Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Park Deli

VANISHING

"I stay here," says Krystyna Godawa. "I'm not moving."

For the past ten years, Krystyna has run the Park Delicatessen at the edge of McGolrick Park on Nassau Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The deli has been here since the 1930s. But the landlord recently doubled the rent and Krystyna can't afford it. She's looking for another spot nearby and plans to stay put until she finds it.



Customers come in and out of the shop, ordering meals to go from the refrigerated case of home-cooked pierogi, potato salad, chicken cutlets, cole slaw, and beets. They stop to ask Krystyna, in Polish and in English, "Any news? When's the last day?" They promise, "I'll keep my fingers crossed."

And then they touch Krystyna--they all touch the woman they call Babcia Krysia, "Grandma Krystyna"--on the shoulder, the arm, the back of the neck. Their touches are tender and familial. They are family.



Krystyna holds their histories--the births of their children, the deaths of their parents--as she holds the history of the deli, still making German dishes that hearken back to the days when the place was Mullenbrock's delicatessen. Back in Poland, Krystyna worked as a librarian, another kind of preservationist, another holder of memory.

"I'm only ten years here and this is sentiment to me," Krystyna says, looking around the shop. "If you like your job, you put the heart." Losing the deli is like a death. "It is like you take out your heart from your body."

She feels powerless to stop the loss, "like kids who cannot do nothing, like tied my hands."



Her lease expired in April and she'd been on a month-to-month since. But once her landlord found a new tenant (rumored to be an ice-cream shop), she gave Krystyna until August 1 to vacate. It's too soon. Krystyna has no place to go--and she's having trouble finding an affordable rent in a neighborhood that is gentrifying.

"I will try to do everything to stay with my people," she says, referring to her customers, the people who give her "heart and happiness." Her blue-green eyes fill with tears. As she feels the grief of her own loss, she also feels her customers' grief.

"If I have to close, okay. But I see how much people want this place, how much people like me, and it's very tough to me. That is the worst. How can I live if I don't have my customers?"



Heart and sentiment are important to Krystyna. It's the stuff that keeps people connected, that keeps neighborhood communities together. But she sees these positive forces diminishing in the world. The new generation, she says, is cold. The newcomers to her apartment building don't say hello, don't hold the door. They all seem disconnected and disinterested.

"Life is too tough," she says. "If we're not nice to each other, what kind of life is it? The sentiment is second now."

What's first?

"Money. Everything is about the money."


photo by Yulia Zinshtein

If you visit the Park Deli before it's gone, you'll find a neon sign in the window that reads: VANISHING. A few of the letters flicker.

It is the work of artists Troy Kreiner and Brian Broker of Shameless Enterprise, in collaboration with "Vanishing New York" and built by neon artist Patrick Nash. This is the second installation, after Cake Shop earlier this year.

People walking by see the sign and come in to talk to Krystyna. "It's a shame," they say. "Soon all the small businesses will be nothing."


photo by Yulia Zinshtein







Tuesday, July 25, 2017

French Roast Downtown

VANISHING

Today is the last day for French Roast in Greenwich Village. Located on 11th Street and 6th Avenue since I don't know when, the bistro will close its doors tonight. (H/T New York Foodscape.)



Employees were unable to say why the place is closing, but we can guess. The uptown location will remain open.

*Update: Many people in the comments are remembering a Blimpie here--yes, there was. Here's that story.

Pub Day

Today is the official publication day for Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul. You can now buy it wherever books are sold. (Like your local independent bookstore.)


At Spoonbill & Sugartown

You can also get a copy at the launch party this Thursday night at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, or next Thursday night at the Brooklyn launch party at powerHouse Arena. For a full list of book events, click here.

In the meantime, check out two exclusive excerpts: the East Village chapter at Longreads and the tourism chapter at Vice.


At the Strand

Reviews:
“Essential reading for fans of Jane Jacobs, Joseph Mitchell, Patti Smith, Luc Sante, and cheap pierogi.” –David Kamp, Vanity Fair

“This is a very good, angrily passionate, and ultimately saddening book…. a brilliantly written and well-informed account.” –Booklist, starred review

“Vanishing New York is an urban-activist polemic in the tradition of Jane Jacobs’s Death and Life of Great American Cities: Every page is charged with Moss’s deep love of New York. It is both a vital and unequivocally depressing read.” –Molly Fitzpatrick, Village Voice

“a compelling and often necessary read…. One of the great accomplishments of this nearly 500-page polemic, is that even as I read through in a state of outrage and sadness, I was also reassured: I am not crazy. The city really has vanished…” –Glynnis MacNicol, Daily Beast

“a vigorous, righteously indignant book that would do Jane Jacobs proud.” –Kirkus

“This polemic is likely to stir a lot of emotions.”—Publishers Weekly

“A relevant lamentation of New York’s rebellious, nonconformist past and its path toward an inexpressive mélange of glass and steel big box stores and chain restaurants.”
–New York Journal of Books


Monday, July 24, 2017

More Hotels, Fewer Flowers

In the Flower District, along West 28th Street between 6th and 7th, the fragrant green jungle of the sidewalks continues to vanish.

Another hotel is coming.



It's a big one: 45 stories, 146,000 square feet, 522 rooms. Said architect Gene Kaufman, “The demand for hotel rooms in Chelsea continues to grow, with ever larger and ever-taller hotels being constructed to accommodate the number of tourists wishing to stay in this vibrant neighborhood."

This glass behemoth joins several more new tourist hotels here. In fact, the block is becoming nothing but hotels. I can't think of a worse death for what was a wonderful and unique little district.

