Features NY Life — 19 November 2010
Smithee Gripes!

It seems that not a day goes by without word of a favorite restaurant or bar of yours closing down. This is usually due to rent hikes or local government using the imminent domain law in order to evict tenants and build higher priced homes, or even a result of an unnecessary sports complex in Brooklyn not to be mentioned here.

First, you must know that I was not born in the city, like the famous Joe Walsh song speaks of. I was raised in the Garden State and I moved here after college. No, I wasn’t at CBGBs in the late 70’s, seeing The Ramones and Blondie. Nor was I waiting outside of Studio 54 trying to convince Steve Rubell to let me inside so that I could dance the night away with Grace Jones and Truman Capote. I missed all of that.

When I moved here in 2004, I was what you would call, bright-eyed and quite bushy tailed. At the time, as a younger man, going out on weeknights and all night on weekends was par for the course. Much fun was had but there was something bubbling beneath the surface of these city streets. And no, I am not referring to the pink ooze on Ghostbusters 2.

This change began when the city’s former mayor worked to clean up Manhattan from its seedier days of the 1980s and early 90s. I do give him credit for removing much of the crime element from the city, but with this huge change other things have to go as well. As the 2000s began, it seemed like the once storied mom and pop businesses that helped build this city were placed in direct competition with major global companies. A famous Jewish delicatessen which lived on 2nd Ave for decades had to close because it was simply priced out of the area. In its place sits a bank.

When I moved here in 2004, I noticed this shift almost right away. Hulking Skyscrapers were invading areas that once held only tenements. The famed CBGBs was now in danger of closing its doors for good because of a need to gentrify the area. In 2006, the doors finally did shutter on the punk landmark to make way for a high end “Rock N Roll” Clothing Store.

But, alas with each negative, a positive solution is not far behind. If you want to preserve your city it is in your hands as a New Yorker. Many neighborhoods, like the lower east side and their community boards have banded together to put a stop on any new building that exceeds a set height limit not in keeping with the look of the neighborhood aesthetic. Bars like McSorley’s and The Subway Inn continue to thrive, and give city dwellers a look into Manhattan’s past. I know progress is important, but so is history, and if we keep our mouths shut, then there will be nothing left to show what made this city, New York City, unique. But then again, I may be wrong.

- Alan Smithee

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