Tuesday, October 18, 2016

New York Bakery


New York Bakery is not a bakery. It's a hidden little gem on West 29th Street where the owner, Harrison, and his wife serve a quietly celebrated mix of Mexican and Korean food. It's been there for 12 years, up a narrow set of rusty stairs in the Wholesale District.

It won't be there much longer, as tipster Jared wrote in.

I went by for lunch. Harrison told me that developers are working on permits to tear down the building and put up something bigger.

He figures he's got another month or two before he has to go.

When he first opened shop, the Korean immigrant sold Korean food. But no one was buying. He noticed that many of the workers in the neighborhood were Hispanic. A Mexican woman started cooking for him and business got better. Gothamist recently called the tacos "glorious."

Now, with its ethnic mash-up, New York Bakery attracts devoted fans from all over the city.

Harrison told me, "My customers will be crying" when they hear about the closing.

He's not sure where he'll go next or if he'll even be able to relocate.

The rents in the neighborhood have climbed too high as developers rush to demolish everything in sight, replacing the useful little buildings with shiny new towers for a new population.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Bleecker Street Records


Back in 2013, I shared the news that Bleecker Street Records, after over 20 years in business, would be leaving Bleecker Street--and relocating to West 4th--when the landlord hiked the rent to $27,000.

Now we hear they are vanishing completely.

Jason at Generation Records wrote in:

"As of Halloween 2016, we will be making some significant changes at Generation Records. After much deliberation, we have decided to close our sister store, Bleecker Street Records. A number of factors have contributed to this decision, most notably the proximity of our two stores and the realistic necessity of having them both in a neighborhood that has seen a drastic rent hike in recent years. We realize that the loss of yet another record store in Manhattan seems discouraging, but our hope is to secure the future of Generation Records as a Village staple."

He reports they'll be consolidating all the stock from Bleecker Street Records to Generation on Thompson Street, and hope to be around for a long time.

With Rebel Rebel recently gone, and Bleecker Bob's before that, it's one of--how many record stores left in the Village?

As I've said before, moves are hard to make. When a landlord hikes the rent or denies a lease renewal, it looks like good news if the small business can find a new spot. But many close the new location within a few years.

Meanwhile, the old Bleecker Street Records spot remains a Starbucks.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Controlling Astor Place

Astor Place has long been a site of public protest and free expression. Today, after an upscale redesign, it is being controlled. This is what happens in a neoliberalized city. Public space becomes quasi-privatized.

And as urban scholar Sharon Zukin notes in Naked City, "Privatized public space...tends to reinforce social inequality."

New signs asserting the rules have gone up over Astor Place. Prohibited activities include the "unreasonable obstruction" of sitting areas and pedestrians, along with camping, storing personal belongings, and lying down.

This language clearly refers to the presence of homeless people and presumably will be used to harass them out of the new plaza. They can also be used to stop political protests and spontaneous, unregulated art performances.

Skateboarding is also not allowed, though it's been an unofficial Astor Place tradition for decades. In addition to this sign, there are several other day-glo signs placed on the ground around the plaza. They look like they're yelling. If you did try to skateboard (or bike) here, you'd have to maneuver around the signs, like in an obstacle course, there are so many of them.

You also can't smoke at the New Astor Place. It used to be an open public square, a city street, but now it's officially a Pedestrian Plaza, and Bloomberg outlawed smoking in Pedestrian Plazas.

A Pedestrian Plaza is much more controllable than an ordinary public square. The city's Department of Transportation began the Public Plaza Program in 2008 under Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan of the Bloomberg Administration. They hyped Pedestrian Plazas as a way to improve the "quality of life" for New Yorkers by removing cars from the streets and providing open space for sitting.

But one thing Pedestrian Plazas do really well, aside from controlling the populace, is to raise property values in the surrounding area. The Times Square Pedestrian Plaza, for example, helped to hike retail rents by 71 percent in just six months. Sadik-Khan called it “the largest increase in the city’s history.”

photo: Taji Ameen and Justin Fly, via Vice

The new Astor Place Pedestrian Plaza is run by the Business Improvement District known as Village Alliance, a private group managed mostly by real-estate developers. BIDs are invested in raising property values. As Max Rivlin-Nadler wrote in The New Republic this year, "Business Improvement Districts are a favored neoliberal practice that transforms mixed-income neighborhoods into the same chain stores one can find at any outlet mall across the country."

A BID can also "hire its own security to patrol an area, effectively control who is offered retail space, kick out street vendors, and influence legislation and expansion efforts."

