Bleecker Street

Vacant storefronts are becoming more noticeable in the capital of consumption, as small retailers are being pushed out by wealthy investors

Vacant retail space in the New York neighborhood of Chelsea. Thousands of small retailers have been replaced by national chains.
Vacant retail space in the New York neighborhood of Chelsea. Thousands of small retailers have been replaced by national chains. Photograph: Richard Levine/Corbis via Getty Images

Walk down almost any major New York street – say Fifth Avenue near Trump Tower, or Madison Avenue from midtown to the Upper East Side. Perhaps venture down Canal Street, or into the West Village around Bleecker, and some of the most expensive retail areas in the world are blitzed with vacant storefronts.

The famed Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on the Upper West Side announced earlier this week that it is closing next month. A blow to the city’s cinephiles, certainly, but also a sign of the effects that rapid gentrification, coupled with technological innovation, are having on the city.

Over the past several years, thousands of small retailers have closed, replaced by national chains. When they, too, fail, the stores lie vacant, and landlords, often institutional investors, are unwilling to drop rents.

A recent survey by New York councilmember Helen Rosenthal found 12% of stores on one stretch of the Upper West Side is unoccupied and ‘for lease’. The picture is repeated nationally. In October, the US surpassed the previous record for store closings, set after the 2008 financial crisis.

The common refrain is that the devastation is the product of a profound shift in consumption to online, with Amazon frequently identified as the leading culprit. But this is maybe an over-simplification.

“It’s not Amazon, it’s rent,” says Jeremiah Moss, author of the website and book Vanishing New York. “Over the decades, small businesses weathered the New York of the 70s with it near-bankruptcy and high crime. Businesses could survive the internet, but they need a reasonable rent to do that.”

Part of the problem is the changing make-up of New York landlords. Many are no longer mom-and-pop operations, but institutional investors and hedge funds that are unwilling to drop rents to match retail conditions. “They are running small businesses out of the city and replacing them with chain stores and temporary luxury businesses,” says Moss.

In addition, he says, banks will devalue a property if it’s occupied by a small business, and increase it for a chain store. “There’s benefit to waiting for chain stores. If you are a hedge fund manager running a portfolio you leave it empty and take a write-off.”

New York is famously a city of what author EB White called “tiny neighborhood units” is his classic 1949 essay Here is New York. White observed “that many a New Yorker spends a lifetime within the confines of an area smaller than a country village”.

In Vanishing New York, Moss writes of the toll the evisceration of distinct neighborhoods through real estate over-pricing has on the city.

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from Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York: “Rebel Rebel Shuttered”:

Earlier this month, I first reported on the impending closure of Rebel Rebel records on Bleecker Street, pushed out by rising rent. According to owner David Shebiro, the landlord opted to let the luxury clothing chain Scotch & Soda expand into the record shop’s space.Now it’s gone.

The windows are covered in newspaper. A photograph of David Bowie, the inspiration for Rebel Rebel records, salutes passersby. A #SaveNYC sign hangs in apparent futility — as City Hall continues to ignore our pleas and do nothing to protect the cultural and locally commercial streetscape of New York.

For his farewell note, Mr. Shebiro quotes from Bowie’s “Future Legend”:

“And in the death
As the last few corpses lay rotting
on the slimy thoroughfare
The shutters lifted in inches in Temperance Building
High on Poacher’s Hill
And red, mutant eyes gaze down on Hunger City
No more big wheels

Fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats
And ten thousand peopleoids split into small tribes
Coveting the highest of the sterile skyscrapers
Like packs of dogs assaulting the glass fronts of Love-Me Avenue
Ripping and rewrapping mink and shiny silver fox, now legwarmers
Family badge of sapphire and cracked emerald
Any day now
The Year of the Diamond Dogs

This ain’t Rock ‘n’ Roll
This is Genocide”

“Love Me Avenue” has been replaced in red by “Bleecker Street.” And at the end, a final note: “BEWARE OF CORPORATIONS.”

