Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Oyster Bar Neon

When the Famous Oyster Bar (of 54th Street since 1959) closed suddenly this past January due to "exorbitant rent prices," and every part of it went up for auction, we thought we'd seen the last of its bright red neon sign.

But the sign has reappeared, all the way down on Delancey Street.

It's now part of the facade on the Grey Lady, a restaurant with a Nantucket theme. Again with the small-town America theming of New York, but anyway, there's the sign, alive and well. So that's something.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

OK Harris & Cigars

Reader Michael writes in to let us know that OK Cigars on West Broadway in Soho is closing the first week of June.

The shop was opened by Ivan Karp, Andy Warhol's art dealer and one of the first gallery owners in Soho. He founded the gallery OK Harris in 1969 and added the cigar shop nearly 30 years later. A frosted glass door reading SMOKE ROOM opens one space onto the other.

"An avid cigar smoker," writes shop employee Gavin Baker in Everything's OK, "Ivan was searching for a smoking room once his gallery forbade the timeless ritual. Brilliantly, he converted the gallery’s supply closet into a cigar shop. In 1997, OK Cigars was born. Shortly after, Ivan partnered with Len Brunson, a blues guitarist and reluctant cigar connoisseur." (It was that or a doughnut shop, Gavin explains on video--Karp was a big fan of the Donut Pub on 14th Street. But cigars made sense, as the building was once home to a tobacco curing plant.)

Karp died in 2012 and the gallery announced that it would be closing on April 19, 2014, after 45 years in business.

Brunson continues to run the cigar shop, a haven for enthusiasts of "peculiar antique tobacciana," and "one of the few mom and pops" left in the increasingly corporatized neighborhood.

And here's a parting 1970 shot of the gallery in what LIFE called the "shabby SoHo area." (With thanks to Justin.)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Debating Gentrification

The New York Times' "Room for Debate" asked me to participate in their discussion on gentrification and what can be done about it.

Here's my take--in 300 words (for the longer, more thorough version, check out my post on hyper-gentrification):

The old-school gentrification of the 20th century, while harmful, wasn’t all bad. It made streets safer, created jobs and brought fresh vegetables to the corner store. Today, however, what we talk about when we talk about gentrification is actually a far more destructive process, one that I prefer to call hyper-gentrification.

Unlike gentrification, in which the agents of change were middle-class settlers moving into working-class and poor neighborhoods, in hyper-gentrification the change comes from city government in collaboration with large corporations. Widespread transformation is intentional, massive and swift, resulting in a completely sanitized city filled with brand-name mega-developments built for the luxury class. The poor, working and middle classes are pushed out, along with artists, and the city goes stale. Urban scholar Neil Smith wrote extensively about the phenomenon, calling it “a systematic class-remaking of city neighborhoods.”

Cultivated by former mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, hyper-gentrification in New York was implemented via strategically planned mass rezonings, eminent domain and billions in tax breaks to corporations. This led to the eviction of countless residents and small businesses, destroying the fabric of our streets and putting the city’s soul on life support. To save it, we need politicians, activists and citizens to get tough and retake this city. Let’s drastically reduce tax breaks to corporations and redirect that money to mom-and-pops. Protect the city’s oldest small businesses by providing selective retail rent control, and implement the Small Business Survival Act to create fair rent negotiations. Pass a citywide ordinance to control the spread of chain stores. Strengthen residential rent regulation. Shop local and protest the corporate invasion of neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, too many New Yorkers say, “This is normal. The city always changes.” They’re in denial. This is not normal. It is state-sponsored, corporate-driven and turbo-charged.

The first step to healing is to admit we have a problem.

Rizzoli Boarded Up

On Friday night, reader Robert Bischoff wrote in: "I made a last trip to Rizzoli's 57th Street Bookstore as they closed. A construction crew was waiting outside, and as the last customer left and the staff still inside, they began to erect a wooden storefront enclosure."

He attached these photos:

Protesters had spent the day outside the beloved shop, waving signs that said "Save 57th Street," "Save Rizzoli," and "Shame on LPC." The Landmarks Preservation Committee had twice denied the bookstore and its historic building any protection from the coming demolition.

In one photo, employees wave from the upper window, as if they're being sealed inside the soon-to-be tomb. It does seem a little soon, unrolling the yellow caution tape and putting up the plywood before the corpse is even cold.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Rizzoli Inside

Rizzoli Bookstore, after 30 years on 57th Street, will be closing its doors tomorrow, its gorgeous building slated for demolition. There is, however, one last chance, as Landmarks considers an application to preserve its interior.

Here's what will be turned to dust by Vornado and LeFrak if Landmarks says no.

The intricately decorated ceiling is loaded with imagery--birds, cherubs, and goddesses, along with winged monkeys tooting horns while riding on the backs of gryphons. No kidding. Well, they look like flying monkeys.

Here's another description: "An explosion of birds, flowers, shells, chimeras, putti riding hippocamps, and maidens dancing to the accompaniment of lyres and harps."

Rizzoli may not return to this space, but the building is worth preserving, and we can't let the developers win another one. Sign the petition to save this building. And check out Rizzoli's 40%-off moving sale -- it ends tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Pearl Paint


A tipster has written in that "Pearl Paint will be closing its Canal Street store soon," according to an employee.

The information has not been confirmed with Pearl; however, Tribeca Citizen also notes this week that the Pearl building is for sale or lease: "the store is a downtown icon, and from the sound of the listing, Pearl isn’t likely to survive a transition. The entire six-level, 11,850-square-foot space is listed on Massey Knakal’s website for sale or rent—or teardown."

A mecca for artists, with six floors of absolutely everything art supply, Pearl began closing stores in 2010. People worried about the Canal Street location, but it soldiered on.

Now, at the same time that artists are being pushed further out of town, it looks like time is up for this important piece of the old creative city.

What might come to replace it? The realtor suggests it's an "Outstanding Condo Conversion Opportunity."

And invites interested tenants to "Join Neighborhood Retailers" like Subway, 7-Eleven, Bank of America, and Starbucks...

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Gracie's Corner

Gracie's Corner diner, on First Avenue and 86th Street, is leaving its corner after decades in business.

Employees at the diner say the whole building is coming down, demolished for a new condo development. A sign on the shuttered pizza place next door reads, "Due to recent building events out of our control, we have amicably accepted to leave this location."

A reader writes in with some good news: "Gracie's Diner bought the Viand Diner a block over on 2nd & 86th. It's already renamed Gracie's on 2nd." So, after a shuffle, it's goodbye old Gracie's, goodbye Viand, and hello new Gracie's.

In the end, the city is down one diner and up another luxury condo tower.