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  • Category Archives Homes and ‘Hoods
  • The Shroud of Kors

    My business, Dubé Juggling, has been in operation since 1975 – all 39 years in Manhattan. A legacy brand, we are fortunate to have over 100,000 names in our database, including many well-known performers such as David Blaine, Penn and Teller, Cirque du Soleil, and Ringling Brothers. But none of this matters much when up against a Goliath and the real estate market of New York City.

    I have leased at 520 Broadway in SoHo for 23 years and was the first “upscale” tenant in my building – a departure from the type of tenancy in the building up to that time – primarily sewing factories. For sometime, I became the showpiece for management as they toured prospective new tenants through my space as an example of where the building was going. My pioneering efforts there were valued and rewarded by more favorable rents. However, as a commercial tenant, there is no rent protection, and business life in a market of rising rents can be harrowing.

    When my management called to set up an appointment in person with my landlord, I was worried. I was sure that there was no problem with our behavior as tenants, no complaints nor any outstanding debt. The landlord would not make a visit for such matters. As scheduled, on July 25th, one day before my birthday, my landlord visited me at 520 Broadway. He sensed my angst as he said, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news,” and explained that my property was being leased to clothing retail giant Michael Kors and that my lease was not being renewed. A few days later, I received a termination of lease, effective August 31, 2013. Online, the story was already old news. Kors had leased the ground floor retail and second floor. But, the company later opted for the 3rd floor, which my business occupied. 520 Broadway was to be their international headquarters and flagship store.

    This was our banner year for media exposure. We were featured in the New York Times (see here) as well as the Wall Street Journal, and, on October 16, 2013, I was honored to be named one of the “10 Best Classic Stores In NYC” by Gothamist. I was in good stead, alongside legendary shops such as Bloomingdale’s, The Strand, Pearl Paint, Bigelow, and FAO Schwarz. However, at the time, writer Rebecca Fishbein had no idea that I was being given the boot when, ironically, she wrote:

    It may seem strange that one of the city’s standout old school stores caters specifically to jugglers, but at least there’s some proof New York still has a unique soul, even while it seems poised to be eaten alive by banks.

    When I emailed her, the staff of Gothamist, who knew me well, was horrified and immediately requested a phone interview for a follow-up story, which you can read here.

    I have negotiated a stay of execution until January 6, 2014, only a few short weeks away. I have been combing the boroughs of New York City as well as New Jersey to find appropriate space for my business. It has been a daunting task; I occupy an entire floor of my building – 5000 square feet. I have not only a warehouse full of inventory, office equipment, furniture, and machinery to contend with, but I also have to consider employees, a showroom, and a brisk walk-in trade in my relocation. Rents everywhere have soared. Areas of Brooklyn and Queens are as expensive as Manhattan. I have explored a myriad of possibilities. There are simple options available to anyone outside the city, such as just moving the contents of my business temporarily to one’s basement and garage. But in NYC, every square inch of space is coveted and priced accordingly.

    Construction has been underway in the building, seemingly everywhere around us. Everything in the building is about Michael Kors. Time is running out, and I am feeling very closed in as a black netting covers the building for exterior work. Our light, as well as our prospects, have been substantially dimmed by the Shroud of Kors

    Note about the Numbers: My rent is $12,500 per month. However, the market for SoHo is TWICE that (about $25,000 per month per floor). Michael Kors will be renting three floors at $350,000 per MONTH in a 15 year leasing deal. That’s $4,200,000 per year.

  • Brooklyn Is The World, Part 1

    The Game is Afoot

    There was a book that I once gifted to a Brooklynite – When Brooklyn Was the World 1920-1957, by Elliot Willensky. It was a patronizing token effort, because really, at the time, I disliked Brooklyn. To me, having moved to New York City from New England, Brooklyn was always the place where those who could not afford Manhattan lived. Or those too xenophobic or provincial to know better. Manhattan was the epicenter of the universe. How ignorant and foolish I was. Because now, it is known, throughout the world, that Brooklyn is the World. Again.

    For most New Yorkers, chasing or avoiding the next new neighborhood is just reading material. The story is replayed constantly and is, frankly, rather depressing. Pioneers and artists discover new hoods, move there, others follow, developers move in, rents rise, the media reports it, retailers move in, the culture moves in, the hood is finished for all but the lucky and the wealthy. Newcomers stroll, shop, and eat in the trendiest of spots, and are befuddled as to why the hood was ever considered undesirable or dangerous.

