Yes…it’s true. My city is changing and I don’t like it. Was it being away for almost five months that made me so aware? Empty stores…more generic looking high-rises replacing beautiful old buildings. In the Upper West Side – my neighborhood – just strolling along Broadway, Amsterdam and Columbus Avenue you see many empty storefronts. Why? Because rents are rising to the point that no individual can afford to pay such outrageous prices.
Yes, my city is still amazing…the diversity, the food, the events, the art galleries, the museums…but what attracted me from the very beginning were the small boutiques, the local bakeries, intimate restaurants…the mom and pop stores. The owners just can’t make enough to pay these outrageous high rents. The ornate buildings filled with artifacts? Family owned businesses that have been around forever? Disappearing…and it saddens me to no end.
Take Lee’s Art Shop on W.57th in Midtown…closing it’s doors after 60 years in business…a destination for art and craft supplies, gifts, light fixtures and furniture. Or Streit’s Matzo factory in the Lower East Side…making matzo for 90 years! I’ll never forget a few years ago when I peeked into one of the factory windows. Before I knew it a nice man was handing me a piece of flatbread (matzo) out the open window for me to taste. Or Pearl Paint Art Shop on Canal Street…the art supply mecca for artists for over 50 years. Or Pearl River Mart in Soho…omg…thousands of items from paper lanterns to incense burners to ceramic plates and spoons. How does a business go from paying $100,000 a month to $500,000 and make it? How does a business start over when a developer has purchased their building and will tear it down to build some ordinary generic looking high-rise? This is just a handful of large businesses…the list goes on and on and on for small ones. There’s a blog that showcases on a daily basis the sold buildings and closed businesses within New York City. It was so depressing, I quit following it.
Recently The New York Times published an article about rescued New York City artifacts. Back in 2012 I wrote about finding amazing artifacts at a store in Harlem…called Demolition Depot. I was so enamored by the collection of 19th century door knobs, wrought iron gates, carved oak fireplace mantels, clawfoot bathtubs, stained glass doors…you name it…rescued from demolished or renovated buildings…just waiting to be a part of a new renovation project somewhere. Fast forward four years…little did I know that the inventory in that store is just a small part of a larger home of architectural remnants outside the city that has grown to such a point that it’s unable to house the volume of artifacts becoming available. The owner states that his collection of architectural ornaments is the largest in the country and it’s growing faster than ever because New York City’s construction boom yields more artifacts than he can save. “They’re taking down and gutting buildings faster than we can keep up with right now. I have 25 churches to do before the end of the year.” That’s heartbreaking.
I’m sure most visitors wouldn’t see the difference, but for someone who has seven plus years of living here…let’s just say it’s really changing…and I don’t like it. And then you have the Orlando massacre, the gun issues, the political craziness…I find it’s all taking its toll. So for now I’ll continue to walk the streets, bury my head in my camera, take advantage of exploring the unknown and let the dice roll. Who knows what another year may bring…
On a more positive note…I came across this painting by Leidy Churchman at the Whitney Museum this past week. Love!