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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 Thousands of small retailers have been replaced by national chains.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 Thousands of small retailers have been replaced by national chains.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 Bowery Boogie:

Breaking: ‘Cup & Saucer’ Ending Service on Monday After Decades on Canal Street

Posted on: July 12th, 2017 at 12:39 pm by

Say goodbye to that classic 1940s Coca-Cola sign at the corner of Eldridge and Canal Streets. Word on the block is that the fabled luncheonette, Cup & Saucer, is hanging it up. It’s closing shop after decades serving the neighborhood, thanks to a steep rent hike.

And there’s no time for you to process this information, either, as the last day of business is Monday.

Every few years, rumors surface detailing a demise that was continuously eluded. Especially after the building reportedly sold several years ago, creating much uncertainty whether the business would actually survive. Co-owner John Vasilopoulos told Metro in 2015 that he hoped the new owner would maintain the 5-year lease arrangement of the predecessor to keep afloat. Then there was the recent upstairs fire back in January, which no doubt threatened the operation. This time, however, it appears the talk is true. A tipster who frequents the establishment daily was informed by staff of the closure. Apparently, they started telling all the regular customers today.

We don’t really know what to say. The Cup & Saucer is a no-frills Lower East Side treasure that serves all strata of the community. “Giving the people of New York quality food, fast delivery, and great customer service,” as its website prominently touts. On any given morning, you find construction workers, commuters, travelers, and locals mingling at the countertop.

It’s been under the same ownership for nearly thirty years. Partners Nick Castanos (also a cook) and John Vasilopoulos took over the business in 1988, yet local lore suggests the corner kitchen dates back some 77 years. The duo also owns a diner in Ridgewood, Queens.

Our tipster surmises that the luncheonette also fell victim to the effects of failed development (i.e. the Canal Tower) and the encroaching Chinatown Bus situation that’s multiplying along Canal Street between Forsyth and Allen.


Visual Documentation of the distinguishing interior features of the now-bygone The Cup & Saucer Luncheonette (from Untapped Cities.com)

Iconic NYC Diner “The Cup & Saucer” Closing Down After Nearly 70 Years

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As Copper: Season One, Copper constitutes a look back at the state of New York City during the Civil War periods. While a superficial look would initially give the impression that the police force of NYC of the time is corrupt to the core, when an opening scene shows uniformed policemen pursuing bank robbers only to stuff their pockets with some of the cash themselves; they are hardly alone in this: corruption pervades all levels of society, from the vote-buyers who pack ballot boxes for “Boss” Tweed to the peddlers of patent medicines. The then-primitive police force do have an outstanding virtue, they do their best to keep a lid on violent crimes and to find out the truth behind complicated situations, and they recognize that sometimes justice for the parties involved is not necessarily the same as adherence to the letter of the law.
New York City, and particularly Five Points, the slum area where the police station is located, and in which much of the action is centered, is rife with unsolved murders, openly operating whorehouses, and livestock walking the streets. In this more libertarian society, drugs such as morphine and tincture of opium which are now illegal (though unfortunately more available than they should be) are freely obtained over the counter in legitimate pharmacies. Metropolitan Police plainclothes detective “Corky”, Kevin Corocoran, through whose eyes we see the NYC of his time, takes morphine to ease the pain of the leg he lost in the war, and experiences hallucinations and vivid dreams while off-duty.
Though the show focuses on the largely white ethnic and particularly the Irish population of Five Points, the racial tensions of the time and place are portrayed, too, as black people play a role as well. One who is unjustly accused and suspected by NYC’s Metropolitan Police spends time in the Tombs but is released when they determine the real culprit, who has eluded them. Others fear a return of the lynchings which occurred during the Draft Riots and are still in recent memory. One man attached high hopes to his prospective immigration to Liberia. Perhaps thanks to the pervasiveness of the corruption, racial segregation has proved unenforceable in NYC, though a number of black people are seen to live in Five Points and similar slum areas, Dr. Matthew Freeman, who consults for Corcoran, and his wife Sara move far uptown from Five Points to a place called Carmansville, then a more rural and spacious community where Hamilton Heights is today.
Alas, a German Jew who runs a pawnshop in the area is the target of racial epithets and stereotyping, while little to nothing negative is said about the ethnic background of a Prussian Madam. (Maybe they figured a modern American audience wouldn’t know or care about Prussia, and that she was one who had gone very far from the mold).
Alas, since little of the old “Five Points” survives beyond some radically altered buildings and the street configurations, according to IMDb, Copper is filmed in Canada, and, to mimic the iconic ‘Five Points’ of New York, the show runners created an entire replica in an old car factory.

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