    In the 4 boroughs networked by trains, not many stones have been left unturned. Some of the city’s worst areas, like the South Bronx, have long been discovered. In Queens, industrial areas, like Long Island City, are nearly as expensive as Manhattan.

    In Brooklyn, it’s a return to its former glory. Perhaps a little less polished in some ways, but that suits today’s culture just fine. Everywhere throughout the world, people know that Brooklyn is the place to be or to want to be. Williamsburg, East Williamsburg, Bushwick, Gowanus, Sunset Park, Red Hook, DUMBO, Vinegar Hill, Greenpoint. Other areas are long well established: Park Slope, Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Manhattan Beach, Dyker Heights, and Bay Ridge.

    The neighborhoods closest to Manhattan, well-serviced by subway, are the first to go. In recent years, the areas along the L subway line are being progressively sought after. As one neighborhood becomes played out, it’s on to the next subway stop. Only the neighborhoods most resistant to the tide of gentrification are left, places like East New York, Canarsie, or Far Rockaway.

    Recently, for reasons which I will divulge in part 2, I found myself in East Williamsburg. Like Gowanus, I found the low rise, one-story buildings a pleasant respite from the towering, crowding, imposing edifices of Manhattan. Like the Village, where I live, the scale of architecture in places such as Gowanus and East Williamsburg seems to befit humans best.

    A veritable army of graffiti soldiers were busy waging war against the tired, decrepit surfaces of the buildings, with spray paint as weapons. I chatted with a number of them and confirmed that they were working with the approval of the building owners in a welcome trend that respects the rights of property owners. In fact, many owners now solicit and pay for the work of better artists who they know by name. Ironically, I was on Waterbury Street – Waterbury is an industrial town not far from my where I grew up in Bristol, Connecticut. Waterbury always seemed to be poised for discovery, yet it has yet to see the gentrification that Brooklyn has seen and struggles to reinvent itself.

    But I was here on a mission, and a discouraging one at that. I was learning first hand what many others knew and had experienced. I was chasing neighborhoods while being chased and losing ground. It is like a nightmare, being pursued by something large and ominous, all the while being squeezed by time. Fool that I am, I thought, that I would find easily what I needed in Brooklyn. However, as I will explain in Part 2, I am much too late, because, as everyone knows, Brooklyn Is The World :(

    Click here for my complete photo gallery.


  • Poor Cousin LD

    For fun, I once asked a number of friends and family what type of person they found more irritating – the cocky, arrogant braggart who has achieved what he or she claims, or the braggart who has achieved little but attempts to boost his self-esteem and image in the eyes of others with exaggeration and lies. Certainly the very talented, gifted, and fortunate who rubs achievement in other’s faces is, to me, a very cruel display of insensitivity and lack of humility. Yet, all of whom I asked the question found the braggart with nothing but empty victories to be the most offensive, perhaps because two sins, boasting and lying, are greater than one.

    This is why my cousin, whom I will call LD, was so offensive to everyone who met him. He had no friends, only family to suffer his excesses. For me, he comes to mind often when I hear excessive bragging. LD was a borderline pathological braggart, if such a thing exists. To hear him speak was to hear of a man who had done everything and had scaled the walls of human achievement. In actuality, LD had numerous jobs, primarily in the food industry, managing small local restaurants.

    He was not just guilty of inflated claims, but also of stepping on others if it served his need to impress and boost his ego. One day was particularly disturbing because LD decided to punish someone for his own gain. And, like a lion on the hunt, he chose the weakest, not the deserving, as his prey for dinner.
    It was a Sunday afternoon, and on this family visit to his home, LD began a rant about an employee who was not performing to his liking. As he provided us with details of the man’s work, he whipped himself up into a frenzy, telling us how this employee should be fired. Hell, he said, I’m going to fire him right now. He picked up the phone, and in a most humiliating way and for all to hear quite well, LD fired that poor helpless chap. When through with the call, he strutted like any peacock, so all would know, firsthand, the power that he wielded. On occasion, we found his bragging humorous or entertaining, but on that day, like most, it was only embarrassing and sad.

    Recently, while touring the Bronx, a real estate agent pointed out two art storage and shipping companies that had enormous inventories of fine art and were virtually unknown: Transcon International and New Yorker Warehouse. Why the Bronx? It is an excellent location for in-city and out-of-city transport, the rents are cheap, and the Bronx is the perfect locale for the business wanting to keep a low profile. I was told that one of these places may inventory as much as a quarter BILLION dollars of art, dealing with the major museums of New York City. Yet they are virtually unknown, with barely a placard on the door and a name which tells passersby nothing about what really lies behind those walls. New Yorker Warehouse’s truck displays an enigmatic and nondescript “N.Y.W.” I found nothing online about either company, except one article in the New York Times that gives very few details.

