Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Maria's Mont Blanc


Last night was the last night for Maria's Mont Blanc restaurant on West 48th.

photo via New York

Stephen wrote in:

"Those of us who've been denizens of Hell's Kitchen are losing a wonderful neighborhood bar/restaurant. Fought for at least a year with the landlord. Hangout for the musicians' union across the street as well as theater designers, box office staff, stage hands, and, of course, tourists. Lots of Broadway casts and off-Broadway casts hang after their shows. A truly great spot. And beloved by the surrounding industry."

Maria's Mont Blanc has been around since 1982 -- in one location, then another, both on West 48th Street. Eater visited in 2011 and reported: "the feeling that you're in the capable hands of a close-knit family remains. I've rarely seen such conscientious kindness as that exhibited by Mont Blanc's staff toward its faithful clientele."

And another one gone while City Hall sits on its hands. #SaveNYC.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Another Laundromat Gone

A few years ago I did a post about the laundromat on West 4th and Bank Street. Marc Jacobs had just expanded into part of it, and I wrote about how I always took its picture because I worried about it vanishing.

"It has that look," I wrote then, "old and shabby, and therefore real, a Velveteen Rabbit of a place." I also liked how the laundress decorated the window with orange peels.

Well, that's all gone now.

I took these pictures a couple of months ago and haven't been back to look, but I figure the place is either still sitting empty or has become another luxury shopping mall chain store.

If you know what happened here, please let us know.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Alex's Shoe Repair


Reader Sasha writes in to report that Alex's Shoe Repair on 44th and Vanderbilt, across from Grand Central, is closing.

Sasha says: "They've been there for ages, and do great work but just lost their lease. He's closing down and not relocating. I was in there for a shine earlier and Alex is bereft, as were many of the customers coming in--lots of head shaking and sad words. Pretty much all the midtown shoe repair places are disappearing, it's a real shame."

The sign in the window says May 27 will be their last.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Papaya Dog Down

Reader Richard writes in to let us know "the Papaya Dog on the corner of 42nd and 9th Ave shut down overnight. I spoke to some of the doormen at a nearby building and they said the employees were ripping the place up overnight."


This Papaya Dog was one of four in the city (I visited all the hot dog and papaya joints last year).

It was located in the Elk Hotel, a former flop, nearly a century old. The Elk was sold in 2012 and emptied of tenants. (I took a tour of the place with one tenant back then--seriously don't miss that one.)

We heard awhile back that, along with most of the low-rise block, the hotel was sold again and all the businesses on the block would soon be kicked out. Is that why Papaya Dog closed?

Or maybe it was doomed by the luxury hotel rising across the avenue--the one that pushed out Big Apple Meat Market and Stile's Market and 99-cent Fresh Pizza.

Then again, maybe it was just that magically powerful tyranny of nostalgia that did it.


Friday, May 20, 2016

Surma the Ukrainian Shop


Located on 7th Street in the East Village, Surma the Ukrainian Shop has been in business since 1918 -- nearly a century.

photo via Mille Fiori Favoriti

Reader Andy Reynolds hears the news that they're closing in the next month.

He writes, "Was helping the older woman who works there open the gate this morning. She's like, 'Three more weeks and I'm outta here.' I asked her if it was a landlord/rent thing. She told me the owner--of the shop and the building--was selling the building. She's worked there 38 years."

(Rumor confirmed.)

photo: Gudrun Georges

Last year, The Ukrainian Weekly did an in-depth story on the shop and its history.

Mike Buryk wrote that Surma "was like a lens sharply focusing all those bits and pieces of my Ukrainian ancestry in one very inviting place. The smell of beeswax and the sounds of Ukrainian music coming from the record player always greeted me. As you walked through the door a bell tinkled in a welcoming way with each new customer."

photo: Gudrun Georges

When his grandfather, Myron Surmach, passed away, Markian Surmach returned to New York from Colorado and took over the shop.

“If I didn’t come back, the store was going to close,” he told the Times in 2009.

"No place stays the same for 15 years," remarked Jim Dwyer in the paper, "certainly not in Manhattan. With a few exceptions, Ukrainians have long since drained from the Lower East Side. So have the artists living cheaply. 'The homogenization of city life is not unique to New York, or this country,' Mr. Surmach said. 'It’s all over the world.'"

In Ukrainian Weekly, when Buryk asked Surmach how long Surma would last, he answered, “As long as my personal interest in Ukraine continues and evolves, Surma will be here.”

