Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Park Deli

VANISHING

"I stay here," says Krystyna Godawa. "I'm not moving."

For the past ten years, Krystyna has run the Park Delicatessen at the edge of McGolrick Park on Nassau Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The deli has been here since the 1930s. But the landlord recently doubled the rent and Krystyna can't afford it. She's looking for another spot nearby and plans to stay put until she finds it.



Customers come in and out of the shop, ordering meals to go from the refrigerated case of home-cooked pierogi, potato salad, chicken cutlets, cole slaw, and beets. They stop to ask Krystyna, in Polish and in English, "Any news? When's the last day?" They promise, "I'll keep my fingers crossed."

And then they touch Krystyna--they all touch the woman they call Babcia Krysia, "Grandma Krystyna"--on the shoulder, the arm, the back of the neck. Their touches are tender and familial. They are family.



Krystyna holds their histories--the births of their children, the deaths of their parents--as she holds the history of the deli, still making German dishes that hearken back to the days when the place was Mullenbrock's delicatessen. Back in Poland, Krystyna worked as a librarian, another kind of preservationist, another holder of memory.

"I'm only ten years here and this is sentiment to me," Krystyna says, looking around the shop. "If you like your job, you put the heart." Losing the deli is like a death. "It is like you take out your heart from your body."

She feels powerless to stop the loss, "like kids who cannot do nothing, like tied my hands."



Her lease expired in April and she'd been on a month-to-month since. But once her landlord found a new tenant (rumored to be an ice-cream shop), she gave Krystyna until August 1 to vacate. It's too soon. Krystyna has no place to go--and she's having trouble finding an affordable rent in a neighborhood that is gentrifying.

"I will try to do everything to stay with my people," she says, referring to her customers, the people who give her "heart and happiness." Her blue-green eyes fill with tears. As she feels the grief of her own loss, she also feels her customers' grief.

"If I have to close, okay. But I see how much people want this place, how much people like me, and it's very tough to me. That is the worst. How can I live if I don't have my customers?"



Heart and sentiment are important to Krystyna. It's the stuff that keeps people connected, that keeps neighborhood communities together. But she sees these positive forces diminishing in the world. The new generation, she says, is cold. The newcomers to her apartment building don't say hello, don't hold the door. They all seem disconnected and disinterested.

"Life is too tough," she says. "If we're not nice to each other, what kind of life is it? The sentiment is second now."

What's first?

"Money. Everything is about the money."


photo by Yulia Zinshtein

If you visit the Park Deli before it's gone, you'll find a neon sign in the window that reads: VANISHING. A few of the letters flicker.

It is the work of artists Troy Kreiner and Brian Broker of Shameless Enterprise, in collaboration with "Vanishing New York" and built by neon artist Patrick Nash. This is the second installation, after Cake Shop earlier this year.

People walking by see the sign and come in to talk to Krystyna. "It's a shame," they say. "Soon all the small businesses will be nothing."


photo by Yulia Zinshtein







Tuesday, July 25, 2017

French Roast Downtown

VANISHING

Today is the last day for French Roast in Greenwich Village. Located on 11th Street and 6th Avenue since I don't know when, the bistro will close its doors tonight. (H/T New York Foodscape.)



Employees were unable to say why the place is closing, but we can guess. The uptown location will remain open.

*Update: Many people in the comments are remembering a Blimpie here--yes, there was. Here's that story.

Pub Day

Today is the official publication day for Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul. You can now buy it wherever books are sold. (Like your local independent bookstore.)


At Spoonbill & Sugartown

You can also get a copy at the launch party this Thursday night at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, or next Thursday night at the Brooklyn launch party at powerHouse Arena. For a full list of book events, click here.

In the meantime, check out two exclusive excerpts: the East Village chapter at Longreads and the tourism chapter at Vice.


At the Strand

Reviews:
“Essential reading for fans of Jane Jacobs, Joseph Mitchell, Patti Smith, Luc Sante, and cheap pierogi.” –David Kamp, Vanity Fair

“This is a very good, angrily passionate, and ultimately saddening book…. a brilliantly written and well-informed account.” –Booklist, starred review

“Vanishing New York is an urban-activist polemic in the tradition of Jane Jacobs’s Death and Life of Great American Cities: Every page is charged with Moss’s deep love of New York. It is both a vital and unequivocally depressing read.” –Molly Fitzpatrick, Village Voice

“a compelling and often necessary read…. One of the great accomplishments of this nearly 500-page polemic, is that even as I read through in a state of outrage and sadness, I was also reassured: I am not crazy. The city really has vanished…” –Glynnis MacNicol, Daily Beast

“a vigorous, righteously indignant book that would do Jane Jacobs proud.” –Kirkus

“This polemic is likely to stir a lot of emotions.”—Publishers Weekly

“A relevant lamentation of New York’s rebellious, nonconformist past and its path toward an inexpressive mélange of glass and steel big box stores and chain restaurants.”
–New York Journal of Books


Monday, July 24, 2017

More Hotels, Fewer Flowers

In the Flower District, along West 28th Street between 6th and 7th, the fragrant green jungle of the sidewalks continues to vanish.