    In a world of social networking, tireless self-promotion has become the norm. But for those who have achieved much, whether individual or business, their work or enterprise speaks for itself – no need to self-promote, for the accolades will come. And, at one extreme, there are those who deliberately shun notoriety, feeling that only ill can come of publicity. For companies like Transcon and NYW, there is no benefit to notoriety, only risk to extraordinarily valuable inventories. Keep a low profile, don’t brag, just run the business. And, were he alive, I am sure they would have no interest in hiring a man like Poor Cousin LD

    Getting down to business: Don’t Bet Against Many Goods, Trimmings for Sale, Instincts, Brawling Over Brands, Because I’m The Best (Part 1 and Part 2), Released From Captivity, Pearl Paint

  • Bohemia

    I recently had a conversation with a real estate broker regarding Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I was making a case for my thinking that the neighborhood was oversold. I referenced those awful-looking small homes with vinyl siding and aluminum awnings fetching a million dollars or more. He said that any analysis along those lines was irrelevant and that the people, the culture, and the retailers were there. Williamsburg had arrived.

    I also recall years before, foolishly making an argument for the bohemian nature of the Village over that of Brooklyn to a Brooklyn resident. What was I thinking? There are vestiges of the bohemian past living among those who have been in the Village for decades, benefitting from rent-controlled or rent-stabilized apartments with dramatically under market rents. Small shops like Padma Tibetan Handicrafts still exist, but largely the neighborhood retail environment is dominated by large chains and cater to tourists or wealthy residents, not struggling artists.

    With an average 2-bedroom apartment selling for $2 million and rentals virtually nonexistent, how much bohemia can one expect in Manhattan? And any artistic community that exists in New York City, is likely to be found in Brooklyn.

    I have made a number of recent visits to Williamsburg. The neighborhood is shockingly developed and populated. The streets, restaurants and cafes are brimming with young people who appear quite confident that this is the place to be. In 1992, a New York Magazine cover proclaimed: The New Bohemia – Over the bridge to Williamsburg.

    As far back as 2003, however, articles already surfaced that Williamsburg had topped out and had lost its cool. One long-time resident, Robert Lanham, the author of ”The Hipster Handbook,” called the neighborhood a “pseudo bohemia.” From the New York Times:

    “Williamsburg is having an identity crisis,” Mr. Lanham said. ”It’s kind of absurd that these kids who went to fancy schools are dressing like they’re construction workers. The struggling artist is a myth. Williamsburg is a pseudo bohemia.”

    With even the fringe Brooklyn neighborhoods such as Bushwick played out, where’s the hipster to go? In February of this year, the New York Times, in an article, Creating Hipsturbia, reports that real estate brokers speak of a mass exodus from Brooklyn to the suburbs of New York City along the Metro-North corridor of communities on the Hudson River – Hastings-on-Hudson, Dobbs Ferry, Irvington, and Tarrytown. I personally know of a number of city residents who have made the exodus.

    Some brokers claim a reverse migration back to Manhattan, to areas like the East Village, where real estate is only marginally more than Williamsburg. Others contend that this is folklore created by the self-serving interests of Manhattan real estate brokers. I think regardless of whether we speak of the East Village, Williamsburg, or other NYC neighborhoods, real estate prices alone make it delusional to call anyplace in the five boroughs Bohemia

  • The Rarified Air of Rooftop Aeries

    In a city where real estate is so dear and precious and open land is not to be had, the only way to go is up.  And up is the way it has been since 1852, when Elisha Otis invented the safety elevator, enabling and facilitating construction of our vertical city. From the New York Times:

    Otis sold his first three elevators for $300 apiece and went on to the 1854 exposition at the Crystal Palace in Manhattan, where he demonstrated “the first elevator wherein provision was made for stopping the fall of the car in the contingency of the breaking of the hoisting cables.” In other words, if the cables snapped, the device would keep it from plunging.
    Otis installed the first commercial passenger elevator in the five-story Haughwout Building at 488 Broadway, at Broome Street, in 1857. It was a steam-powered machine that took more than a minute to climb to the top floor.

