It was a hot and steamy day in New York today. So the cool comfort of tree-lined Bank Street provided welcome relief as I trekked-down to see my old shops on Bleecker and Hudson Streets.
It's been six-and-a-half years since I closed my shop and moved to Pittsburgh. Since then, I had spent very little time revisiting Greenwich Village, the locus of so many important memories. Today, I decided, it was time to come see the old neighborhood which had become a turning-point in my life.
In a city where very little remains the same (like old my storefront—and most of the shops I remembered), I was comforted to see that the up-turned paving stone, on the left side of Bank Street, was still a tripping hazard—28 years after I first encountered it. Hundreds—no, thousands—of times, I trudged over it, often in a shopkeeper's end-of-day stupor. Yet, my body memory always remembered it; I never tripped on it a second time. Like with the steps leading to my old shop door, I knew it was there instinctively. Today, I was happy to see that something had remained the same.
The storefronts along Bleecker (and Hudson, for that matter) were not at all the same. My old shop—at 413 Bleecker Street—was remarkably different. Once chock-full (too full?) of Turn-of-the-Century "Handsome Gifts," the new shop (an art gallery called "Aught") was a testimony to Minimalism. A dozen, maybe eighteen, photographs lined the recently-drywalled perimeter. The original oak floor, the ribbed wainscoting and the pressed tin ceiling (from the 1800's) had been covered-over with new, blank-canvas sterility. The only thing that remained from the past were the wooden double doors, their hardware, and the glass windowpanes which I had Windexed every day. The shop seemed smaller. Perhaps all that interior build-out deprived the space of precious cubic inches.
My other old shop, at 543 Hudson Street, was happily full-of-merchandise. Now a gifts and home furnishings shop called "Cursive Home," the shop space had been altered, a bit, but it retained a general "tight-ship" ambiance. Like at LEO Design, Cursive Home carries a blend of vintage and contemporary merchandise.
I headed-out to visit other favorite neighborhood haunts. "The End of History" was still a glorious downtown fixture, packed with (very high end) Mid-Century decorative objets. But the chain store staples "Le Pain Quotidian" and a local "Starbucks" were long gone (inexplicable). My favorite book shop (once called "Biography," then "Book/Book") had been forced-down Bleecker Street and now, six years later, was gone.
I was shocked to see that the glitzy, corporate fashion brands—the big names which had pushed so many Mom & Pop shops off of Bleecker Street a decade earlier—were now greatly reduced. Once-trendy stores like Marc Jacobs (LVMH) and Ralph Lauren, which had gobbled-up most of Bleecker's storefronts, were now a shadow of their original presence. It was sad to see that all the gentrifying heartache and destruction of livelihoods had been just a vain, fleeting whim. Landlords grew rich, luxury brands got quaint, and small shopkeepers got the boot. Many of the Bleecker Street shops now stand empty.
Do I sound bitter? If I do, it's not for myself. For me, everything worked-out well enough, in the end. I have a beautiful home in Pittsburgh—merchandise displayed in a showroom, some of it arrayed by color in different, spacious rooms. And I enjoyed the luxury of an "organized retreat," before the onset of Covid (laborious as that move was). Had I stayed in Greenwich Village, what would I have done with 25 year's of merchandise, to be removed with two weeks notice?
I do recognize, now, how I was once folded-into the fodder for the mill: the scenario where a hopeful, hard-working mom & pop shopkeeper (or restaurateur) puts everything on-the-line to build something nice—which can be taken away by a landlord or a rapacious corporate entity.
"The only constant is change." Nowhere is this more evident than in my City of Dreams, New York City. I still love The City and miss it every day.
Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well! Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com).
We also can be found in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).
Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only). 917-446-4248