Another hotel is coming.



It's a big one: 45 stories, 146,000 square feet, 522 rooms. Said architect Gene Kaufman, “The demand for hotel rooms in Chelsea continues to grow, with ever larger and ever-taller hotels being constructed to accommodate the number of tourists wishing to stay in this vibrant neighborhood."

This glass behemoth joins several more new tourist hotels here. In fact, the block is becoming nothing but hotels. I can't think of a worse death for what was a wonderful and unique little district.

Ten years ago, I talked to some of the plant sellers. One told me, “10 to 15 years ago, it was all flowers. Now it’s dead. They’re putting up 22 new hotels in a 5-block radius. Only those of us with a good lease will stay.” Another echoed the sentiment, “Some will leave, some will stay. All the city wants is big business. There are 3 hotels going up on this block.”



There are only a few green sections left. I walk through as often as I can, taking my time to smell the flowers. Literally. Right now, the place smells of gardenia.



And there are the Flower District cats, at least six that I've counted, lounging among the succulents and orchids.



This is life. This is real. This is New York. And it's being destroyed, like everywhere else, replaced by the dull and the dead. But it doesn't have to be this way. There are alternatives.






Thursday, July 20, 2017

Goodbye Notes to Cup & Saucer

The Cup & Saucer luncheonette on Canal and Eldridge closed this past week due to the landlord nearly doubling the rent. After the shutters came down one last time, neighbors and friends hung posterboard and pens to gather goodbye and thank you notes.


click to enlarge and read



Among the heartfelt goodbyes and good-lucks, they ask to "Save Chinatown" and "Support the SBJSA," the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, the bill that could have stopped the closure of the Cup & Saucer, as well as many, many others.

It wasn't lack of love that killed the Cup & Saucer.



As I went to leave, a man in construction vest and hardhat walked up and stared at the notes. It's a familiar scene, the devoted regular who hasn't heard that his or her favorite place has shuttered, the New Yorker who shows up to find it gone. They always have the same look of confusion and loss.

"Did you eat breakfast here?" I asked the man.

"I used to eat breakfast here," he replied. "Guess I don't anymore."

We shook our heads. He turned to go and then turned back. He had something else to say.

"This is probably going to be some CVS or Duane Reade or some other useless fucking thing," he said, frustration in his voice. "I live in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, and all the little shops are gone. There's nothing left. The rents are totally out of control."

I told him what the rent went up to on the Cup & Saucer: "Almost sixteen grand."

He shook his head and waved his hand, brushing it all away. And then he went, looking for another place like this, a place he won't be able to find.





Wednesday, July 19, 2017

10 Years Later: The Voice

This week marks the ten-year anniversary of this blog, and I can't think of a better way to celebrate than with the news that I have found myself on the cover of the venerable Village Voice. A decade ago, I never imagined "Vanishing New York" would end up here. Many thanks to everyone for reading and supporting the blog over the years. I would not have this voice without you.

Pick up the issue on the streets today or read it online here.



Come celebrate at a launch party for Vanishing New York the book:

JULY 27
Housing Works Bookstore Cafe
126 Crosby St., New York, NY
7:00 - 8:30PM
For more info, visit the Facebook invite

We're expecting a capacity crowd, so please get there early--and if you miss it, there's a second one in Brooklyn the following week:

AUGUST 3
powerHouse Arena
28 Adams St., Brooklyn (DUMBO)
7:00 - 9:00PM
For more info, visit the Facebook invite or RSVP at powerHouse



Monday, July 17, 2017

Cup & Saucer Goodbye

Today is the last day of the Cup & Saucer.



