Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Goodbye Sunshine


The Sunshine Cinema closed this weekend. It wasn't landmarked--though it should have been. Soon it will be a pile of bricks.

1930, via NYPL

It was built as a Dutch Reformed Church in the 1800s. In the early 1900s, it became the Houston Athletic Club, for boxing matches.

In 1909 it transformed into the Houston Hippodrome, an affordable vaudeville and Yiddish movie house frequented by Jewish, Italian, and other immigrants of the Lower East Side.

In 1913, the Hippodrome was the site of a deadly stampede. During the movie "Daredevils Species," while robbers held up a western train, a flash came from the camera, causing someone to yell "Fire!" Panic ensued. People trampled each other as they clamored for the exit. Crushed to death were two women--Mrs. Margaret Corsa of Chrystie Street and an unidentified woman whose dark hair was "tinged with gray," and who wore on her finger a wedding ring with the initials P.M.

In 1917, the Hippodrome became the Sunshine until it closed sometime in the 1940s and became a warehouse for hardware supplies.

photo by Judith Thissen

In 2001, it was renovated and reopened as the Sunshine Cinema. Its crowds boosted sales at Yonah Schimmel's next door. Said the manager to the Times, "Now, I get a lot more people buying knish and sneaking them into movies. I bet that theater will soon smell all of knish. I bet nobody minds."

Last year, the building was sold to developers East End Capital and K Property Group. As The Real Deal reported at the time, "Landmark Theatres co-owner Mark Cuban initially planned to buy the building with his partner Todd Wagner and build a dine-in movie theater, but their plan fell through in 2012 after the local community board rejected their liquor license application."

The developers filed plans to demolish the building. They will build another soulless piece-of-shit office tower.

Said developer Jonathon Yormark to the Times, “We’re big fans of the Lower East Side. It really needs more 9-to-5 activity and it tends to be very active, obviously, on a night life basis. We believe there is a real demand for office space and for people to work there during the day.”

(There will be a developer victory dance party. We're all invited.)

So we're losing another beautiful building for something hideous and dead. We're losing history for emptiness. We're losing culture for corporate culture.

And don't let anyone tell you the Sunshine closed because "No one goes to the movies anymore." Don't let them tell you it's "Because of Netflix," like they say "It's all because of online shopping" and "No one buys books anymore. No one goes to diners anymore. No one eats hot dogs anymore." Don't let the creeps get away with dodging the rent issue.

The Sunshine closed because of hyper-gentrification. Because the rents are too high. The Sunshine closed because it wasn't protected.

As Tim Nye, the Sunshine's co-owner, told the Times this week, "the theater 'was doing incredible' financially. But they were paying $8,000 in monthly rent, which they expected would skyrocket at the end of their 25-year lease on Jan. 31. 'It’s the economics. We cannot pay market rent.'"

The Small Business Jobs Survival Act could have saved the Sunshine. The return of commercial rent control would have saved the Sunshine. Landmarking would have at least kept the historic building standing, instead of the soulless piece of shit that's to come.

And what will that soulless piece of shit do to Yonah Schimmel's? The knishery opened in 1910, one year after the opening of the Houston Hippodrome. Surely, it benefited from the crowds going in and out of the theater, just as it benefited from the crowds of the Sunshine. Will the new people who work in the soulless piece of shit want knishes? Will the presence of the glass box pressure a sale?

Will the creeps soon be saying, "Oh well, no one eats knishes anymore"?

Monday, January 22, 2018

Rally for Galicia

Yesterday, local organizers, politicians, and community members rallied to save Galicia restaurant on Broadway near 172nd Street in Washington Heights. After 30 years in business, they're being denied a lease renewal by the Edelsteins of Edel Family Management, owners of several buildings in the area.

As always, the restaurant was full of faithful customers, dining on delicious home-style meals.

Hand-lettered signs in the windows read "Save Galicia" and "Make the Small Business Job[s] Survival Act Law!!"

A large crowd of New Yorkers gathered on the sidewalk. Unlike at last week's rally for Coogan's bar and restaurant a few blocks south, the phalanx of major news cameras was not present. (NBC4 got some shots.) I saw no reporters from major papers. (Patch was there.) Congressman Adriano Espaillat, Public Advocate Letitia James, and City Comptroller Scott Stringer did not appear.

But dozens of others did--and they were passionate about small businesses in Washington Heights.

Lena Melendez

Rally organizer Lena Melendez spoke of the "favorite and authentic" restaurant, a survivor from the difficult days of the 1980s. She introduced Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who promised to "Do what we can to pressure the Edelstein family to come to the table" and negotiate a fair lease renewal. "We expect our small businesses to be treated fairly," Brewer said. "Let's keep the pressure going."

David Eisenbach, former candidate for Public Advocate, made a push for the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA). "We can't keep counting on politicians to save the day," he said. "This can't be done on a case by case basis." We need legislation, he argued, "to level the playing field." He called for a full public hearing and a City Council vote on the SBJSA. "Let democracy happen!"