This weekend is the annual Ukrainian Festival on the block--will it be Surma's last?

Thursday, May 19, 2016



Tekserve, known as "New York's mom-and-pop Apple shop," has been around since 1987. Rumor has it, they won't be around much longer. (*See update from management below)

Reliable reader Simone reports that she heard from three different employees they are closing shop in August. They say they're hoping to relocate in Chelsea. But, of course, rents are sky-high in a city full of corporate chain stores.

When they opened 29 years ago, founded by three former engineers at public radio station WBAI, they filled their space with antique radios and stereoscopes, along with that old Coke machine that dispenses real glass bottles. They were quirky, homey, local. Back then, there were no shiny Apple Stores. Now there are--how many?

"What're you gonna do," said one employee to Simone. "It's part of Apple's business model to streamline things, cut out the middleman so they'll have complete control."

As a long-time regular at the shop, I'll be very sorry to see Tekserve close.

I go there to avoid the sleek, corporate "pod people" atmosphere of the Apple Store, to get humane and reliable service, and enjoy an ice-cold bottle of Coca-Cola while I wait--sometimes in a state of post-motherboard apocalypse trauma.

If Tekserve does find a new location and reopen, says Simone, "They will continue to do repairs but no more retail sales, since people are mainly purchasing online."

*UPDATE: CEO of Tekserve Jerry Gepner got in touch to fill us in on the details. He writes:

"I want to state clearly that Tekserve has no plans to close, but we will morph with the times.

Tekserve was founded to provide service and data recovery to the Apple community. We intend to preserve and in fact, to grow our service operation. We were the first to provide repairs for Apple users in New York and continue to pride ourselves on the quality of our service and data recovery teams and the trust that so many customers place in us every day. It is a trust we do not intend to breach. In addition, we have a growing business that sells Apple based solutions to small and mid sized businesses (SMB) in New York. Going forward, we will be focused more heavily in this area as well. At the end of the day we fully intend to continue selling and servicing Apple products and accessories.

We are indeed winding down our retail store operation. This is not due simply to major vendors squeezing margins for their resellers and channel partners, but more down to the changing face of retail in general. Over the past several years, consumer buying habits and options have changed, particularly with respect to consumer electronics. The small specialty retailer is rapidly becoming a thing of the past, and Tekserve is no different in that respect.

We do have plans to relocate in the fall. You (correctly) point out that business rents in New York City are high and have been rising for the past several years. This presents a challenge to all small businesses, but we are confident that our repair service and SMB sales activities are excellent businesses and we intend to stay in Manhattan with both of them. Our hope is to stay in or near the Chelsea neighborhood that has been home to us for so many years, but it's too early to tell if that will be possible.

In summary, Tekserve will still be the best place for New Yorkers to buy a Mac, get their Macs fixed, get expert advice about Apple products and for small businesses - the very best place to get an Apple business solution that works right out of the box. Change is never easy, but evolution is necessary-- and in our case, the evolution is very much a 'back to the future' move--but one we are excited to make."

museum of Macs

 A little historic reading, from New York magazine, 1991:

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Milady's High-Rent Blight

In 2014, after 81 years in business, and with a steady clientele, Milady's bar closed. Employees told customers that the landlord refused to renew the lease (this has not been confirmed, see comments below). New Yorkers grieved.

The space has been empty since. It had a For Rent sign on it all this time, but I guess that didn't succeed in attracting a suburban shopping mall chain. So now there's a bigger, brighter banner--in orange!--strapped across the front of the murdered bar.

High-rent blight never got so bright. Come on, Applebee's!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Master Cutting Table

I must have walked on 27th Street between Broadway and 6th Avenue a million times. But somehow never noticed Master Cutting Table. Maybe the shutters were always down when I went by. Maybe I was too distracted by the neon of the weird old Senton Hotel. In any case, recently, deep in the depths of a rather bad mood, I came upon the miracle that is Master Cutting Table.

It was the decapitated Charlie McCarthy doll heads that caught my eye. And the mannequin in the vest and Spartan helmet. I got closer and looked in through the plate-glass window.

It was like looking into one of those panoramic Easter eggs as a kid. A whole world opened up. And, seeing what I saw, my mood instantly lifted.