Ten years ago, I talked to some of the plant sellers. One told me, “10 to 15 years ago, it was all flowers. Now it’s dead. They’re putting up 22 new hotels in a 5-block radius. Only those of us with a good lease will stay.” Another echoed the sentiment, “Some will leave, some will stay. All the city wants is big business. There are 3 hotels going up on this block.”



There are only a few green sections left. I walk through as often as I can, taking my time to smell the flowers. Literally. Right now, the place smells of gardenia.



And there are the Flower District cats, at least six that I've counted, lounging among the succulents and orchids.



This is life. This is real. This is New York. And it's being destroyed, like everywhere else, replaced by the dull and the dead. But it doesn't have to be this way. There are alternatives.






Thursday, July 20, 2017

Goodbye Notes to Cup & Saucer

The Cup & Saucer luncheonette on Canal and Eldridge closed this past week due to the landlord nearly doubling the rent. After the shutters came down one last time, neighbors and friends hung posterboard and pens to gather goodbye and thank you notes.


click to enlarge and read



Among the heartfelt goodbyes and good-lucks, they ask to "Save Chinatown" and "Support the SBJSA," the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, the bill that could have stopped the closure of the Cup & Saucer, as well as many, many others.

It wasn't lack of love that killed the Cup & Saucer.



As I went to leave, a man in construction vest and hardhat walked up and stared at the notes. It's a familiar scene, the devoted regular who hasn't heard that his or her favorite place has shuttered, the New Yorker who shows up to find it gone. They always have the same look of confusion and loss.

"Did you eat breakfast here?" I asked the man.

"I used to eat breakfast here," he replied. "Guess I don't anymore."

We shook our heads. He turned to go and then turned back. He had something else to say.

"This is probably going to be some CVS or Duane Reade or some other useless fucking thing," he said, frustration in his voice. "I live in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, and all the little shops are gone. There's nothing left. The rents are totally out of control."

I told him what the rent went up to on the Cup & Saucer: "Almost sixteen grand."

He shook his head and waved his hand, brushing it all away. And then he went, looking for another place like this, a place he won't be able to find.





Wednesday, July 19, 2017

10 Years Later: The Voice

This week marks the ten-year anniversary of this blog, and I can't think of a better way to celebrate than with the news that I have found myself on the cover of the venerable Village Voice. A decade ago, I never imagined "Vanishing New York" would end up here. Many thanks to everyone for reading and supporting the blog over the years. I would not have this voice without you.

Pick up the issue on the streets today or read it online here.



Come celebrate at a launch party for Vanishing New York the book:

JULY 27
Housing Works Bookstore Cafe
126 Crosby St., New York, NY
7:00 - 8:30PM
For more info, visit the Facebook invite

We're expecting a capacity crowd, so please get there early--and if you miss it, there's a second one in Brooklyn the following week:

AUGUST 3
powerHouse Arena
28 Adams St., Brooklyn (DUMBO)
7:00 - 9:00PM
For more info, visit the Facebook invite or RSVP at powerHouse



Monday, July 17, 2017

Cup & Saucer Goodbye

Today is the last day of the Cup & Saucer.



Last week, the Lo-Down announced the closure. Today the classic diner got its goodbye feature in the Times. They describe a neighborhood in the midst of being wiped out:

"The family jewelry and wholesale shops that once dominated the area are long gone, and more expensive restaurants and bars have moved in. This time, Mr. Vasilopoulos and Mr. Tragaras said, the rent increase was too steep for Cup & Saucer. Mr. Vasilopoulos and Mr. Tragaras have owned the restaurant since 1988, but Cup & Saucer has occupied the space since the early 1940s, Mr. Vasilopoulos said. In March, they learned their $8,200 a month lease would increase by $7,600 per month. Attempts to negotiate with the landlord, 99 Canal Realty, failed, they said."



If the City Council had passed the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, the Cup & Saucer might not be closing today.

It could have been saved.

If you're sick and tired of watching the city die, why don't you send an email to Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and tell her to pass the thing already? You can send one to the mayor, too. It's easy--we already wrote the email for you, just click and send. You really have no excuse.



I went for my last meal at the Cup & Saucer on Friday. I had a BLT, fries, and a Coke.

The place was packed. More than usual, but the diner was always busy. Once again, don't say it closed because business was slow. Don't say it closed because "tastes have changed." It closed because the landlord nearly doubled the rent. It closed because small businesses cannot afford to pay nearly double the rent. It closed because hyper-gentrification. It closed because greed.

The Cup & Saucer did not close because it wasn't loved.

It was loved.



By the register, there's a page from the New Yorker magazine, an artwork by Maira Kalman. She writes of "The Optimism of Breakfast":

In the Optimism of the Morning, it is Wise to Get Going.
To be Confident, Expansive, Exuberant. If you find
yourself at the Cup and Saucer Coffee Shop--or
any Coffee Shop--with a Jelly Doughnut and a
cup of coffee, staring out the window at
the parade of passersby, you could do worse.
A whole lot
worse.


from the New Yorker

Kalman is right. We can do a whole lot worse--and we will.

Whatever comes after the Cup & Saucer will be worse, because it won't be the Cup & Saucer. It won't be the faded Coca-Cola sign that says LUNCHEONETTE. It won't be the 3-D letters washed by years of weather. It won't be the shapely swivel stools padded in orange-sherbet vinyl. It won't be the doughnut case lit in fluorescent light, or the cup and saucer inlay in the floor.

It won't be co-owner and cook Nick Tragaras singing softly to the music of metal spatula hitting grill.

It will, I promise you, be worse.