“Restore Our Good – with Neighborhoods”

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  • Photo: Peter Pereira

It’s our nation’s birthday and the “America the Beautiful” anthem desperately needs this new last line: “Restore our good — with neighborhoods — from sea to shining sea.” Thousands of New Yorkers will sing it as they flock to the East River’s 4th of July fireworks display. They’re aghast by all the empty small stores and diners they’ve seen along the way — to be replaced by luxury private high-rises.

Ah, such a revolution is long overdue — while many New Yorkers care, only a relative few take action. And while the low-rise affordable housing loss is crucial, this is about the loss of small businesses that create self-sustaining neighborhoods — and community.

And how especially shocking to see a whole block going down. “Rome really is burning!” cried out some Yorkville residents viewing the First Avenue block between 79th and 80th Streets. “All the small stores and eatery places are on ‘lock out’ except temporarily, the Szechuan takeout place and Italian Village,” said Susie Coleman, of the greatly-missed original East End Avenue’s family deli. Others on the “locked out” list are: Cousins restaurant, Annaliese’s Bakery/Soup Cafe, Neergaard Pharmacy, a dry cleaners, a Nail Salon which replaced a computer shop and Eddie’s fruit/vegetable deli Market.

Eddie’s Market did note its impending closure with this poignant sign: “With a heavy heart we will be closing this weekend.” So there was time for a column interview which all such losses need. And coverge that might even save them. But awareness must be raised about not only the lasting loss to the community, but workers uprooted from longtime workplaces — fellow workers and longtime customers. And where are the jobs in this small-biz closure epidemic?

Thankfully, Italian Village will move only a block away. What about Szechuan? The loss of Cousins restaurant on the corner of 79th and First reminds us of the original diner run for three decades by cousins Peter and John. How ideal it was, with all-booth seating, a sit-down counter, thoughtful waiters and prices, and open almost 24 hours a day. But despite help from customers, Senator Liz Krueger and Our Town coverage, the landlord would not renew the lease. And the loss to the community included members of St. Monica’s church next door, and AA members who came for coffee after the meetings held in the church basement. Another diner-type restaurant came in a year or so later and nothing was the same, though it was more popular than the upscale restaurant which replaced it..

Again, it’s a city-wide loss of community places to buy or break bread. And a home away from home for many who are too much alone, and crucial for those who cannot walk very far. Stores like Trader Joe’s or Fairway are too large for them to navigate. The population is aging.

Again. the First Avenue block is a microcosm of most city avenues. “But on the east side, new buildings, east of Lex, can go as high as they like,” said East 79th Street Neighborhood Association president Betty Cooper Wallerstein. “Only the synagogue remains on Second between 79th and 78th — and up First and down Second, others are going and many already gone around 86th – It’s epidemic!” And zoning laws she’s long worked to enact, aren’t there to, at least, limit heights.

Every block needs a group to activate their residents, but on this nation’s birthday. may all concerned New Yorkers start leaving “Thank you — and really sorry” notes on “locked out” small business doors. And above all, repeatedly post (nail?) “Save the Nabes!” signs on the doors of lawmakers. And keep singing out: “Restore our good with neighborhoods...” It can be done if enough of us try.


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