Thursday, December 19, 2013

In Memorandum: New York City Storefronts Lost This Year 2013

Some of the old shops that left the city a little emptier when they disappeared this year.

Lenox Lounge was in business from 1939 - December 31, 2012. It closed after a lease dispute. 
The lounge was founded by the Greco family and named for its location on Lenox Avenue in Harlem. Although the nightclub’s opening was initially delayed by a nasty dispute over its zebra print d├ęcor, featuring real zebra skin covering the walls, it soon became a hot spot for after-hours jam sessions, boasting performances by jazz legends such as Billie Holiday, John Coltrane and Miles Davis. The bar was also a gathering space for luminaries such as Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, and Malcolm X. When Alvin Reed purchased the Lenox Lounge in 1988 from Dominic Greco, the bar no longer had live musical performances, but was functioning just as a nightclub with a live DJ. Alvin Reed decided to reopen the Lounge as a live jazz venue and worked closely with a design firm to restore much of the clubs original Art Deco interior. The famous “Zebra Room” where live music is played nightly, has 1940’s swinging glass-and-wood double doors, black leather banquettes, cozy tables, zebra-print walls and a space for the band to the right. The live performances are intimate because the band plays directly in front of the tables, with every seat having a good view and sound. The first banquette to the left, next to the band, was Billie Holiday’s booth, a space that was once reserved weekly for the singer herself.  Mr. Reid brought back the Sunday and Monday night jam sessions at the Lenox Lounge to continue the legacy of jazz as an exciting and entertaining creative art form and collective learning process.

Empire Diner was located inside a 1946 Fodero Dining Car in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. It was refurbished in 1976 when new owners, Jack Doenias, Carl Laanes and Richard Ruskey, took over the space and added the miniature stainless steel stylized Empire State Building replica on its roof. They also painted a large “EAT” on the wall behind the diner and replaced its old Formica tabletops and counters with black glass. The renovations helped the diner attract a celebrity clientele and establish Chelsea as a late night destination. After Ruskey and Doenias passed away in 1992, the remaining partner sold the business to executive chef Mitchell Woo, who had been working at the diner since 1980 and Renate Gonzalez, who began working nights at the diner in 1986.
In late 2009 the diner closed after lease renewal negotiations with the landlord, Chuck Levinson failed. Mr. Levinson’s family has owned the property in which the diner is located since the 1930’s and wanted to raise the rent considerably. In 2010, the diner reopened as the Highliner without its iconic rooftop miniature Empire State Building replica but closed in 2013.

Empire Diner is a historical designated landmark so when we took over the space, we didn’t change anything because we couldn’t. Basically, we scooped out everything that was in the interior, sealed the structure against water and rodents to meet current health code standards as a self-contained box, and then put everything back inside. It was very important for us to conserve the integrity of the interior including all the stainless steel stools and chairs and even the clocks. The only thing we could change was the menu. Carolyn Benitez, co-owner

Pink Pony on Ludlow Street in the Lower East Side closed in February 2013 due to a rent hike of $6,000 per month after 20 years in business.

Tad's Steaks in Times Square closed in early 2013. The business was founded by Donald Townsend in 1957 on the theory that a T-bone steak, baked potato, garlic bread and a tossed salad could be profitably sold for $1.09. Coined by Townsend as a “steak show,” for a tenth of the price of a fancy steak dinner at a sit-down restaurant, customers could watch their steaks being cooked with flames leaping up right near the front window. One of the keys to the success of the “steak show” was inventing tiles that looked like charcoal over which to cook the meat. This process was much cleaner than charcoal and allowed more even levels of heat. Townsend also marinated the T-bones in papaya juice to tenderize inferior cuts of meat. At Tad’s Steaks peak, the chain had 28 restaurants, eight in New York.  The Reise Organization purchased Tad’s in 1988.

Hinsch’s Confectionery located on Fifth Avenue by 86th Street in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn was founded by Herman Hinsch. Before Mr. Hinsch bought the business in 1948, it was called Reichert’s Confectionery. The Logue family operated Hinsch’s from 1962 to 2011. John Logue was forced to close the business and retire early due to a significant rent increase from $7,500 a month to $10,000 a month after their lease expired on September 30, 2011. Hinsch’s reopened later that year under new ownership but closed in March 2013 and was renamed Mike’s Hinsch’s by its current owner, Mike Moudatsos.

