Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Rawhide Replacement

In January I announced that adult erotic emporium the Blue Store would be moving into the former Rawhide space on 8th Avenue in Chelsea. It seemed, at first, like good news, a bit of old 8th Avenue smut and queerness expanding. Then it wasn't.

DNAInfo followed up on my story and was told, “It’s going to be like a high-end store with high-end lingerie. We’re trying to bring to the block a new concept.”

Here it is:

photo: Richie Cohen

It looks like every other Marc Jacobs Ralph Lauren Brooks Brothers, etc., etc., shop on Bleecker St., which it will probably become soon enough. Reader Richie Cohen tells us, "I've walked by multiple times at different times of day. Never ever a single customer."

The Rawhide occupied this space for 35 years. It survived the neighbors throwing bricks and eggs. It survived AIDS. But, like too many of our city's storied small businesses, it could not survive hyper-gentrification. The landlord reportedly hiked the rent from from $15,000 to $27,000 a month.

If we'd had the Small Business Jobs Survival Act in place at the time, the Rawhide might still be here. #SaveNYC.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Hidden Shoe Repair Shop

You could explore Grand Central Terminal for years and not discover all of its many exit/entrances and passageways, the odd places to which they lead you. Recently, I exited from the train via a nondescript set of turnstiles that led me into a shopping arcade I can't remember ever encountering before.

Located under the Chanin Building, it's one of those little corridors lined with useful, independent businesses, the sort you used to see in the city all the time. One utterly entranced me.

The cobbler's shop's exterior is perfectly preserved, covered in advertising from more than half a century ago. SHOE SERVICE, it reads, and HATS CLEANED.

O'Sullivan's is not the name of the shop, but a brand of rubber heel. As is Neolite.

In one window, a pair of colorful neon cowboy boots (with spurs) advertise REPAIR and SHINE. An odd choice for a city shop, and therefore a rare sight.

Inside, heavy antique machines do the work.

They do shines while you sit in comfortable chairs, and repairs while you wait in those little modesty booths.

This is the second time I've seen these booths--the first time was at Jim's Shoe Repair, where they are arranged not side-by-side, but train-car style.

I don't know the name of the shop. It might be called Ideal Shoe Repair. I was told it dates back to the 1940s.

Protected deep beneath the gorgeous Art Deco lobby of the Chanin Building, it has survived relatively untouched. Like a rare and endangered orchid found hidden in the wild.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Caffe Dante


Last month I broke the upsetting news that Caffe Dante would be closing after a century in business. Management vehemently denied the information, saying, "Whoever started this rumor is a lunatic."

But this morning I received a confirmation from my original tipster: "Caffe dante closed. It has new owners. Australians... I guess that's that."

photo via Gothamist

Gothamist got down there and came back with photographic evidence of the closure.

Reader Daniel Bellino Zwicke writes with emotion about the final hours on his blog, Greenwich Village Italian:

"It’s 11:55 PM Sunday March 22, 2015 … I just left Caffe Dante for the last time under the ownership of Mr. Mario Flotta .. I had to hold back a few tears saying goodbye to Mario and his two sons."

He adds: "Mario sold the place to Victoria Coffee of Australia. He told me, it’s still going to be a caffe, and it’s still going to be called Caffe Dante."

I assume that's Vittoria Food & Beverage, begun in Australia in 1958. Well, they're old and they're Italian, but they're not New York. Worse, they provide what they call One Stop Shop: "for anyone looking to create an authentic Italian image for their cafe, restaurant or help you create an authentic Italian feel for your outlet."

Dante didn't have an "image" or a "feel," it was the real thing. And that's vanishing more and more every day. #SaveNYC.

*UPDATE: According to DNAInfo, the place is being taken over by an upscale "small plates" company, not Vittoria Food & Beverage, and it will be "modeled after a classic European-inspired neighborhood eatery." Again "modeled" and "inspired." Not real in any way.

The Last Bagel

Yesterday was Ess-A-Bagel's last day of business in their space on First Avenue. They've been there since 1976. Their landlord is putting a Bank of America in the space.

The walls were covered with goodbye wishes.

A member of the #SaveNYC group was there after the doors closed and shot this footage of long-time customer Jack (also since 1976) enjoying the last bagel, a mini everything with egg salad:

See more videos at

Customers hope that Ess-A-Bagel will successfully relocate somewhere in the neighborhood, but nothing has yet been set.

my last bagel, not the last bagel

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Veterans Chair Caning

Veterans Chair Caning opened for business in New York City in 1899. Since the High Line opened and the Hudson Yards monstrosity began to rise across the street, I've worried about the modest little shop, located on the first floor of a tenement building on 10th Avenue and West 35th.

When I saw their building had sold and would soon be sandwiched between two glassy hotel towers, thanks to the Hudson Yards Effect, I figured it was time to check in.

Veterans is hidden behind construction scaffolding. They look closed, but they're open--and very busy.