Last week, the Lo-Down announced the closure. Today the classic diner got its goodbye feature in the Times. They describe a neighborhood in the midst of being wiped out:

"The family jewelry and wholesale shops that once dominated the area are long gone, and more expensive restaurants and bars have moved in. This time, Mr. Vasilopoulos and Mr. Tragaras said, the rent increase was too steep for Cup & Saucer. Mr. Vasilopoulos and Mr. Tragaras have owned the restaurant since 1988, but Cup & Saucer has occupied the space since the early 1940s, Mr. Vasilopoulos said. In March, they learned their $8,200 a month lease would increase by $7,600 per month. Attempts to negotiate with the landlord, 99 Canal Realty, failed, they said."



If the City Council had passed the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, the Cup & Saucer might not be closing today.

It could have been saved.

If you're sick and tired of watching the city die, why don't you send an email to Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and tell her to pass the thing already? You can send one to the mayor, too. It's easy--we already wrote the email for you, just click and send. You really have no excuse.



I went for my last meal at the Cup & Saucer on Friday. I had a BLT, fries, and a Coke.

The place was packed. More than usual, but the diner was always busy. Once again, don't say it closed because business was slow. Don't say it closed because "tastes have changed." It closed because the landlord nearly doubled the rent. It closed because small businesses cannot afford to pay nearly double the rent. It closed because hyper-gentrification. It closed because greed.

The Cup & Saucer did not close because it wasn't loved.

It was loved.



By the register, there's a page from the New Yorker magazine, an artwork by Maira Kalman. She writes of "The Optimism of Breakfast":

In the Optimism of the Morning, it is Wise to Get Going.
To be Confident, Expansive, Exuberant. If you find
yourself at the Cup and Saucer Coffee Shop--or
any Coffee Shop--with a Jelly Doughnut and a
cup of coffee, staring out the window at
the parade of passersby, you could do worse.
A whole lot
worse.


from the New Yorker

Kalman is right. We can do a whole lot worse--and we will.

Whatever comes after the Cup & Saucer will be worse, because it won't be the Cup & Saucer. It won't be the faded Coca-Cola sign that says LUNCHEONETTE. It won't be the 3-D letters washed by years of weather. It won't be the shapely swivel stools padded in orange-sherbet vinyl. It won't be the doughnut case lit in fluorescent light, or the cup and saucer inlay in the floor.

It won't be co-owner and cook Nick Tragaras singing softly to the music of metal spatula hitting grill.

It will, I promise you, be worse.


Saturday, July 15, 2017

Dafuture

Sometime in the early morning hours, an artist known as #stickntwisted installed a "pop-up gallery" on an old fence on West 28th Street just off 12th Avenue. On Instagram, they write, "Come see The City Of Dafuture. Not sure how long it will last. Depends on the kindness of strangers."



In the rising luxury shadows of Hudson Yards, under a coil of razor wire, the miniature foam city known as Dafuture shows pipe-cleaner stick figures living their urban zombie lives, leashed to smartphones.

Colorful signs narrate the goings on, where "Technology is turning humanity into self-absorbed machines."



The mom and pop shops have been shuttered and the city has become big-boxed and homogenized.



A mega-store called Messy's has taken over and left behind high-rent blight.

On this piece, the artist writes: "What was once the town's fashion epicenter, Ma & Pa's Fashion Hut was wiped away back in the 90's when Federated started buying out all the local retailers and then converted all of them into Messy's...home of the forever on going 1 day sale. Now that they have put all the other stores away, they are closing the Dafuture store and leaving them with nothing. Thanks Messy's for being great neighbors."



There's a queer theme here, too. "In all the excitement in gaining equal rights in marriage," one sign reads, "we lost our self-respect and caring for our community."

In a gay sex club, stick figures in black chaps take selfies of their asses in front of pictures of stick-figure Tom of Finland posters.



In a lonely apartment, bedecked in pink, a resident celebrates alone, "Happy Birthday to Me." Next door, above a bank, the neighbor has hanged himself because he didn't get any social media messages.



The public library is "permanently closed," because no one wants books anymore. They want donuts instead.

A UFO appears to be taking a cow into space.

A homeless man advertises his GoFundMe page and his "Faceless Book" profile, but adds: "Don't follow me. I get paranoid."

Meanwhile, several citizens of Dafuture have fallen down a manhole, too absorbed in their phones to see the danger.



Go see it.

Before it's gone.





