Thursday, August 21, 2014

3 Star Coffee Shop

Recently, I was disappointed to read about the shuttering of the Upper West Side's 3 Star Coffee Shop.

On her Tumblr blog, Raven Snook took a photo of the papered-over windows and noted: "Apparently, 3 Star Coffee Shop went out with a whimper in February when it failed to reopen after being closed down for a third time by the Health Department due to violations."

West Side Rag went inside for a look at the trashed interior.

Located at Columbus and 86th, across from a Starbucks, next to a Chase bank, and down the block from new luxury condo 101 W. 87, the modestly named 3 Star (why not 4 or 5?) Coffee Shop had that look of something that could not last.

3 Star had an A rating at the time of its closure. Do city agencies like the health department target these old joints, especially when they're located on desirable corners? It often makes me wonder.

Most of the reviewers on Yelp loved this place, citing it as one of the last old-school coffee shops left in the neighborhood.

3 Star's shuttered storefront means one more for a stretch filled with long-shuttered businesses. As West Side Rag noted, "The south half of the block is now almost entirely shuttered, except for one remaining dry cleaners. The Olympic deli on the North corner is also closed, but is seeking a new tenant. Some of the businesses have been empty for years, and they don’t seem like they’re looking aggressively for new tenants."

All in the same building. We have to wonder if the landlord is holding out for a block-long chain to move in.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Death of a Block 6

We've been following the death of one block, 9th Avenue between 17th and 18th Streets, since 2008. One building, filled with several mom-and-pop shops was sold and sold again. Then all the businesses were evicted, their spaces gutted and upscaled.

The empty retail space has been on the market for several months, and now a local tipster reports they've got their first shiny new tenant.

It's a bank. Another bank.

Multinational Wells Fargo is one of the "Big Four" banks in America, with about 25 locations in the city, all in Manhattan.

The two spaces that this branch is taking over once belonged to Tamara Dry Cleaners and the New Barber Shop. Those businesses were an integral part of the community. They didn't only provide important services, they held people together and gave them a place to go, to connect. A bank branch can't do that. Neighborhood people fought for those businesses. They loved them and the people who ran them. A bank branch won't be loved--and it won't give love.

We are losing too much--and for nothing. The sterilization of the city continues.


Follow the whole story:
Death of a Block: One

Saving 9th Avenue
Sweet Banana Candy Store
New Barber Shop
Chelsea Liquors
New China

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Another Newsstand Gone

For many years, by the northeast corner of 23rd and Park Avenue South, there stood a lovely little newsstand. It was bright blue. It remained, until very recently, an unlikely survivor of Bloomberg's Cemusa onslaught.

I wish I could find my other photos of it

Here it is (was) on Google maps, surviving defiantly in front of Pret A Manger, Bank of America, 7-Eleven, New York Sports Club, and Baked By Melissa cupcakes, across from Walgreens, Bath & Body Works, and the Vitamin Shoppe.

It was crooked and quirky, just like all our newsstands used to be. It had character. Really, it was the only bit of original New York character left on that chain-strangled corner.

I always admired it when I walked by, grateful to it for still standing against the dull tide of glass and chrome. But on a recent walk past, I found it was gone. Some construction is being done to the subway entrance.

"Where's the newsstand?" I asked a nearby construction worker. "Disappeared," he said. "They got rid of it."

I asked another, who told me, "The City took it away."

Then I asked a neighboring newsstand vendor.

"I don't know. Maybe they're putting in one of these," he said, gesturing to his generic Cemusa box. "They did it to me."

He explained how the City removed his newsstand and then took two years to get him a new one. During those two years, he had no business. It's important to understand that the city's newsstand vendors used to own their stands, some passed down for generations, but Bloomberg took them away and gave them to Cemusa, a Spanish corporation that now leases them to the vendors who used to be owners.

"I consider that stealing," I told him, paying for my peanut M&M's.

"Yes, well," he replied with a shrug, "the City doesn't see it that way."

See Also:
History of the New York Newsstand
More Newsstand Deaths
Newsstand Slaughter
Hojo's Lost Newsstand
Another Newsstand
Union Square Newsstand

Monday, August 18, 2014

Leo's Latticini

For my column in today's Metro NY, a visit to Leo's Latticini in Corona, Queens.

“Is this your first time here?” she asks from the kitchen, her hands over a basin of milky water where she’s pulling mozzarella like it’s taffy.

I nod. I must look lost.

