In the summer, during my much anticipated staycation, there was a moment on the High Line that is etched in my mind. We found ourselves almost paralyzed, stuck in rush hour Sunday afternoon traffic behind a family of 4, a rooster, and a pair of parakeets. It was like a zoo! We’ve seen our share of tourists at the High Line before but not to this degree, and with characters no less. We needed to get out of there and we had to do it fast, after a bite of the Delaney Brisket of course. A trip to the storied High Line coupled with braving the crowds of the Chelsea Market is now firmly on the tourists path. Great for NYC, and all those Chelsea eateries that must be thriving just about now, right? Not exactly.
A few weeks ago someone asked me if my knowledge of Hell’s Kitchen extends to Real Estate, for the purpose of finding a new home for La Lunchonette, a long time Chelsea institution. In what seems like a daily occurrence of businesses closing its doors, La Lunchonette is just another one to bite the dust of rising rents. Culprit in this case: The High Line. The park, along with new zoning permits attracting Real Estate developers who now see a lot of green in West Chelsea, and I’m not talking about the plants along the High Line that no one looks at anyway. Current building owners succumb to offers they can’t refuse, essentially forced to evict their tenants in many cases. According to Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, the High Line is the cause of La Lunchonette’s demise, and presumably, many more will follow.
I guess we are done with gentrifying the island and now focusing on hyper gentrification? I’m not pretending to know anything about economics or real estate. I’m just a poor software developer who wants to have a f*** bagel or matzoh whenever I choose to, or whenever Jewish holiday dictates. Excuse my Yiddish there. Oh did I mention Streit’s Matzo Factory is closing soon and so is the original Ess-a-Bagel to make room for Bank of America and you guessed it.. a bagel shop. How can anyone afford to run a business or live in NYC anymore.
The Union Square Area alone is one giant “For Rent” sign, led by Union Square Cafe which is forced to move after its lease is up. Restaurants are getting squeezed left and right from 57th street to Houston Street. In Hell’s Kitchen the action is slowly shifting to the West. A Mexican restaurant owner recently told me he couldn’t afford being on 8th ave anymore and had to move all the way to 10th. Meanwhile downtown, Brigadeiro Bakery finally found affordable space in Soho after selling their Brazilian Truffles from a Basement nearby for years. Do you have a Bodega (Mexican deli) near you nowadays? Bodegas are closing all over or forced to transform and unbodega themselves.
So whats in store for 2015 and beyond. Brace yourself for more Bank of America, 7-Eleven, Chipotle, and Eataly which plans to open two more stores in NYC in the future. While I love Eataly as much as the next guy (I spent 3 hours there last Sunday), I need more Eatalys like I need a pimple on my ass. This expression never made much sense to me, until recently when I finally got one. Those things can be truly annoying. Anyway, I cant help but wonder how many more small mom and pops will close as a result of two more Eatalys. Places like Di Palo’s, where you get a much more personal service, need to cherished like we cherish our kids.
But is it time to panic? Yes! I suppose 2014 also saw many new restaurants open, and I believe I even saw “Record Year” being proclaimed somewhere out there. But with that I also noticed that my spending has increased, so no doubt I’m paying for the rent hikes as well. How many of the new openings are truly affordable, with entrees below $20. For every Lumpia Shack there seemed to be 10 Batards opening last year. In Hell’s Kitchen new business owners used to find refuge on 9th ave, but now they find it on side streets where foot traffic is much lighter, or 10th ave where traffic is even worse. Whenever I walk to Inti, a Peruvian gem on 10th where the Rotisserie chicken rivals anyone’s, I always wonder how they are still in business. My co-worker believes they have a healthy delivery business
I still believe NYC is the greatest food city in the world, don’t get me wrong. And the options I have in lower Manhattan, Brooklyn,
Staten Island, and Queens are limitless. But I’m a little worried about the direction. Perhaps the worry is for nothing and I should stick to writing about food. Time will tell. Meanwhile, avoid the High Line
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