian Festival on the block--will it be Surma's last?

Thursday, May 19, 2016



Tekserve, known as "New York's mom-and-pop Apple shop," has been around since 1987. Rumor has it, they won't be around much longer. (*See update from management below)

Reliable reader Simone reports that she heard from three different employees they are closing shop in August. They say they're hoping to relocate in Chelsea. But, of course, rents are sky-high in a city full of corporate chain stores.

When they opened 29 years ago, founded by three former engineers at public radio station WBAI, they filled their space with antique radios and stereoscopes, along with that old Coke machine that dispenses real glass bottles. They were quirky, homey, local. Back then, there were no shiny Apple Stores. Now there are--how many?

"What're you gonna do," said one employee to Simone. "It's part of Apple's business model to streamline things, cut out the middleman so they'll have complete control."

As a long-time regular at the shop, I'll be very sorry to see Tekserve close.

I go there to avoid the sleek, corporate "pod people" atmosphere of the Apple Store, to get humane and reliable service, and enjoy an ice-cold bottle of Coca-Cola while I wait--sometimes in a state of post-motherboard apocalypse trauma.

If Tekserve does find a new location and reopen, says Simone, "They will continue to do repairs but no more retail sales, since people are mainly purchasing online."

*UPDATE: CEO of Tekserve Jerry Gepner got in touch to fill us in on the details. He writes:

"I want to state clearly that Tekserve has no plans to close, but we will morph with the times.

Tekserve was founded to provide service and data recovery to the Apple community. We intend to preserve and in fact, to grow our service operation. We were the first to provide repairs for Apple users in New York and continue to pride ourselves on the quality of our service and data recovery teams and the trust that so many customers place in us every day. It is a trust we do not intend to breach. In addition, we have a growing business that sells Apple based solutions to small and mid sized businesses (SMB) in New York. Going forward, we will be focused more heavily in this area as well. At the end of the day we fully intend to continue selling and servicing Apple products and accessories.

We are indeed winding down our retail store operation. This is not due simply to major vendors squeezing margins for their resellers and channel partners, but more down to the changing face of retail in general. Over the past several years, consumer buying habits and options have changed, particularly with respect to consumer electronics. The small specialty retailer is rapidly becoming a thing of the past, and Tekserve is no different in that respect.

We do have plans to relocate in the fall. You (correctly) point out that business rents in New York City are high and have been rising for the past several years. This presents a challenge to all small businesses, but we are confident that our repair service and SMB sales activities are excellent businesses and we intend to stay in Manhattan with both of them. Our hope is to stay in or near the Chelsea neighborhood that has been home to us for so many years, but it's too early to tell if that will be possible.

In summary, Tekserve will still be the best place for New Yorkers to buy a Mac, get their Macs fixed, get expert advice about Apple products and for small businesses - the very best place to get an Apple business solution that works right out of the box. Change is never easy, but evolution is necessary-- and in our case, the evolution is very much a 'back to the future' move--but one we are excited to make."

museum of Macs

 A little historic reading, from New York magazine, 1991:

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Milady's High-Rent Blight

In 2014, after 81 years in business, and with a steady clientele, Milady's bar closed. Employees told customers that the landlord refused to renew the lease (this has not been confirmed, see comments below). New Yorkers grieved.

The space has been empty since. It had a For Rent sign on it all this time, but I guess that didn't succeed in attracting a suburban shopping mall chain. So now there's a bigger, brighter banner--in orange!--strapped across the front of the murdered bar.

High-rent blight never got so bright. Come on, Applebee's!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Master Cutting Table

I must have walked on 27th Street between Broadway and 6th Avenue a million times. But somehow never noticed Master Cutting Table. Maybe the shutters were always down when I went by. Maybe I was too distracted by the neon of the weird old Senton Hotel. In any case, recently, deep in the depths of a rather bad mood, I came upon the miracle that is Master Cutting Table.

It was the decapitated Charlie McCarthy doll heads that caught my eye. And the mannequin in the vest and Spartan helmet. I got closer and looked in through the plate-glass window.

It was like looking into one of those panoramic Easter eggs as a kid. A whole world opened up. And, seeing what I saw, my mood instantly lifted.

American flags. Antique clocks. JFK and RFK posters. A bigger than life-size bathing beauty cardboard cut-out. Pressed-tin ceiling above and wooden floorboards below. A long path leading to the back of the shop through dozens and dozens of old garment industry machines:

Gold Stampers, Wire Stitchers, Rossley Button Machines, Defiance Foot Presses, Schaefer Cementers, Clicker Blocks, Rubber Pads.

Had I tumbled back through time? How could something so pure, so untouched still be permitted in the homogenized, stultified Manhattan of today? What delightful madness was this?

The lights were on, but the door was locked.

"This is our flag, be proud of it!" reads a sign on the door, below a "Back In" notice that doesn't indicate how many minutes will pass before they'll be back in. I waited around a bit, not wanting to stop looking. Eventually, I had to go, but vowed to return.

When I went back a few weeks later, it was the same scene: lights on and no one in sight.

I pushed the door. It opened with the tinkling of a bell.

I walked inside, unsure that I should be there, and tried to commit as much as I could to memory. The place smelled of age, of sweetly rotting paper, like a library. I breathed it in.

A silver-haired man emerged from a back door and came directly towards me, dressed all in black, his spine stiffly upright, his shoes shuffling.

"The door was open?" he said, indicating that it was not meant to be. "What can I do for you?"

"I'm admiring your shop," I said.

"Why? It's a dirty stinkin' hole!"

"It's beautiful."

"You shoulda seen it 60 years ago. It was a machine shop."

He ushered me to the door, adding, "Now we don't do nothin'."


"Nothin'! When you're old, you'll understand. When you're married, you'll understand. In the morning, you kiss the wife goodbye and say, 'Seeya later, Sweetie, I'm off to work!'"

"So you don't do anything here? You don't sell anything, fix anything? You just do nothing?"

"Come back when you're 60 and I'll tell you all about it!"

He closed to the door behind me, locked it, and shuffled back down the long path to the back room where he does nothing all day. A man who just wants to be left alone in his dirty, stinkin', beautiful museum of a machine shop.

The site 14to42 says Master Cutting Table has been here since the early 1960s. It is run by a man named Arnold. A writer at Manhattan Sideways ventured in to the place one time. She reported:

"Asked what he does here, Arnold replied: 'nothing.' Asked why he comes in, then: 'I don’t want to stay at home. I love my wife of over sixty years, but sometimes you just have to get away.' Having invested in property in New York when it was not as astronomically expensive, Arnold now owns this building and has the luxury of using it as a 'day home.' He is holding out against selling to developers bent on transforming the space. 'I’ll let my kids make that mistake,' he says. 'You can walk with a straight backbone knowing you own property in New York. It’s a marvelous feeling.'"