    And so, in a world dominated by smartphones where time is passed sitting, standing, or walking while looking down at a screen, to get a glimpse of another part of New York City life, it behooves one to look UP. Peeking above the roof lines, treetops can often be seen. And if you are fortunate, as I was, to be afforded a view of the city from above, you will be astonished to see a world of penthouses laden with all manner of gardens, trees, shrubs, patio furniture, and other accoutrement typically only seen in the countryside, but existing here in the rarified air of building tops. One or, at most, a handful of such penthouses exist in only some buildings, so this is a very privileged life.

    In today’s bottom photo, one can see the home of Alec Baldwin – his 4137-square foot home at the Devonshire House in Greenwich Village, purchased in 2011 for $11.7 million dollars. Ironically, in spite of such spaces being so highly coveted and in such short supply, one rarely sees anyone using these spaces. Busy lives, other homes, and vacations. So little time to enjoy The Rarified Air of Rooftop Aeries :)

    Related Posts: Affront to Dignity, Pied-a-Aire

  • Angelic Protection

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    In 2008, the New York Times announced that New York City had officially joined the recession that plagued the nation. They also reported that: “The real estate market, especially in Manhattan, has softened substantially in the last several weeks…”

    Sure. If so, it must have been the world’s shortest recession, perhaps coming and going at night when most of us were asleep. A recent assessment by the online publication Curbed jives more with reality. “What Recession? Here Are NYC’s 10 Most Expensive Listings,” with listings of apartments for sale from $50 million to $100 million. Articles in 2004 from NPR and The New York Daily News on dog walking report that some dog walkers are making between $50,000 and $100,000 per year.

    But perhaps, you say, these are the isolated facts taken from the top of the market, and the haves always have at the top anywhere you go. Point well taken. So, perhaps like the statistician, you ask to see a larger sample size, something more statistically significant.

    Take a property in the Village like One Fifth Avenue, a prestigious prewar Art Deco landmark co-op, built in 1927 by Harvey Wiley Corbett. It has 184 units. Yet, currently, there are only 3 apartments available for sale in the entire building: one at $11 million, one at $4.6 million, and one at $2.35 million. A modest one-bedroom apartment in the building, when available, sells for one and a half million dollars. On the rental side, Manhattan has a vacancy rate of about 1.6 percent, with a median rent of $3200, up 3.5% in the last year.

    Today’s photo, caught during the magic hour, gives perhaps the answer to the durability and stability of the Manhattan real estate market – Angelic Protection :)

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Caffe Roma

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    I have a friend, no longer living in the city, who was Italian, a native New Yorker, and lived near Little Italy. I recall once, early in our friendship, asking for suggestions for an Italian restaurant on Mulberry Street. He replied that, categorically, he would never eat Italian there. He cited mediocre quality and that he refused to pay to eat Italian food in a restaurant when he could make it much better himself. His wife concurred that he made a mean red sauce.

    Of course, restaurant patrons know that being able to make it yourself is no reason to be eating home. Many New Yorkers eat every meal out – not surprising given the affluence here and the staggering number of restaurants.
    If you are inclined to eat on the legendary Mulberry Street in the heart of Little Italy, forget being able to peruse menus unfettered. Here, you will be accosted by aggressive hawkers, making promises, offering deals, and assuring you that the food inside is excellent and that you will not be disappointed.

    Recently, a friend wanted to celebrate her birthday by taking a trip down memory lane and dining at SPQR, a place she had not frequented in many, many years. SPQR is an institution, massive and well-known. It never occurred to us to call before visiting to inquire if it was still in business. As luck would have it, when we arrived at 133 Mulberry, we found the place had closed and only recently in early 2013, after being in business over 30 years. As we stood dismayed by our misfortune, we were immediately approached by a staff member of an establishment directly across the street who assured us that much of the staff of SPQR had migrated to their kitchen, the food was excellent, blah, blah, blah.
    A bit put off by the predatory behavior, we strolled the street, settling on a place some short distance away. Dinner was acceptable, if not memorable.

    To heal the wounds of our unsuccessful initial mission, I suggested that we have dessert at Caffe Roma, the only place in the neighborhood that my aforementioned friend approved of, albeit decades ago. I had visited once eons ago, so, not knowing what to expect, I suggested that we lower our expectations.
    My dining companions were immediately pleased with Roma as we approached it, located at 385 Broome Street at the corner of Mulberry Street. The ambiance at Caffe Roma is decidedly olde New York – the place has been run by the same family and in the same location for over a century – since 1891.

