When I tell Jeremiah Mossâ€”whose name turns out to be a pseudonymâ€”that I love his blog,Â Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, but also canâ€™t bear it, he laughs. â€œI get that a lot: â€˜I hate your blog, but canâ€™t stop reading it.â€™â€
Through unadorned picturesâ€”old signs, shuttered windowsâ€”and the odd, sad farewell notes of owners, Moss is cataloging the disappearance of small stores and local restaurants from New Yorkâ€™s streets and neighborhoods as rent hikes force them out and chain coffee shops and big, shiny, glass condos and office spaces replace them.
Moss, who is in his â€œearly 40s,â€ speaks quietly and seems a private fellow, if full of passion and anger about what he perceives as the dissolution of the city. Many seem to feel the same way, judging by the comments on the site and his almost14,000 fans on Facebook.
Moss started the blog in 2007, having moved to New York from a small, working-class New England town â€œaround 20 yearsâ€ ago. â€œI had been complaining to anyone who would listen about what I saw as the shift in the city, particularly after 9/11, with Bloomberg [the cityâ€™s mayor from 2002 to 2013],â€ he says. â€œThe city was upscaled and gentrified. Suddenly a suburbanized Middle America was taking over what had been a long-standing pocket of eccentricity and bohemianism.â€
Moss has lived in the East Village the whole time, in a â€œcrummy slum tenement where the landlord never gets anything fixed,â€ and he has witnessed his area transform from one inhabited by â€œoddballs, artists, gays, Ukrainiansâ€ in a welcomingly chaotic jumble to one more akin to â€œfraternity culture,â€ packed with â€œthe middle classes, the heteronormativeâ€¦â€ He pauses. â€œFootball fans.â€ He says ruefully, â€œThat thing I left the suburbs to get away from is now at our gates. Itâ€™s been really frightening watching the creep of Starbucks east. There are three or four within a handful of blocks in the East Village.â€
He particularly misses Mars Bar (â€œdive bars have been falling fastâ€), The Holiday Cocktail Lounge, and Blarney Cove; Mars Bar particularly because it hosted artists and the punks who would descend there after a show at nearby CBGB. These bohemian joints were so uncompromising that they reminded Moss â€œyou needed chutzpah to live in New York,â€ he says. â€œNow you just have to be very rich. Your soul doesnâ€™t matter.â€ He also misses the original Odessa diner, Chelseaâ€™s Rawhide gay bar, Prime Burger in Midtown, the Colony music store in Times Square, the Lenox Lounge in Harlem, and the much-cherished bar Billâ€™s Gay Nineties, where Tallulah Bankhead used to drink.
One farewell sign on Mossâ€™ blog, from the departing management of University Pita at 12th and Broadway, reads, â€œOver the years it has been a privilege to serve this community here in the East/West Village.â€ The signs have a poignancy, says Moss, â€œbecause there is a tension in them in what they are not saying,â€ he says. â€œPhrases like â€˜Due to unforeseen circumstancesâ€™ and â€˜Due to a change in ownershipâ€™ conceal what they are really saying about their closure, which is â€˜Thanks to our greedy landlord,â€™ although some do say that, too.
â€œBut generally thereâ€™s this stiff upper lip. You can feel the sadness and regret. When Iâ€™m photographing the signs, someone will walk by, shrug their shoulders, or say, â€˜Goddammit, when did that happen?â€™ Thereâ€™s a sense of loss and sometimes shockâ€”that something they expect to see there isnâ€™t coming back.â€
Between 2001 and 2013, Moss calculates, the number of small stores that closed in New York had been in business for 7,000 yearsâ€”and those are only the businesses he tracked or was tipped off about. The real number, he thinks, is even higher. Some owners died, he concedes, but most of those businesses were forced out by rent hikes.
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