My father, John Logue Sr. started working for Herman Hinsch as a counter boy. He actually worked at Hinsch’s original location on 18th Avenue but when this store was purchased in 1948, he came over here and eventually became manager. On January 2, 1962 my father bought the business from Mr. Hinsch but decided not to rename it. This restaurant/ice cream parlor has been in my family ever since. The marquee sign outside predates the Hinsch’s neon sign on the storefront, which was installed in 1948. I have an old tax photo from the 1930’s that shows that marquee sign with the words Candy and Luncheonette but I am not sure exactly when the Reichert’s had it installed. The neon signs are difficult to maintain because they are open to the elements. When it rains, they often short out but we always have them fixed because we like to keep them lit. The neon is also very unique because it is a double-tube neon design. As far as I know, there are only two places left in New York, which have this type of neon, Nathan’s and us.
 I started working here as a little kid and took over when my father retired sixteen years ago. We still use the same family recipes for making our homemade ice cream, egg creams and chocolates that were passed down to us from the Hinsch family. All that has really changed here over the years is the calendar on the wall. The tile floor is original and in fact you can even see where it has been worn down from the years of customers walking up and down on it. This Bay Ridge neighborhood has changed so much over the years but we have managed to stay in business because people respect our food and still come back here to eat even when they have moved out of the neighborhood. The other day a customer commented to me that she remembers when I didn’t have any gray hair. And I laughed because now she is bringing her grandchildren in here to eat and I was serving her when I worked behind the counter as a teenager.The busiest times of the year for us are Easter, Christmas and Valentines Day because we sell lots of chocolates in addition to people sitting down and eating here.
One of our big concerns is that we don’t own the building, we just rent. The same family has owned the building since it was constructed in 1914. They have been pretty reasonable with us regarding rent increases, but we still don’t have the security we would if we owned the entire building. The City also makes it difficult for us to manage this small business because they require us to maintain seventeen different licenses regulating everything from my illuminated sign to my rooftop air conditioner to my ice cream operation. It’s a lot of fees to pay every year. Not to mention the real estate tax on my building is $8,000 a month. Con Edison has also raised the rates on electricity which runs over $4,000 a month and my water bill is over $1,000 a month, which is three times what it was a few years ago. Even though all of our expenses have increased, we try to keep our prices low so our customers are happy. John Logue, second-generation owner

Roxy Delicatessen was in business in the heart of Times Square from 1946 - 2013. It is owned by Jacob and Sammy Ben Moha and known for its huge sandwiches and famous cheesecake, its walls are filled with Ben Burgraff’s unique celebrity caricatures. It has since been relocated to a location off of Times Square.

Bleecker Bob's Records was founded by Bob Plotnick in 1967 on Bleecker Street. It initially opened under the name Village Oldies Records but was soon changed to Bleecker Bob’s Records. The store is considered by many to be a New York City landmark as it is one of the city’s oldest independent record stores, packed with wooden bins and milk crates of records with handmade cardboard and masking tape dividers. It stocks everything from big band to obscure independent label releases on vinyl as well as CD. The store was one of the first places in the late 1970’s to sell albums by punk bands. Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin’s guitarist and Frank Zappa both occasionally tended the register back in the day. Many local bands rely on Bleecker Bob’s to drop off and post flyers for gigs or bands in need of members. In early 2012, Bleecker Bob’s Records was threatened with closure due to a steep rent increase. It closed in April 2013.

We may be forced to leave by the end of April 2012 because our landlord raised the rent from $10,000 to $20,000 a month. We couldn’t even really afford it when it was $10,000 a month but were making ends meet in the past by renting out the back of our place to a comic book store. Since we lost our subtenant, it’s been very difficult for us. We are looking into relocating in the Village but it looks pretty grim for us around here because the area has become so gentrified and prices have gone sky-high. Hopefully we will somehow be able to stay but we are also looking into small spaces in the East Village where the rents are more reasonable. Gary Rookard, salesman

Olympia Florist was found by Peter Pappas in 1905. His son, Gus ran the business until it closed in May 2013.

Max Fish on Ludlow Street in the Lower East Side was in business from 1989 to July 2013. It was forced to close after a steep rent increase. There are plans to relocate to Williamsburg.

D'Auito Bakery was in business from 1924 until August 2013.  Mario D'Aiuto had taken over the family business from his father in 1977.

I grew up 2 blocks from the store and I remember my father baking in the back while my mother served customers in front.  When I took over the bakery and decided to specialize in cheesecake manufacturing, my buyers persuaded me not to use the D'Auito name on the product because they said it was too hard to pronounce.  So I chose "Watson" as an American name and added the "Baby" because "everyone loves babies".  Nowadays, the Baby Watson Cheesecake is in such demand that we start baking at 4AM and bake around 40,000 cheesecakes a day and then flash-freeze them and ship them out worldwide.  We use over 40,000 pounds of cream cheese and 3,000 gallons of heavy cream delivered every other day to make our cheesecakes.  Mario D’Auito, second-generation owner of D’Auito Bakery

Back Fence, an historic live music venue located in Greenwich Village, opened in 1945. It closed due to a steep rent increase on September 29, 2013 after 68 years in business.

All images from our books NEW YORK NIGHTS (2012) and STORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face of New York (2009). Prints from both works available from CLIC Gallery in New York City and FOTOGALERIE IM BLAUEN HAUS in Munich, Germany. Panoramics from our STORE FRONT book also available through LUMAS Gallery, worldwide.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, live music bar nyc is one of the best and perfect place where you can truly enjoy and have hard time deciding to go, what to choose. New York City offers the utmost wine bar that is open 24/7 hours.