American flags. Antique clocks. JFK and RFK posters. A bigger than life-size bathing beauty cardboard cut-out. Pressed-tin ceiling above and wooden floorboards below. A long path leading to the back of the shop through dozens and dozens of old garment industry machines:

Gold Stampers, Wire Stitchers, Rossley Button Machines, Defiance Foot Presses, Schaefer Cementers, Clicker Blocks, Rubber Pads.

Had I tumbled back through time? How could something so pure, so untouched still be permitted in the homogenized, stultified Manhattan of today? What delightful madness was this?

The lights were on, but the door was locked.

"This is our flag, be proud of it!" reads a sign on the door, below a "Back In" notice that doesn't indicate how many minutes will pass before they'll be back in. I waited around a bit, not wanting to stop looking. Eventually, I had to go, but vowed to return.

When I went back a few weeks later, it was the same scene: lights on and no one in sight.

I pushed the door. It opened with the tinkling of a bell.

I walked inside, unsure that I should be there, and tried to commit as much as I could to memory. The place smelled of age, of sweetly rotting paper, like a library. I breathed it in.

A silver-haired man emerged from a back door and came directly towards me, dressed all in black, his spine stiffly upright, his shoes shuffling.

"The door was open?" he said, indicating that it was not meant to be. "What can I do for you?"

"I'm admiring your shop," I said.

"Why? It's a dirty stinkin' hole!"

"It's beautiful."

"You shoulda seen it 60 years ago. It was a machine shop."

He ushered me to the door, adding, "Now we don't do nothin'."


"Nothin'! When you're old, you'll understand. When you're married, you'll understand. In the morning, you kiss the wife goodbye and say, 'Seeya later, Sweetie, I'm off to work!'"

"So you don't do anything here? You don't sell anything, fix anything? You just do nothing?"

"Come back when you're 60 and I'll tell you all about it!"

He closed to the door behind me, locked it, and shuffled back down the long path to the back room where he does nothing all day. A man who just wants to be left alone in his dirty, stinkin', beautiful museum of a machine shop.

The site 14to42 says Master Cutting Table has been here since the early 1960s. It is run by a man named Arnold. A writer at Manhattan Sideways ventured in to the place one time. She reported:

"Asked what he does here, Arnold replied: 'nothing.' Asked why he comes in, then: 'I don’t want to stay at home. I love my wife of over sixty years, but sometimes you just have to get away.' Having invested in property in New York when it was not as astronomically expensive, Arnold now owns this building and has the luxury of using it as a 'day home.' He is holding out against selling to developers bent on transforming the space. 'I’ll let my kids make that mistake,' he says. 'You can walk with a straight backbone knowing you own property in New York. It’s a marvelous feeling.'"

Monday, May 16, 2016

A. Blank Sign

Downtown, at Broad and Stone, Giuliano's pizza place has lost the skin of its signage.

Google Maps

Reader Greg Wyles, sends in a photo of the sign hidden beneath the sign, recently revealed. He says "the Pizza Place that had been there was knocked out by Hurricane Sandy and there has been construction going on and off" ever since.

Last year, spotting the shape of Giuliano's sign, Thomas Rinaldi at New York Neon suspected it was an antique. He did a little digging into the history of the sign and found photos of Blank with its neon intact.

As for A. Blank -- no history remains. Only this. Since 1899.

Anthony Cortese, flickr

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Astor Place Design Pavilion

Five years ago, I posted here about the Battle for Astor Place, writing, "The City's Department of Transportation and Cooper Union are unfolding their plan to turn Astor Place into what they call a public park, but what is clearly an amenity for more condo and office towers, setting the stage for further upscaling of the East Village and Bowery."

Today, that vision is coming true. Across from Gwathmey's "Green Monster" condo tower, the Death Star has since risen, a dark, hulking slab full of tech companies. Astor Place's center has been flattened and reshaped--part of the street has been erased, and the Alamo cube was hauled off for polishing, yet to return.

And now we have our first "public" private advertainment event.

Yesterday, NYCxDesign's "Design Pavilion" opened between the Green Monster and the Death Star.

It features interactive advertisements from IBM, a resident of the Death Star, and is sponsored by 125 Greenwich Street, another supertall luxury tower that will be full of oligarch money.

125 Greenwich commandeers the center space with a large architectural display, described thus: "the installation abstracts the surrounding city fabric as an undulating landscape of white fiberglass rods, while 125 Greenwich Street and the World Trade Center buildings are prominently represented as solid forms, finished in white satin lacquer."