I talked to Sean Bausert, the shop's fourth-generation owner/manager. When I told him I write a blog called Vanishing New York, he said, "That was almost us. We just came this close to vanishing."

He explained how the new owners wanted to knock down the building, along with its twin next door, but the tenements are full of rent-regulated tenants--and they're not budging. "They're fighters," Sean said. "Holdouts. They helped us tremendously."

By refusing to vacate, the holdouts have kept the buildings standing--and their two small businesses in business.

Veterans has managed to negotiate a few more years on their lease. After that, who knows? All you have to do is look at the luxury towers rising on all sides to know that their time here is limited.

The shop has been in this space for 20 years and was around the corner for another 30 or 40 before that. They're a neighborhood fixture, hand-weaving cane for chairs new and old, some antiques dating back to the sixteen and seventeen-hundreds.

But the neighborhood is changing at a breakneck pace, and even a venerable 116-year-old small business doesn't stand a chance. The city offers no protections. Veterans can be denied a new lease or have their rent quintupled. (Which is why we need to #SaveNYC.) At that point, they could move to Brooklyn or Queens, but would their customers follow?

As Sean put it, "Well-to-do people on the Upper East Side want nothing to do with Brooklyn or Queens. For them, crossing the bridge is like going to Jupiter."

The dramatic changes to the neighborhood "all started with the High Line," Sean told me, a sentiment he shares with many small businesspeople in west Chelsea.

"Once I saw the High Line coming in, I knew it wasn't going to be good. Over the last ten years, all the little guys are gone. The shoemakers, the bakeries. The past five years have gotten even worse."

Like Veterans, the Downtown Tire Shop next door managed to get a few more years on their lease. But that's no long-time guarantee, and they are the last of their kind in the neighborhood. All the rest have been driven out of what had once been a bustling strip that efficiently served the needs of city taxi drivers.

Now, "Cabs, cops, firemen, even regular joes," they all line up next door, because "where else are you gonna get your tires fixed?"

Across the street, another pair of tenements inexplicably remain, with a taxi supply shop on one ground floor. They're only standing because of a holdout upstairs tenant, said Sean. If not for him, they'd be gone.

Sean said, "They wanted to knock down those buildings and put up the tallest tower in North America. Right there? On 10th and 35th? Come on."

Sean sometimes thinks of going up on the High Line, after work, when the weather is nice. But he won't do it.

"I boycott the High Line," he said. "I'll never go on it. After I've seen what it's done--and what it almost did to us."

See Also:
The Hudson Yards Effect
La Lunchonette
Brownfeld Auto
Last of the Urban Horsemen
Blue-Collar High Line

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Penn Books

Craig Newman, the third-generation owner of Penn Books inside Penn Station, wrote in to the #SaveNYC Facebook group yesterday with a plea.

"I am trying to survive," he wrote, "but it gets harder every day. My rent is now a staggering $45,000 a month, not including property taxes, and another $20,000 a year in commercial rent tax. If anybody can do anything or cares about saving my bookstore, please HELP."

He added, "I thought Mayor de Blasio was supposed to help small business."

Business is going well for Penn Books. They are not being pushed out. But, like too many small businesses in the city, they are struggling under an enormous rent strain.

photo via Capital New York

Craig's grandfather, Arthur Newman, started the bookshop in the original Penn Station in 1962. Remarkably, the shop survived the wrecking ball and reopened in the new Penn Station. Craig started working there in 1978, taking the A-train to work through the gritty city as a 12-year-old kid. He opened the current shop's incarnation in 1992 after his grandfather passed away.

Penn Books survived the destruction of Penn Station. They survived citywide fiscal crises. They even outlasted Borders. Business is still bustling. But the rent? That's another story.

Today, weighed down with an insane rent burden for a mere 1,300 square feet of space, Craig is concerned for the longevity of his family business. We already lost Posman's from Grand Central, we can't lose another train-station bookshop, especially not one that's been going strong for 53 years.

Stay tuned and click here to take action to save small businesses like Penn Books. Enough is enough. #SaveNYC!

UPDATE: Cash mob for Penn Books and #Save NYC has been cancelled.

Monday, March 16, 2015



Verve has been on Bleecker for about 20 years, long before the street's luxury chain explosion. They are closing in April.

They closed their main shop on the street in 2010, and kept this shoe store going. As the line of luxury has marched ever eastward, businesses on Verve's block have shuttered, including the beloved diner Manatus.

Now Verve's last shop is on its way out.

In just a few years' time, 45 mom-and-pop businesses were wiped out on Bleecker between 10th Street and the western end. (Here's the timeline.)

The wave of lost businesses keeps moving east along the street, as landlords kick out responsible, thriving businesses, and quadruple the rent, all to bring in the next Marc Jacobs, Calvin Klein, or another luxury shopping mall chain.

There's more to lose. It's not going to stop until we stop it. #SaveNYC.