Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Soul of a City Defined

It can become tiresome to hear New Yorkers, like yours truly, always moan and complain about how NYC is changing for the worse, how the "soul of New York" is being destroyed by money, how "this city ain't what it used to be" -- etc. etc., on and on, ad infinitum. But, as even paranoids sometimes have enemies, sometimes us complainers actually have a point.

Namely, the closure of neighborhood businesses.

Last week, Pearl Paint, the legendary Canal Street art supply store, closed. It had been in business for eighty years -- yes, 80 years! Eight-Oh! Actually, I'm wrong -- it had been in business 81 years, since it first opened in 1933.

To put that into historical perspective, when Pearl Paint opened, FDR was in his first year as president, Hitler was coming into power in Germany, Winston Churchill was still "in the wilderness", Fiorello LaGuardia had not yet been elected mayor, segregation was still legal in much of the country, and television was still two decades in the future. Countless numbers of NYC artists shopped there, including some legends like Julian Schnabel. Now its gone -- a piece of NYC history eradicated. We are a poorer city today because Pearl Paint is gone -- and the legendary downtown art scene has taken a big blow.

And this has happened as neighborhood restaurants have begun to disappear. In Manhattan, it's getting harder and harder to find a nice, funky, relative cheap restaurants with good foods that have a friendly neighborhood vibe. Places like Rocco's and El Faro's in Greenwich Village. Even diners are disappearing in Queens! Without neighborhood restaurants that regular people can afford, where are people in the neighborhood going to congregate? Not everyone wants to go to a bar. Our communities suffer as a result.

Cities aren't real places. 

Cities are neighborhoods -- a collection of neighborhoods, some different, some the same, but all unique. NYC is blessed to have 300 great neighborhoods. But, as local businesses close and are replaced by chain stores, expensive gourmet restaurants, and boutiques, they lose their identities. They stop being unique. There souls are gone. And our city suffers.

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