Thursday, July 13, 2017

Book Events

JULY 27: 
Book Launch Party
Housing Works Bookstore Cafe
126 Crosby St., New York, NY
7:00 - 8:30PM
For more info, visit the Facebook invite

Brian Lehrer Show
11:00 AM, WNYC

AUGUST 3: 
Brooklyn Book Launch Party
powerHouse Arena
28 Adams St., Brooklyn (DUMBO)
7:00 - 9:00PM
For more info, visit the Facebook invite or RSVP at powerHouse

Leonard Lopate Show
12:00 PM, WNYC

AUGUST 18: 
Book Discussion in Kingston, NY
The Golden Notebook presents Jeremiah Moss, author of Vanishing NY, in conversation with Sari Botton, editor of Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving & Leaving NY
Outdated Cafe
314 Wall St., Kingston, NY
6:00 - 8:00PM
Visit the Facebook invite here.

More to come. Check back for updates or follow on Facebook.



Cornelia Street Cafe

VANISHING?

Yesterday, New York State Assemblymember Deborah Glick tweeted:

"I try not to curse but the Damn Landlord of the Cornelia Street Cafe sent an eviction notice to treasured 40yr old gem @BilldeBlasio HELP!!"



We've been hearing rumblings about the possible demise of Cornelia for awhile now. Just this month, the beloved cafe celebrated its 40th anniversary, "with some concerns," as the Times put it. They wrote:

"Mr. Hirsch [the owner] and his team are sweating now... Their rent for the restaurant and basement space, at $33,000 a month, is 77 times what it was when the club opened (that’s not adjusting for inflation — but, in the name of consistency, they’re not charging $77 for a croissant)."

Back in March, DNAInfo reported that the cafe was struggling--especially with landlord Mark Scharfman, "a frequent fixture on various 'Worst Landlord' lists."

"If I'm 10 minutes late with my rent, he threatens me with eviction," Hirsch told the blog.

If Glick's tweet is accurate, the axe has come down.


photo: Wikipedia

I was unable to reach restaurant management for comment or confirmation, so we don't know the details of this case.

City-wide, in general, there are zero protections for good small businesses when it comes time for lease renewals. The landlord can refuse a new lease or jack up the rent so high, it's basically an eviction.

This is why the City Council must pass the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, a solid first step. The majority of councilmembers support the bill--they just have to bring it to a vote. If we'd had it years ago, when it was first proposed, there would be a lot more left of New York's vanishing soul.



Books to Bean

After four years of leaving the former St. Mark's Bookshop space vacant, Cooper Union has finally filled the spot. The Bean coffee shop is coming soon, according to new signage in the windows.



A local mini-chain, it's certainly better than a Starbucks. (And with much better coffee.) But it's not that great bookshop, which should still be here, enriching the lives of East Villagers as it did for decades.

I still miss it. Every day.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Cup & Saucer

VANISHING

For the past few years, now and then, I'd hear a rumor that the Lower East Side's Cup & Saucer luncheonette was closing. I'd run down there to discover that it wasn't. And yet it always was. It's been a place to often worry about -- an entry in my What to Worry About list, rapidly dwindling.

Now, The Lo-Down gets word that the Cup & Saucer's days have come to an end.



They write: "The reason for the closure is a steep rent increase, to $15,000 per month including real estate taxes. The last day in business will be next Monday, July 17."

Once again, it wasn't lack of business. It wasn't "people don't go to diners anymore." It wasn't "trends are changing." It was the rent.

Once again, the Small Business Jobs Survival Act could've saved this one. Once again, here comes more high-rent blight. Once again, another waste. Another little piece of New York's heart ripped out.



I thought the place would go back in 2007 when a condo started rising across the street. But it hung on.

One of the last of the greasy spoons. One of the very last of the long lunch counters, the swivel stools, the antique signage, the fluorescent-lit doughnut case, the short-order cook slinging hash and singing quietly to himself in his native language.

Greek, I think.



We have only a few days left. And this one hurts.

The Battler

Sal Albanese wants to shake up the system. “Some people say I was Bernie Sanders before Bernie Sanders,” he says, sitting in the famous White Horse Tavern on Hudson Street in Greenwich Village.

It’s a hot, muggy summer day and Albanese is sipping a cold bottle of beer. Dressed in pressed khaki pants and a crisp, blue button-down shirt, he hasn’t broken a sweat. A Democrat and former City Council member from Brooklyn, this is his third time running for Mayor of New York City and he’s hoping three’s a charm. The odds—and the mainstream media—are stacked against him.