David Eisenbach

Peter Walsh, co-owner of Coogan's, began, "As a child of Irish immigrants, I was saved by new immigrants--the Dominicans of Dominican Heights!" His bar has been sustained by Latinx locals--and was recently saved from a massive rent hike. He recalled the days of high crime, when Galicia opened and survived. And he spoke of gentrification's power to displace. "Now that the neighborhood has become attractive to everyone else, who do they want to kick out? The pathfinders. The Dominican immigrants who built this neighborhood."

Someone from the crowd shouted, "We are what's right with America!"

Peter Walsh

For well over an hour, several community members got up to speak, in English and in Spanish. City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez ended his speech with a chant of "Si, se puede!" Yes, we can.

Ydanis Rodriguez

How can you help? Write to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and tell him to bring the SBJSA to a vote. Write to your City Council members and tell them to pass the SBJSA. You can find their contact info here -- and sample emails here and here.

It can be done.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

M&H Deli


It's the little places that make a neighborhood function like a neighborhood. Bodegas and other small, affordable markets are vanishing fast across the city. Here's another.

Mike writes in: "I thought you might be interested in the closing of the M&H Deli (bodega) on Dekalb Ave and Saint Felix Street in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Closing after 35 years due to rising rent, per the sign. It was your pretty typical bodega serving the community and the Brooklyn Hospital across the street."

Once again, it's not due to lack of business. It's not the Internet. The sign makes the reason clear.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Broadway Restaurant


As New York City diners meet their collective demise (and then some), overwhelmingly due to skyrocketing rent and denied lease renewals, another one appears to have joined the list.

Christopher writes in to say that the Broadway Restaurant at 101st Street has shuttered. There's no sign to say goodbye, or give a reason why, but the shutters have been down for a week and the phone has been disconnected ("temporarily" says the recording--is there hope?).

photo from Christopher

Asks one Yelp reviewer (where the reviews are glowing), "could broadway restaurant be closed ?? -will be missed if true." Maybe they're just on vacation? Though it seems unlikely.

I went to the Broadway only once, happily stumbling upon it while I was wandering the neighborhood for reasons I can't remember. I loved it instantly.

I loved the sign outside with its "STEAKS CHOPS SEA FOOD," an indication of a certain vintage, and an increasingly rare sight.

I loved its interior with the U-shaped counter and the movie star posters. Brad Pitt appeared on the walls several times--maybe because he filmed there once.

I loved the hand-painted menu with its CORNED BEEF HASH and TASTY SANDWICHES.

The place was busy and beloved. If you know what happened here, please let us know.

*UPDATE: Harry points us to a recent article in West Side Rag, reporting that a fire closed the place on New Year's Day.

Hopefully, the 47-year-old diner will recover, but the damage looks bad.

photo via West Side Rag

Monday, January 15, 2018

Saving Coogan's

Yesterday, local politicians and community members gathered to rally for Coogan's Bar and Restaurant in Washington Heights. After hiking Coogan's rent by $40,000, the landlord, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, surrendered under public pressure this week and made a deal to keep Coogan's in place for the foreseeable future. (The details are being kept confidential.)

On the cold and sunny Sunday afternoon, in front of a large crowd, Congressman Adriano Espaillat, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Public Advocate Letitia James, and City Comptroller Scott Stringer made celebratory speeches, calling Coogan's "the United Nations of Washington Heights" and a "civic center" for the neighborhood. They also promised to save small businesses across the five boroughs.

"We spoke with one voice," said Brewer. "We want to do the same thing for other mom and pops. This is just the beginning."

"Our work must continue," said James. "Small businesses are suffering and we need to come to a resolution to protect small businesses in the city."

"Coogan's," said Stringer, "is the line in the sand."

But what do they plan to do? After questions from the press, the discussion got around to solutions, specifically the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA), a bill that many activists have been pushing for years (see flyer below).

"We need a hearing on the SBJSA," said James. "We're going to be urging the City Council and Corey Johnson to put it forward."

Currently, most City Council members support the SBJSA. To pass, the new Speaker must bring it to a vote. This is essential. Only a broad-reaching policy like the SBJSA--or the return of commercial rent control--will save our small businesses. Like Espaillat said to the crowd, handling the problem of evicted mom and pops one by one is not a solution. "We're going to lose a lot of them," he said, "and we need legislation. We're going to stop hyper-gentrification."

After the rally, inside Coogan's, I talked with Lena Melendez, a local social worker and organizer with RENA (Riverside Edgecombe Neighborhood Association) and Dominicanos Pro Defensa Negocios Y Viviendas (DDNV).

Lena and I discussed hyper-gentrification in Washington Heights. "The landlords are being incentivized to push people out," she explained, pointing to the 20% vacancy bonus loophole in the rent regulation laws. "It's an erosion of the consumer base. And small businesses have no protections whatsoever."