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Mitchell’s Neon Returns

There’s good news for the vintage neon Mitchell’s Liquors sign on the Upper West Side. After reporting earlier this month that the sign was removed, to be junked, I heard earlier this week that it would be returned.Stephen wrote in: “I thought you’d appreciate that it appears the neon sign will be returning. They have remodeled both the inside and the facade and there are definitely new holes placed where neon tubes should go. Can’t wait to see it completed!”

He sent in the following photo of the new sign in progress:

I also heard from William, who wrote: “I passed Mitchell’s Wine and Liquor today and the neon sign seems to be going back up! I saw the letters on the ground and they were drilling new holes in the facade to mount them. I also spoke with the workers who said it was, in fact, being reinstalled.”

And behold!

West Side Rag shares the following shot of the new sign–a replica of the old. And Rob writes in, “The new sign is maybe not as elegant, and I haven’t seen it lit, but it sure looks good.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


Last month, I first reported that Tekserve would be vanishing. Then we heard that they’d be looking for a new location, with plans to “morph with the times.” Alas, those plans have changed.Tekserve will shutter.

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Grand Opening: Li-Lac Chocolates on Bleecker Street, 1920’s pricing

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from Curbed.com:


Bleecker Street’s Evolution From Sleepy Suburb to America’s Left Bank

James Nevius is the author of three books about New York City, the most recent of which is Footprints in New York: Tracing the Lives of Four Centuries of New Yorkers.

[LeRoy Place. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.]

Every generation has defined Greenwich Village differently—sleepy suburb, elite residential enclave, America’s Left Bank, Sex in the City streetscape—but the one constant for over two centuries has been the neighborhood’s tangle of streets, which defy logic and sometimes surprise even longtime residents. Purposefully left off John Randel’s 1811 Manhattan street grid, the core of the West and South Village lies along even older thoroughfares: Christopher Street, which cut inland from the pier; Greenwich Avenue (known in the colonial era as Monument Lane), and, most significantly, Bleecker Street, which was an important road even before it cut through Anthony Bleecker’s farm.

The far western edge of what we call Greenwich Village was a Native American settlement/fishing camp known as Sapokanican, a name which may or may not refer to tobacco fields in the area. Certainly, by the time the Dutch arrived in force in the 1620s, tobacco was on their minds, and the Dutch West India Company’s director-general, Wouter Van Twiller, acquired a large parcel of land in the area in 1633 to cultivate the cash crop. The Dutch began referring to the small settlement as Noortwijck (“north village”), a reminder that it was the first village where ships could put in when sailing north on the Hudson River from New Amsterdam.

For much of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Hudson River was the primary mode of travel to Noortwijck; the only other route north, the Bowery (“farm road”) ran too far to the east. Some early maps also show a “Road to Greenwich” (today’s Greenwich Street) hugging the coastline, but it was often flooded, rutted, and not really viable. At some point after the British took over New Amsterdam in 1664, Noortwijck was renamed Greenwich, but the reasons behind this are murky. It may simply be named after Greenwich, England, or it may be a corruption of another Dutch moniker, Greenwijck (“pine village”).

[A closeup of Greenwich Village from the 1767 Ratzer Map.]

As the population of Manhattan grew, Greenwich Village became a place for wealthier New Yorkers to summer. The most famous country estates were Richmond Hill—home to John Adams when New York was the seat of government, and then later to Aaron Burr—and the home of Admiral Peter Warren, at what would one day become the block bounded by Perry, Charles, West 4th Street, and Bleecker. In 1748, a large tract west of the Bowery was acquired by Elbert Haring and his land (mislabeled “Herrin”) appears on the 1767 Ratzer map with a small road running through it; that road is the first evidence for what is today Bleecker Street—and the path may well have pre-dated the Haring family’s purchase.

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