“I got ripped today by the Post,” he says, referring to an article by Steve Cuozzo claiming that Albanese needs to get a firmer grip on why so many storefronts in the city are sitting empty, an epidemic that has become known as “high-rent blight.” The problem, as Albanese sees it, is caused by big landlords who collect buildings; hike commercial rents, effectively evicting small businesses; and then leave the storefronts vacant while they write the loss off their taxes and wait for major chains or banks. “It’s not about mom and pop landlords,” he says. “It’s about portfolios.” He calls New York City an oligarchy run by a “new Tammany Hall” of lobbyists for big real estate, a class of powerful elites who back Bill de Blasio while they fill the city with glistening towers for the ultra rich and push out everyday New Yorkers.  

“Hyper-gentrification is driving out working people,” he says. “Do we want to become just a landing strip for billionaires? Do we want to become Dubai?”

As mayor, one of his first orders of business would be to pass the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA), a “commonsense piece of legislation” that would help protect small businesses from crippling rent hikes on lease renewals. The bill is sponsored by a solid majority of the City Council, and advocates have been trying to get it passed for 30 years. So what’s the problem? Albanese believes “the power of big real estate over our political system has kept it bottled up.” He dismisses the opposition’s argument that the bill is unconstitutional. Back in 2009, the City Council’s legal staff officially proclaimed the constitutionality of the SBJSA and the city’s own legal department has never said otherwise. Albanese would like to see the Council bring the bill to the floor for a vote and finally “let the courts decide” on the question of constitutionality. But this doesn’t look likely when so many council members, Albanese argues, take their funding from the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), the powerful lobbying group behind the Jobs for New York pro-development PAC.

To those who might peg him as an anti-growth NIMBY, Albanese insists he’s not against development. “I’m anti-unfettered development,” he says. He wants balance. And he’s got a plan for how to get there. In addition to the SBJSA, he also likes the idea of a vacancy tax to stop high-rent blight, and a pied-a-terre tax that would redirect wealth to affordable housing. He’d reject all of de Blasio’s rezoning proposals, which he believes favor the mega-developers. As mayor, he’d appoint an entirely new City Planning Commission and “go back to the drawing board” with a new plan for bringing affordable housing to less dense parts of town by allocating city-owned land to small and non-profit developers—with significant input from local communities. “The city has to grow,” he says, “but it has to be done with good planning. Right now we’ve got rezoning without planning.”

But the deep root of New York’s unaffordability problem, to Albanese, is the tight grip that big business and big real estate have on City Hall, thanks to their significant donations. He proudly claims to take zero percent of his funding from big real estate and lobbyists, and he wants to reform campaign finance, ushering in the Democracy Vouchers plan recently launched in Seattle, a program that would give every registered voter four twenty-five-dollar vouchers to donate to the qualifying candidates of their choice. “New York City,” he says, “should be a real democracy again.” He also wants to reduce tuition at CUNY, his alma mater.

If all this sounds like a new New Deal for New York City, that’s no coincidence. Albanese’s favorite mayor was Fiorello LaGuardia. He also calls himself “a big Jane Jacobs aficionado,” praising the urban activist’s argument for a human-scale city.

Outside on Hudson Street, just a few doors down from the White Horse, Albanese stands before Jacobs’ former home. The ground-floor storefront is now occupied by a realtor’s office. Laughing ruefully at the irony, Albanese says, “Jacobs would be rolling over in her grave.” He looks down the block, to a pair of vacant shops for rent. They look like they’ve been sitting empty for a while, and their vacancy puts a damper on the energy of the street. This is where Jacobs wrote about the “sidewalk ballet,” the importance of vibrant street life. It’s a dance familiar to Albanese from his childhood in working-class Park Slope, Brooklyn, where he was the Italian immigrant son of a disabled father and a mother who served as breadwinner, working in the garment industry. Back then, he recalls, the streets were full of mom-and-pop shops. You knew the butcher and the baker. It was a community. Today, the city streets feel anonymous and impersonal.

“Real estate is doing what it always did—only now it’s on steroids,” he says. “A small business guy is just cannon fodder.”



On Bleecker Street, he walks past more shuttered storefronts. There are 19 vacancies in the five blocks between Bank and Christopher Streets, some lined up in rows. Back in 2001, there were about 44 small businesses on these blocks. They sold books, antiques, affordable gifts. Then Marc Jacobs moved in with multiple shops, followed by Ralph Lauren, Intermix, and dozens more luxury chains. Within a single decade, all of the small businesses were gone, largely pushed out by astronomical rent hikes. In one case, the rent shot from $4,000 to $40,000 per month. Albanese is stunned by the number—and by the fact that many of these shops sit empty for years. Marc Jacobs and Ralph Lauren have walked away.