    Surprisingly, the place was quiet and we were fortunate to get prime real estate, a table in the front corner window. We shared a number of desserts and found the place a pleasant respite from an otherwise very touristy area. Nearby pastry shop Ferrara’s is a good example of an establishment that many avoid for that reason. Like so many eateries in New York City, reviews of Caffe Roma range the gamut, particularly regarding service. We found it very pleasant, and if by choice or chance, you find yourself in Little Italy, and want to avoid feeling like prey, try Caffe Roma :)

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Homeowners Too

    The big city, particularly New York City, conjures up images of shysters, swindlers, scammers, and hucksters. Growing up in New England, there was a particular aversion to New York, as opposed to let’s say, the more genteel society of Boston. New York was seen as a place defined by glamour, glitz, and money – like Las Vegas, but with more style, character, and culture.

    A visit to New York City came with forewarnings from family and friends. Watch this and watch that, they said. Don’t do this and don’t go there. Be careful. In the 1970s, such admonitions were certainly prudent, however, being young and brazen, I heeded none of it, and luckily, I was never a victim of anything very serious.

    There is truth to all of this. A big city where tourism is strong means lots of naive, innocent prey and a nice thick jungle for hunters to get lost in after scalping their victims.

    Hurricane Sandy unleashed another storm in its aftermath – a flurry of flim-flam men. And a disaster of this magnitude is a big magnet for thieves – victims of the storm now had to contend with crooks not only from New York, but from out of town as well. Of course, opportunists in the wake of a disaster are nothing new. The day after 9-11, vendors were selling T-shirts in Chinatown: I Survived 9-11. Others were selling memorabilia at Ground Zero. Heinous and unconscionable. Fortunately, our mayor at the time was no-nonsense Rudy Giuliani, who decreed in seconds that such offenses would be SQUASHED immediately.

    As regular readers of this website know, I have been closely involved with cleanup and rehab of a friend’s home in Staten Island. One of the most crucial steps in the aftermath of a flooded home is mold remediation and abatement. To be done properly, this is a long and technical process, best left to professionals. The home must be dried, using commercial dryers. There are chemical treatments and HEPA vacuuming. Mold left in walls can come back with a vengance. Many homeowners hasty to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy found themselves ripping newly installed walls open, only to find mold which required proper cleanup and additional construction.

    But where to find someone reputable and honest in the sea of offerings in Sandy’s aftermath? I spoke to numerous established local businesses specializing in mold remediation. I also turned to Craigslist, where we found our final choice. In retrospect, Craigslist was perhaps not the wisest source for such a serious project, however, good fortune was with us, and we found one of the most thorough and scrupulous individuals I have ever worked with – Art Hull.

    Art, like many who worked for victims of the storm, was from out of town – in this case, Ohio. Art was extremely knowledgeable and technical – more so than the many other local contractors we interviewed. He had previously worked in the Biotech industry in California and was well versed in mold and microbes. But what set him apart from the typical New Yorker was his level of service and honesty. He always went the extra mile and then some. He and his assistant spent over 3 weeks in a small home, never rushing the process or a procedure. Phone calls, of which there were many, were typically 30 minutes long, with every detail thoroughly gone over. He gave many extras – checking the roof, checking the attic, replacing the subfloor, checking this and checking that, often traveling and shopping for things needed that were not part of our contractual agreement. To this day, I still call Art in Ohio for advice on various aspects of the home rehab project.

    All told, it was clear from the start that Art was not a native New Yorker. He started the job with a small deposit, willing to wait for an insurance settlement – in our case, he was only paid 4 months after his work was completed. Sadly, many of his other clients became greedy after insurance settlements and have contested his charges for work completed as per contract. Poor Art, now back in Ohio, has had to resort to expensive NYC legal counsel and is still attempting to collect his fees for many large jobs completed some time ago. I was very disappointed to find that the spirit of the swindler was alive and well, not just on the streets of the city, but like Sandy’s sewage, had permeated the walls of Homeowners Too :(

  • Little Venice

    I just finished watching an episode of Barging Through France in the Ardeche, one of the wildest and most untouched regions of France. Here, villages with thatched roofs can still be found in a land that time forgot.
    The program was reminiscent of a series I watched in the 1990s about barging through Europe. Each episode offered a dreamy, kaleidoscopic view of the remote reaches of Europe via its canals. The host and crew traveled by barge and lived in its quarters throughout the journey, making stops wherever and whenever whim and fancy inclined them to do so.
    The imagery and music all conspired to give a romantic view of the idyllic countryside and small villages of Europe. Inspired, I did take one barge cruise through Paris and the outskirts. It was not an exploration of remote hinterlands, but, nonetheless, it was a barge, a canal, and Paris. I was accompanied that morning with a group of school children singing songs in French.
    In the United States, however, canal typically connotes an image of a waterway and utility. In New York City, the word canal is synonymous with pollution. Perhaps the best example is the Gowanus Canal, once known as Lavender Lake for its technicolor surface. I had been through the area a few times (see here), but recently, I decided to explore the neighborhood of Gowanus, Brooklyn, more thoroughly. I did like the very low rise feel of  the area, although the architecture left much to be desired, reminiscent of the South Bronx.