So the city fabric is erased, abstracted, neutralized, while the sky-high luxury residence and the corporate office tower are "prominently represented."

Whose city is this?

Uniformed security guards circle the perimeter of the pavilion. When I approached, I hesitated, unsure if I would be permitted inside.

The space is "open to the public," but doesn't quite feel open. And which public? All of the public?

NYCxDesign calls the pavilion a "public activation" and "an immersive urban experience" consisting of "a curated assemblage of creative structures and displays."

But the true urban experience is not a curated one. It is, by nature, haphazard, chaotic, idiosyncratic.

The pavilion reminds me of the controversial BMW Guggenheim Lab that came to the East Village a few years ago. James Wolcott said at the time: "An interdisciplinary lab is what you get when there's no more Mercer Arts Center, Max's Kansas City, CBGB's, or Mudd Club--a buzzword mausoleum."

This is the new Astor Place. It looks like a public space, but like many sites in Bloomberg's "high-performance" neoliberal vision of the city, it feels more and more like privatization, covered in high-end branding disguised as "fun for everyone."

Standing in the center, you find that what you're immersed in is not the urban utopia, but a dystopia of corporate advertising--the pavilion and its branded contents, surrounded by the lighted signs of Chase, Walgreens, Starbucks, CVS, on and on. This is truly the "geography of nowhere."

I'll end this post as I did the one in 2011, with some words by William H. Whyte, Jr., from his 1958 book The Exploding Metropolis:

"Everybody, it would seem, is for the rebuilding of our cities... But this is not the same as liking cities...most of the rebuilding under way and in prospect is being designed by people who don’t like cities."

"what is the image of the city of the future? In the plans for the huge redevelopment projects to come, we are being shown a new image of the city—and it is sterile and lifeless. Gone are the dirt and the noise—and the variety and the excitement and the spirit. That it is an ideal makes it all the worse; these bleak new utopias are not bleak because they have to be; they are the concrete manifestation—and how literally—of a deep, and at times arrogant, misunderstanding of the function of the city."

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Chelsea Car Wash

I often worry about the car wash on 10th Avenue and 24th Street. It is the last remnant of "Gasoline Alley," the world that existed before the High Line dramatically changed this part of Chelsea, when it was all blue-collar businesses, largely related to the care and maintenance of automobiles.

They've been there for over 35 or 40 years and are now utterly surrounded by high-rise jillion-dollar glitz.

I take the car wash's picture pretty much every time I walk by. Just in case.

I took a ride through the thing, even though I have no car. I saw a cabbie going in for a wash and hopped in, paying him for the opportunity just to ride through.

Here's the scintillating film footage of that adventure. Enjoy those soapy mitters.

Anyway, a good sign recently appeared on the car wash: "Under New Management."

I'd like to think this bodes well for the future of the place.

"Under new management" presumably means they're not selling out to a luxury developer, and they're going to keep washing cars (and bikes). Hopefully, for many years to come.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Missing Silk Clock

Recently, I received this note in an email:

"I am a granddaughter of Alfred Schwarzenbach and my father worked in the building for years. We are all appalled about the disappearance of the clock! How can we find it? Who has the authority to simply take it away? If they don't want it, why not give it back to the family? All questions with no answers! Maybe you can give us some!"

It came from Ines Franck in Switzerland. She is referring to a post I did in 2014 about the lovely Silk Clock on the former Schwarzenbach building on Park Avenue and 32nd Street.

Before, via 14to42

The clock was removed when the building was sold, stripped, streamlined, and turned into TIAA-CREF's 470 Park Avenue South.

At the time, we wondered what would happen to the clock. Would it return to the public sidewalk once the renovations were done?


My original tipster on the story went over and took a look.

The Silk Clock has not been returned to the exterior where it can be enjoyed by all. He also searched the lobby and found no trace of the Silk Clock. Only cold marble and security guards.

The clock was originally installed here in 1926. Every hour Zoroaster would wave a wand, causing the Queen of Silk to emerge from her cocoon, holding a tulip. (Click to watch.)

Since it's no longer part of the building, Ines Franck's family would like her grandfather's clock back. She vows to keep searching for it. If you have any clues to the clock's whereabouts, please let us know.