“You like mozzarella? Come. Taste.”

She rips off a hunk of the soft cheese, squeezes it in her dripping fist, and thrusts it towards me. Like a good Catholic faced with the Eucharist, I take and I eat. The fresh cheese is warm, silky, and delicious.

“Chew it good,” she says.

This is my introduction to Irene DeBenedittis of Leo’s Laticcini, also known as Mama’s of Corona. Irene makes the mozzarella and her sister Marie does the cooking—turkey with gravy, roast pork, manicotti, you name it.

“I don’t use recipes,” says Marie. “I just go on instinct" ...

Please read the rest of the essay here.

Unchain the City

From my most recent Op-Ed in the Daily News this weekend:

Soon there will be no New York left in New York. The city is becoming, for the first time in its long and illustrious history of exceptionalism, just another Anywhere, U.S.A. What has de Blasio done to protect New York’s small businesses and control the virulent spread of national chains? Nothing much.

Before he was elected, I asked him in an online Q&A what he planned to do. In his answer, he called small businesses “incredibly important to the character and strength of our neighborhoods” and said he wanted to follow the example of the Upper West Side’s “mom-and-pop” rezoning, designed to protect small shops from being forced out for chains. That’s actually a fairly weak rezoning, but it’s a start — one that de Blasio has yet to follow through on. It’s time for the mayor to step up and take action against the destruction of the city’s character.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mezza Luna Pizza

Reader Tommy Raiko writes in to let us know that the Mezza Luna Pizzeria at 8th Avenue and 15th Street has shuttered.

Tommy writes: "It was just a typical get-a-slice-and-a-soda kind of place, but that's the kind of pizza place you think of when you think of NYC pizza, so I was sad to walk by the other day and see that it had been closed, emptied, and gutted.

Just next door, to the north, what was once a deli is now behind scaffolding and green plywood--who knows what's coming there. And a few doors over to the south is the building whose facade infamously collapsed during Hurricane Sandy and has not yet been restored.

I may just be thinking pessimistic thoughts, but there's something about this stretch of 8th Ave that seems ripe for some developer's something. Even if that's not true, I don't imagine that whatever's going to show up in that spot will be a cheap-and-easy eatery like Mezza Luna."

Last time I walked by, the guys who sell socks on the sidewalk had set up a makeshift (very makeshift) shop inside the dark and empty pizza place.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

DVD Depot


Thomas Rinaldi of NY Neon writes in to let us know that DVD Depot, an adult establishment on 8th Avenue and 45th Street, has closed. Its doors and windows have been stickered over with Thor Equities' "Retail Space Available" signage.

Thomas Rinaldi

Last year, as Crain's reported, Thor paid $12 million for the two-story building:

"The building's sale is a sign of the area's changing face from the seedy video shops and fast-food outlets of yesterday to Times Square's newer breed of trendy tenants. The current tenant in the space is DVD Depot, which deals in adult films and has been there for more than a decade. It is on a month-to-month lease and not expected to remain at the site."

Thor's rendering

Thor's rendering of what they'd like to see here is the usual dull storefront, ideal for a suburban shopping mall chain. In fact, Thor loves those chains--naming about a million of them as selling points in the listing for the space:

"Across the street from the newly renovated Milford Plaza Hotel, and neighboring popular retailers American Apparel, American Eagle Outfitters, Forever 21, MAC, Oakley, Levi’s, Sunglass Hut, and more, and nearby Shake Shack, Chipotle, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Pinkberry, PieFace, Au Bon Pain, 5 Napkin Burger, Jamba Juice, as well as a multitude of restaurants well known in the Theater District, 725 Eighth Avenue is surrounded by only the most successful national and international retailers."

The newly renovated Milford Plaza--also bought by Thor--now has a glassy shopping arcade on its first floor, called "ROW NYC."

Maybe Thor's Joe Sitt bought the building just because he didn't want ROW NYC's suburban tourist shoppers looking out at flashy, trashy DVD Depot from the racks at Aeropostale and Build-A-Bear Workshop.

Thomas Rinaldi

As for the Depot, it wasn't a famous old-timer of 8th Avenue, but it held its ground and kept the avenue honest. And it got some good press.

Vice awarded the place three out of five chubbies, and Cruising Gays gave it a solid review: "Clean, newer, safe, attendants not too aggressive. Crowd: Very diverse, suits after work and regular guy types most of the time. Not too many trolls or hustlers."