    As I crossed the bridge, I recognized the industrial building complex that housed the space that sponsored a fire performance I attended. For that evening, in a bizarre and unusual transformation, the metal working facility became the Gowanus Ballroom.

    As I approached the end of the short block, I was welcomed by a wrecked tractor trailer, folded in half and now being used as a canvas for graffiti.

    At the very end of street was an upright rowboat. A banner proclaimed:

    Welcome to the Gowanus Canal

    Brooklyn’s Coolest Superfund Site.

    It was not immediately obvious that the entire area was a boat launch for the Gowanus. However, a poster mounted inside the boat, Canoeing & Superfund Tourism Map, indicated that, indeed, the Gowanus was a Superfund cleanup site (designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) and this was the 2nd Street Canoe Dock. The map brimmed with enthusiasm and outlined 18 sites for the canoeist to explore.
    Looming in the distance across the canal was an enigmatic deserted building. Later, after my visit, I learned that this was the infamous “Bat Cave”, a story in itself.

    While exploring 4th Street, I passed a tiny, charming one-story house, perhaps a lone candidate in all Gowanus that could be called adorable.

    A woman was in front, tending to various chores. I assumed she was the owner and asked. She affirmed. I complemented her on her cute, tidy dwelling and asked, “Is this area considered Gowanus?” “Yes” she said. I offered what I had heard for some time in the media: “This area has been referred to as the future Venice of New York.” She laughed and said, “They have been saying that for a long time.” I agreed and canvassed the area one last time, wondering if and when Gowanus and its canal would live up to its promise as Little Venice

    Related: No Pane at All, Europe?, Not Under the Gowanus, Part 1

  • Only One Stop from Manhattan

    Perusing my archives, I came across this series of images, unused for this website. All were taken in DUMBO in 2006, the inaugural year for New York Daily Photo. The photo series illustrates the dramatic scenery in this Brooklyn neighborhood and what draws people there. The Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, East River and Manhattan vistas, a rocky beach, superb post-industrial architecture, and cobbled streets, all packaged in a sequestered corner of New York City, yet so conveniently located by public transportation. With so many pluses, it’s so easy to sell. You can hear the broker’s pitch now, flaunting his trump card – and it’s only One Stop from Manhattan

  • Island Nation

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    Recently, while in Queens, I took a quick spin around Roosevelt Island. It had been years since my last visit, and the lure of an island is irresistible to me. Most of the city’s other smaller islands are inaccessible to the public. Roosevelt Island is located in the East River under the 59th Street (Queensboro) Bridge. However, the island is not accessible from the bridge directly. From Manhattan, the island can be accessed by the Roosevelt Island Tramway or, since 1989, the F train subway. Getting there by motor vehicle will necessitate a trip to Queens and then the short lift bridge, Roosevelt Island Bridge, which connects Astoria, Queens, to the island.

    Traffic is permitted on the island, however, auto traffic was not part of the island’s planning, and a number of the island’s primary sights, such as the lighthouse and the smallpox hospital, are accessible only by foot, bicycle, or public bus. The big draw here for the visitor are the spectacular vistas from around the island – Manhattan, the river, bridges, the tram, Big Allis, Queens, U Thant Island. On the island, there is the historic Blackwell House (1796), the Octagon (once the main entrance to the New York City Lunatic Asylum), the Blackwell Island Lighthouse, the Chapel of the Good Shepard, and the amazing, enigmatic ruins of the Smallpox Hospital.