“This is counterintuitive,” Albanese says, shaking his head. “Not only does it destroy neighborhoods, but these landlords are devouring themselves. It’s out of control and something’s got to be done about it.”

The mayoral hopeful knows he’s got an uphill battle ahead of him. He needs to raise $250,000 to even have a chance at beating the incumbent Bill de Blasio. He doesn’t have the financial backing of the city’s power elite, and he’s not sure if he can “entice enough people to contribute small amounts to take their city back.” Or to even get him on the same debate stage as de Blasio, where these critical issues can be raised. But the people of New York can surprise you. They voted de Blasio into City Hall by a landslide when he promised a fiercely progressive agenda and an end to the vast inequality he called a “Tale of Two Cities.” Many New Yorkers believe he has not delivered. Maybe they’ll look to Sal Albanese to complete that promise. He’s an idealist, after all, a man who sees New York as a global leader in democracy--at a time when democracy is on the ropes.

“New York,” he says, “is a city that elevates people. And what we do here has a ripple effect across the world.” 

Albanese wants to reform not just City Hall, but the idea of what the city is supposed to be, to get back on track with the progressive agenda that New York spearheaded through much of the twentieth-century—and lost in the 1980s—an agenda that places the power to shape neighborhoods in the hands of its people. He insists that he’s not just a critic, nor a man tilting at windmills. He’s got a plan. And if he’s elected mayor, he intends to use it.

“I’ve been a battler all my life,” he says. “You have to be. Why get in the arena if you’re not going to fight?”


- To support Sal, make a donation of any size.



Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Shifting City

From the Times, the view of gentrification from Cherry's Unisex in Bed-Stuy:

“Gentrification is always on the periphery, always in the negative space of so many conversations that take place here. The wave of money and development is transforming Bed-Stuy along Fulton Street, and there are no guarantees that Cherry’s won’t be washed away with so many others. Little distinguishes it from any other shop on the strip except for how long it has been on Fulton, and the woman for which it’s named.

'When you call the police, they come,' Cherry said. 'Before, there was no policing at all. But now? Not only do they come, they’re arresting everybody.'"


Photo: George Etheredge for The New York Times

In the 2000s, black New York neighborhoods are becoming markedly less black (and brown) and more white -- as well as less poor and more rich.

In the 1960s, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights called the suburbs a “white noose” around America’s cities. Today, it's “Vanilla Cities and Their Chocolate Suburbs,” as author Jeff Chang calls it in his essay of the same name. He writes of these new “geographies of inequality,” where the colorized suburb now receives the brutal treatment the inner city has--neglect, predatory lending, and paramilitarized policing that too often ends in the murder of black people. “The fate of Brooklyn,” Chang writes, “tells us about the fate of Ferguson.” The violence of urban hyper-gentrification ripples outward.

Author Alan Ehrenhalt calls this demographic shift the “great inversion,” as the affluent (often white) flood into urban centers and the poor (often people of color) are pushed to the suburbs.

Also in the Times, Reniqua Allen writes of black millennials giving up northern cities for the South. Is the Great Migration reversing course as white flight has done? How much of it is a choice?

As the color (and class) of neighborhoods like Bed-Stuy, Harlem, and Crown Heights changes, it’s important to understand that displacement can be direct, like eviction, or indirect, what Peter Marcuse calls “the pressure of displacement.” In his 1985 paper “Gentrification, Abandonment, and Displacement,” he writes, “When a family sees the neighborhood around it changing dramatically, when their friends are leaving the neighborhood, when the stores they patronize are liquidating and new stores for other clientele are taking their places,” etc., then it’s only a matter of time before they move out, “rather than wait for the inevitable; nonetheless they are displaced.”

So when people speak of lower- income people of color “wanting” and “choosing” to move out of their neighborhoods, or out of the city, we have to think more deeply about that. What might look like a choice may actually be surrender to the pressure of a rapidly changing and increasingly alienating environment.

From the Times article on Bed-Stuy:

“Black people have never been obstacles to white people moving into their neighborhoods,” Mr. Parker said. He says his rent has more than doubled since he moved in, but with more white and Asian people now living in the neighborhood, there’s a newer, stronger police presence. There’s more to do in the neighborhood. “But there’s a problem if white people come in thinking Bed-Stuy is theirs,” he said. “This is a black community.”

Mr. Parker said the white and Asian people moving to Bed-Stuy weren’t the only recent arrivals. There were also what he called “new black” — African-American doctors, lawyers, business owners and young professionals are also moving into the area and living in the new luxury apartments.

“No one ever notices or talks about them,” he said.

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