I just discovered the Vanishing New York blog, easily the best and most comprehensive documentation of the way the New York City I remembered and lived in is now being chewed to pieces.
It's an absorbing and depressing read in about equal measure. Bookstores, Judaica, shoe-repair shops, diners, bagel places, papaya-and-hot-dog spots, dive bars and not-so-dive bars — all of them are being squeezed out by stupefying jumps in rent and the maddening urge to knock down a block of five-story buildings of stone and replace it with a fifty-story glass-and-aluminum one. Each disappearance has tons of photos and sometimes video to its name, with talk of the owners and their stories in brief.
Many of these places were passingly familiar, some intimately so. Love Saves The Day, the kitsch-and-toy shop I used to peer into, had shut down in 2009 after its owner died, but its former location was destroyed by the gas explosion in the city the other week. Bleecker Bob's, the ratty record store where picking through the owner's arcane organizational system was a big part of the fun of shopping there, ended a 46-year run in 2013 after — what else? — a rent hike. The New York Doll Hospital closed after a stunning 109 years, in big part because no successor was there to continue to work.
The list does go on:
- The University Diner, where I shared a late breakfast with a friend.
- The Stage Deli, where I kept promising to eat but never did, and now never will.
- Movie Star News, where I picked up more than a few posters.
- The Village Chess Shop, whose collection of boards, pieces, and sets in the window was unrivaled.
- Kim's Underground, where I tracked down god knows how many records and DVDs I would never have found otherwise.
- Cafe Figaro, a Village spot where I went on a first date with the woman that I have been married to for 20 years as of this May.
- The Rizzoli Bookstore, a place of beauty, another spot I'd been promising to visit once I had a little silver to spend so I could blow it on some lavish first edition or artbook.
- Archangel Antiques, an adorable little hole-in-the-wall of bric-a-brac where I hunted for everything from antique typewriters to badges.
- The Yaffa Cafe, an all-vegetarian outfit I dined in a few times with friends in the 90s. (The Department of Health had apparently taken their revenge on the place.)
- Shakespeare & Company, as excellent an indie bookseller serving a college community as could be asked for. ("Death by rent hike. It's now a Foot Locker.")
- Posman Books in Grand Central Station. And Penn Books, where I stopped in many a time on my way through the city, is in danger of being squeezed out.
- Pearl Paint.
I'll stop before I end up typing with my fists.
The city had long been losing out to the super-rich by the time I moved away last year, but the process continues unabated. Most of the new developments either seem to be franchises, mega-hotels, swanky apartment complexes, or business towers. Most of the apartments are far and away beyond the cost of what most of us can afford, meaning they'll most likely be rented to people who aren't even residents of the city (as a New York Times exposé documented). Give it another decade, and New York City will be nothing but an unlivable tourist destination, a city as luxury product, with nothing about it that made it a place to live in, walk around in, and savor.
When the Wo Hop goes, when we lose Academy Records, Other Music, the Village Vanguard, then I'll know the fight's been lost for keeps. And yes, I did say "when", not "if". I am just that despondent.