    I always loved islands. At one time, I dreamed of visiting the South Pacific, perhaps living on a remote, idyllic tropical isle like Fatu Hiva. But New York City is the archipelago I have chosen, a world unto itself and virtually an Island Nation :)

    Related: Manhattan Island

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • They’ll Go Broke

    My mother had called very alarmed that a member of our extended family would go broke. He had been on a shopping spree. She accused him of being reckless with his money – he had purchased Calvin Klein sheets for his entire house. She did not understand the math behind the assets of the extremely wealthy. I went over some numbers with her and estimated the monthly return on the money that I guessed he might have. I showed her how he could likely buy a new house every few months with interest alone. In awe, she repeated this information to my father. However, she then just went on to show concern that this family member might still go broke.
    More recently, an incident echoed the same type of lunacy. A friend told me of a mutual friend’s concern that she was witnessing a myriad of NYU students charging every manner of food or small purchase and that surely they’ll go broke. This was more ludicrous than my mother’s comment since this woman was college educated and surely should understand the underlying economics. NYU now costs a small fortune and parents are typically funding educations and giving their children credit cards for everyday expenses. How are even hundreds of $5 coffees going to break the bank of a family spending $40,000 per year for tuition alone? They’ll go broke has become a private joke with the friend who told me this tale.

    New York City is awash in money, so much so that it befuddles the mind of the average wage earner. There are people who seemingly have access to an endless fountain of money. For them, the cost of things is completely irrelevant. Budget is not part of their vocabulary. Purchasing decisions are only based on what they want, not what they can afford. Even in a poor economy, expensive restaurants are packed.

    There is no better example of the wealth of city residents than Manhattan real estate. In July 2012, an apartment went on the market in Manhattan that had the highest asking price in history – $100 million. A townhouse here typically fetches at least $10 million. A two-bedroom apartment can run $2 million plus.
    Tuesday night I was strolling only a few blocks from my home in NoHo on the cobbled Bond Street when I discovered an very imposing building with an extremely ornate skeletal front. It was the ultimate in gleaming glitz with an enormous door. I noted the address – 40 Bond Street.

    The developer was no other than the legendary Ian Schrager, co-founder of Studio 54. Schrager lives in the property itself in a penthouse valued at least $50 million. Everything about the condo development with its signature Coke bottle-green glass exterior screams luxury – 11-foot ceilings, dual gas and wood-burning fireplaces, wide plank oak floors, top of the line everything, and concierge services provided by the Gramercy Park Hotel on 24-hour call.
    A cast aluminum gate – 140 feet long by 22 feet high – is graffiti-inspired. Apart from the 27 loft-style apartments, the building has five, three-story townhouses with 22-foot-high living rooms, front yards behind the gate along, and private gardens at the rear of the building. The 11-story property was designed by the renowned architectural firm and Pritzker Prize-winning Swiss duo Herzog & de Meuron in their first ever project in New York City. Opinions vary dramatically, as would be expected. Everything from positives to expletives. A block resident since 1958 called it “Frank Lloyd Wrong.”

    All this conspicuous consumption, flagrant displays of wealth, ostentatious trappings, and arrogance that often accompanies the rich New Yorker is what gives many a distaste for this city and everything and everyone in it.  An understandable feeling that in New York, it’s all about money. For these, there will be little concern whether the residents of 40 Bond Street are living within their means or They’ll Go Broke :)

  • Giraffes in a Canoe

    There are places that are decidedly the other side of the tracks, and Grand Street in SoHo has been one of those places. As SoHo gentrified, Grand Street, only a block from the honky tonk Canal Street, retained a frontier feeling. Rents remained much lower than Prince and Spring streets – prime SoHo. It was here that Broadway Panhandler relocated when their prime SoHo rent became too onerous.
    Even today, Grand Street retains vestiges of a former time and businesses that service the working class and industry. At the corner of Thompson Street, one can still find John De Lorenzo & Bro., Iron and Sheet Metal Contractor.  Across from the French Culinary Institute at 458 Broadway was the previous site of the Singer sewing machine company’s first headquarters and showroom, built 1857. At 175 Lafayette and the corner of Grand Street was a supplier that I once frequented often: Rudolph Bass Woodworking Machinery & Supplies, founded 1918. At 183 Grand is the John Jovino Gun Shop, a sole survivor of the gun district near the Centre Street police headquarters. At 176 Grand is the home of Lendy Electric, a classic hard-core New York-style contractor’s supply house.

    The street bridges a variety of neighborhoods – SoHo, Little Italy, Chinatown, and the Lower East Side. The street is home to Ferrara’s Bakery and Kamwo Pharmacy. Heading east through Chinatown, there are numerous Chinese and Vietnamese supply shops and restaurants. Further east, once will find Kossar’s Bialys and the Doughnut Plant. The merchants are a smorgasbord – a worthwhile excursion for any urban explorer. For a virtual walk down Grand Street and as a guide, I recommend NY Songlines.