People who live in nearby condos also want to raise property values. Recall the rumor we heard this summer that "some type of committee at the Sculpture for Living building," the green glass condo tower on the square, is helping to dictate what happens at Astor Place.

(While I've not been able to confirm that rumor, I don't doubt it. We saw something similar happen with Washington Square Park, when a private group of "wealthy women" incorporated themselves into a conservancy to push “unsightly” hot dog vendors from the park.)

Where's the Cube?

"BIDs," Sharon Zukin wrote, "are an oligarchy; they embody the norm that the rich should rule."

They "direct a new kind of governance of public spaces by creating 'discretely manicured spaces' as playgrounds for adult consumers who have internalized norms of proper behavior and keep watch over others to make sure they conform to the rules. In an implicit bargain for the power to exercise control, BIDs provide quality services that show users they are being catered to: cleanliness, safety, well-tended flower beds, poetry readings."

When our public spaces are quasi-privatized, given over to zombie urbanism, they no longer belong to us. They may look pleasant on the surface, with benches, umbrellas, and public art installations, but they conceal a darker intention.

They are meant to control the people and the spaces of the city. They increase inequality and raise the rents. They squash public dissent. They package corporate advertising as interactive installation. As they hyper-gentrify our neighborhoods, they displace those of us who might protest.

Be aware. You are being civilized.

Battle for Astor Place
Astor Place Farce

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

We Are Stardust

If you walk past Ellen's Stardust Diner at Broadway and 51st, you'll find their singing waiters making music -- on the street.

They're singing in protest of several firings that came after they unionized this summer in response to a change in management they say led to sexual harassment, bullying, and other abuses.

Ellen's Stardust Diner has been in business since 1995.

The workers' union is called Stardust Family United, a branch of the international labor union Industrial Workers of the World. You can visit their site to support them, and see more on their Facebook page. Playbill has many more details on the story.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Park Slope Starbucks

Park Slope has a new Starbucks. A gigantic Starbucks. It recently opened on the corner of 7th Avenue and 9th Street in a part of the neighborhood with very few, if any, national chain stores.

This large corner spot was previously home to Brooklyn Flipster's, a burger place. Their lease was not renewed.

Too bad the city won't stand up to corporations. Too bad they won't zone to stop the spread of chain stores. Too bad they won't pass the Small Business Jobs Survival Act or give us back commercial rent regulation, like we had decades ago.

Too bad Mayor de Blasio, in his own home neighborhood, won't do anything to stop the homogenization of the city and the total destruction of the small business streetscape.

Too bad no one in power will stand up and #SaveNYC.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Three Lives Books' Building Sold

Back in June, Three Lives & Co. Books announced that their building was up for sale. On a month-to-month lease, they hoped the future new owner would let them stay.

I just found out, thanks to a tipster, that the sale of the building went through last week. And it does not look good for Three Lives.

Papers filed with the New York City Department of Finance reveal the buyer is Oliver's Company. They paid $14 million -- that's $4 million more than the asking price.

On their website, Oliver's Realty Group is described as "the independent investment, development and brokerage arm of Oliver's Company, LLC, formed in 1995 to specialize in luxury residential real estate." Oliver's developments all look the same, from the High Line-hugging Caledonia to Tribeca Park.

The company is run by David J. Wine, a real estate professional "with unparalleled knowledge and insight into the luxury rental and condominium markets in Manhattan." Before forming Oliver's, Wine was Vice Chairman at mega-developer Related.

David J. Wine

Is it possible that Mr. Wine will let Three Lives remain? Maybe he's a real book lover. Maybe he wants to be a hero--and avoid bad PR--by preserving this essential Greenwich Village small business. But he might need some encouragement.

State Senator Brad Hoylman wrote a letter to the former owners in July, asking for a multi-year lease. Co-signed by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, and City Councilman Corey Johnson, the letter read: "Three Lives & Company is one of the last independent bookstores in our area. It would be a loss for small business, the uniqueness of New York City and booklovers everywhere to see Three Lives & Company close at this location."

#SaveNYC is ready to fight for Three Lives. We can't lose this great bookstore, not another one, for more high-rent blight, and then another chain, or another boutique or trendy restaurant that will shutter in a few years.

This is our city, too.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Loft's Candies

Signs sometimes come down in the city and reveal antique signs underneath. At 88 Nassau Street recently, Loft's Candies was revealed:

Loft's was once a chain store started in New York. Will the future excavation of an ancient Starbucks be as elegant?