UPDATE: Reader Sheila contacted TIAA-CREF. She reports that they responded on Facebook: "we like the clock too, so we’re restoring it! It will be rehung on the building’s north entrance as soon as it's complete for all New Yorkers to enjoy."

via David Cobb Craig, Street Clocks in NY

Wednesday, May 4, 2016


When Jane Jacobs published The Death and Life of Great American Cities in 1961, the word "gentrification" had yet to be coined. The process that would eventually destroy the global cities of the 21st century had not yet been observed. British sociologist Ruth Glass would come up with it in 1964, and it would arrive in New York City in the 1970s.

Jacobs did, however, detect a process that is clearly the same one we are contending with today--what I call hyper-gentrification. Jacobs would call it over-success. She wrote:

"so many people want to live in the locality that it becomes profitable to build, in excessive and devastating quantity, for those who can pay the most. These are usually childless people, and today they are not simply people who can pay the most in general, but people who can or will pay the most for the smallest space. Accommodations for this narrow, profitable segment of population multiply, at the expense of all other tissue and all other population. Families are crowded out, variety of scene is crowded out, enterprises unable to support their share of the new construction costs are crowded out."

She calls this "a problem of malfunction in cities themselves," and concludes, "we must understand that self-destruction of diversity is caused by success, not by failure."

Happy 100th birthday Jane.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Pearl River Remains

As you know, the beloved Pearl River Mart closed when its rent was hiked from $100,000 to a reported $500,000 per month.

Here's what remains.


Monday, May 2, 2016

St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church

Last evening, after their Easter celebration, St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church burned in a massive, four-alarm blaze battled by nearly 200 firefighters.

Photos shared immediately on social media showed the church engulfed in flames, exploding through the stained glass rose window, destroying the roof, leaving nothing but the brownstone shell. Thick, dark smoke billowed high into the air over the area around Madison Square Park.

Tim Teeman, Twitter

photo: Zokster Something

The congregation of St. Sava had just celebrated their Easter services earlier in the day. Photos posted to their Facebook page only two hours before the fire showed a full house inside the landmarked historic church.

Early reports stated that no one was inside during the fire. Parishioners stood on the street, watching and weeping.

“We're all alive, but the building is gone,” the parish priest, Fr. Djokan Majstorovic, told RT. And what a beautiful building it was.

Easter celebration, photo via St. Sava Facebook page

In 2003, Christopher Gray wrote about the church for the New York Times. Built in 1855 by architect Richard Upjohn and sold to the Serbian congregation in 1943, it was originally an extension of downtown's Trinity Church.

Gray wrote, "The interior of the church is a spectacular antique -- a vast, high space, with all of the 19th-century decoration, hanging brass lamps, wall coverings, oak pews and polychromed tile floor almost untouched."

New York Architecture called the interior "Upjohn's masterpiece... Its loftiness and brilliance of proportion make it entirely different from anything else of its time. The most striking features, the long single aisled nave and open roof ceiling, resemble St. Louis' 13th Century Sainte Chapelle in Paris. When combined with the fully exposed truss ceiling of Norway pine, the beautifully polychromed panels with gold stars on a field of blue, and the painted apse walls (by German artist Habastrak), the chapel interior becomes as ecclesiastically proper as its Mother Church."

Easter celebration, photo via St. Sava Facebook page

By 9:00 p.m., photos showed a hollow shell, without a roof, as firefighters continued to spray their hoses on the steaming remains.

Some news reports stated that the structure was in danger of collapse.

Ashley Sears, twitter

St. Sava's was in the midst of restorations -- and negotiations.

In 2014, the Real Deal reported that Robert Gladstone’s Madison Equities sued the church for "allegedly breaching a letter of intent by not disclosing a $13.5 million bill the religious institution owed to brokerage Tenantwise. Madison agreed to help fix up the landmarked sanctuary on West 26th Street in exchange for the use of its air rights."

"Madison is looking to tap into unused air rights at the site of the landmarked church at 13 West 25th Street, as well as those belonging to the property adjacent to the church — just under 200,000 square feet of air rights in total — to construct a commercial building."

Councilmember Corey Johnson noted on Twitter, "Developer wants to build 850ft tower here."

That tower would go on the parking lot next to St. Sava's, home to what remains of the Chelsea Flea Market.

With the landmarked church destroyed, the future of both sites is uncertain. The cause of the fire has yet to be determined, but investigators have officially called it "suspicious."

Update: Some say candles were the culprit. Others are not so sure.

after the fire, photo via St. Sava Facebook page