    Tuesday night, a group of us discovered Loopy Mango at 78 Grand Street, strictly by happenstance. This quirky, eclectic retailer came as a very pleasant surprise. The shop sells home goods, furniture, antiques, textiles, clothing, gift, specialty yarns, and knitting and crocheting supplies. The owners, Waejong Kim and Anna Pulvermakher, met in a fabric painting class at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. Loopy Mango was founded in 2004 in a tiny storefront on Avenue B in the East Village. They moved to DUMBO and in 2010, they moved back to Manhattan to their current 2000-square foot shop at 78 Grand Street.

    Original 1880 Victorian shutters enclose four dressing rooms and are complemented by a tin ceiling detail. Continuing through the boutique to the backroom, one is greeted by a 15-foot skylight and purpose-built partition encased by replica ionic Roman columns. The interior of the space was designed and built by Waejong and her husband, Eric Schultz, an antiques dealer from Massachusetts. The shop also offers knitting classes and workshops.

    For an urban jungle safari, take a long walk down Grand Street. After all, where else do you find a place called Loopy Mango with seven Giraffes in a Canoe?

  • Vacancy

    Given the real estate values in New York City, it is completely baffling to see properties unoccupied for years. Perhaps some of the best examples in Manhattan are properties in the estate of Bill Gottlieb. I had the privilege of meeting this eccentric man in the 1980s when I was looking for commercial space for my business. I had been enamored with the prospect of renting a small one-story garage and was intrigued that all of them bore the name of Bill Gottlieb as agent/owner. I met him and toured a number of properties in his signature old station wagon with cracked windows taped together. Little did I know that this man’s estate was valued in the hundreds of millions.

    Recently, I read about the Spook House of Williamsburg on the Forgotten New York website. So, curious to see the place for myself, I took an excursion to 539 Driggs Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The storefront appears to have been abandoned for some time and is framed with a weathered wood exterior. A flag graces the front door and venetian blinds cover all the windows. Little seems to be known about the property, and most online searches trace back to the Forgotten New York website, where information is sketchy. It’s another mysterious case in New York City real estate of unexplained Vacancy

  • Up the Ante?

    I once met a Brooklynite who insisted that Brooklyn was a city. The central defense of his argument was a sign on the Belt Parkway that proclaimed, “Welcome to Brooklyn 4th Largest City in America.” I explained to him that the sign was meant to say that IF Brooklyn was an independent municipality (which it was until 1898), it WOULD be the 4th largest, but that Brooklyn was a borough of New York City. Unfortunately, my words fell on deaf ears. The individual’s belief was resolute and like the fundamentalist Christian, he was taking a literal interpretation of the words. Metaphors were apparently not part of this man’s world, particularly in this case of civic pride which clouded all reason and his ability to see Brooklyn as anything other than the greatest place on earth.

    However, his pride is understandable. Brooklyn has some of the richest history in New York City and many of its most enduring icons, notable history, and contributions to American culture, whether film, TV, literature, music, art, or architecture. Coney Island, the waterfront, Brooklyn Heights, the Dodgers, the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Academy of Music, DUMBO, Prospect Park, Green-Wood Cemetery, Pratt Institute. Brooklyn is also a badge of honor for many who have achieved worldly success and risen from inner city working-class roots. It’s a place that many are proud to be from.
    The legendary sign, which greeted motorists on the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn in the 1970s, achieved its iconic status in the opening title sequence of the popular TV series Welcome Back, Kotter. The show also launched the career of John Travolta, later to star in Saturday Night Fever, based in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. The last remaining of the three versions of this sign found a home in Gargiulo’s restaurant after the retirement of Brooklyn Borough President Sebastian Leone. Gargiulo’s owner Nino Russo was persuaded by Borough President Marty Markowitz to donate the sign to the city. It now hangs in Brooklyn Borough Hall.

    I have seen street performers cleverly play on this borough pride and rivalry. While taking a contribution, the performer would ask and announce the borough from which the audience member was from, the amount, and also brandish the currency, taunting the audience and challenging someone from a rival borough to make a greater contribution. This would escalate to a virtual bidding war with single contributions going to $5, $10, or more. Some may say this is all in good fun, and certainly all participants are willing victims. However, I find this aggressive money pitch highly manipulative, akin to creating a bidding frenzy like that found in an auction, where bidders lose control. Nonetheless, it certainly illustrates the civic pride in the boroughs of New York City and that some are willing to pay hard cash for one-upmanship.

    Recently, I spotted the vanity license plate shown in today’s photo. I’ve got the KNGOFQNS here. Certainly there is someone from Brooklyn who can do better than that. Isn’t there anyone from the 4th Largest City in America who wants to Up the Ante?

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