Real-estate speculation has been pushed into overdrive by the city's rezoning of Inwood. Lena noted the spread of high-rent blight infecting upper Broadway, a rash of storefronts forcibly emptied and kept empty. "The landlords need to be punished," she said, with disincentives like a vacancy tax. But that won't fix every situation. "If a business is in a two-story building, they're a dead duck." With a demolition clause in the lease and no rent-regulated tenants to deal with, the developers can just kick out the business and demolish.

Why is this problem so hard to fight? "Because REBNY is so strong," Lena said, "and the politicians are like prostitutes being bought." She wants to see the neighborhood get organized. "The Latino community has to stand up. But they need to be informed. If this community knew what that rezoning will do to the neighborhood, they'd be marching in the streets."

"The politicians want us all to think the rezoning is a good thing." To that she says, "You're jerking me around. You're pissing on my head and calling it rain."

When we finished talking, Lena went back to gathering signatures on a petition to save Galicia, a restaurant just a few blocks up Broadway, getting forced out after 30 years in business.

flyer by Jenny Dubnau

Galicia Restaurant


At yesterday's rally for Coogan's, Congressman Espaillat pointed up Broadway and announced, "My next stop is Galicia restaurant." After 30 years in business, he explained, they're being denied a lease renewal by the Edelsteins of Edel Family Management, owners of several buildings in the area. "I spoke to the Edelsteins," Espaillat said, "and they seem to be over the top and heavy handed."

After the rally, I went for lunch at Galicia. The place is warm and welcoming--and busy. Customers converse from table to table. The counter fills up and empties, and then fills again. The food is good. So is the cafe con leche.

On my table I had the flyer announcing a rally to save Galicia, January 21 at 12:00 noon. A woman stopped to read it. She said, "I'll be there. Just because this neighborhood is changing, everybody has to get out? No. We've been here. This place is part of our community."

She went on to her table and I enjoyed my chicken, beans and rice, and plantains.

I got into a conversation with another woman, Mrs. Doris Giordano, who was born and raised in Washington Heights. She rescues cats and has been coming to Galicia since it opened.

She showed me a handful of family photographs--her father with his friends on the stoop, her mother on the rooftop they called Tar Beach.

"Tiny Tim was born in Washington Heights," she told me. "Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers came from here. Lewis Lymon and the Teenchords, too. George Raft was from here. My grandmother had a crush on him. They went to school together."

"It's heartbreaking," she said about the demise of small businesses in the neighborhood. "And it's all to do with real estate and landlords." We talked about the closure of the Reme diner and the high-rent blight that is sweeping upper Broadway. "It's like a ghost town. To see stores that've been here since I was a kid, all gone. It's heartbreaking."

She doesn't want to see Galicia go. "Everybody's like family here. I'm not Spanish, but I've been eating here for so long. People say hello. It's safe. You get homemade meals. They have the best coffee and it only costs a dollar-fifty." A rent-controlled tenant on a fixed income, she can't afford Starbucks.

"They're building upscale gourmet places," she said. "The bodega where I got my Italian bread? It's gone and now they're upscale. They cater to the wealthy now. The rent is outrageous all over New York City and people are being relocated. They're moving out all the people who were born and raised here."

We talked about the upcoming rally and the promises of the politicians. Mrs. Giordano shook her head. She said, "I'm not trusting the politicians anymore. They tell you one thing, but nothing's being done. They talk the talk, but they don't walk the walk."

Want to help? Sign the petition to save Galicia. And go to the rally on Sunday, January 21, at 12:00 noon, 4083 Broadway near 172nd St.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Save Coogan's

Earlier this week, the Times reported that Coogan's bar and restaurant will be forced to close at the end of May after being in business since 1985. The closure will happen, wrote Jim Dwyer, "for the usual horrible reasons, the end of a lease and impossible rent demands for a new one."

Coogan's space, at 169th and Broadway, is owned by New York-Presbyterian Hospital. “They want about $40,000 a month more,” said one of Coogan's partners. That's a lot of beer.

This loss is hitting home with many New Yorkers, including Broadway luminary and Inwood native Lin-Manuel Miranda, who tweeted the announcement, saying "My stomach hurts from this news":

Graham Ciraulo, an organizer with the Northern Manhattan Is Not For Sale coalition, started a petition to Save Coogan's. Over 10,000 have signed so far.

And there's a rally at Coogan's this Sunday, January 14, at 12:00 noon, organized by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Congressman Adriano Espaillat, and other community leaders.

Whether you know Coogan's or you don't know Coogan's, you know it's another brick in the wall of the sterilized, de-urbanized, hyper-gentrified zone that New York is becoming thanks to unregulated landlord greed.

If you're sick and tired of that, then be there. And tell our city's leaders to make a real change -- pass the Small Business Jobs Survival Act and let's talk about bringing back commercial rent control. It's time to #SaveNYC.

*UPDATE: Coogan's has been saved!