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Thursday, March 15, 2012

They

As I stood one morning in front of Vesuvio's, which had closed for business, a woman approached me and was horrified. She expressed extreme dismay that such a legendary, iconic merchant would go out of business in New York City. How could such a thing happen? Why would anyone let it happen? Something must be done. They are pushing all the small businesses out.

The concept of They has become a private joke between a friend and myself. Unlike Chuckles, They are a much more insidious threat. Their tentacles extend far and wide. They are responsible for all the economic problems, as well as many other ills in New York City and in the country at large.

But one of the specialties where They are most often spoken of is in regards to the closing of small businesses. It is here, where the closings sometimes appear to be inexplicable, that their demise is attributed to the hand of a ubiquitous mysterious group called They.

They, in this case, are the landlords, who we know gather and conspire late at night to selectively close legendary businesses and replace them with chain stores. They do this not just for monetary gain, but apparently to also deliberately ruin the character of New York City. To sanitize, homogenize, and make it nondifferentiable from the suburbs, turning our avenues and streets into strip malls.
Of course, the reality is that displacement is a function of market forces. Landlords capitalize on improved conditions and raise rents. Most landlords would prefer to retain tenants - there is less loss of income during vacancy and no concessions typically given to new tenants. But, in rapidly gentrifying areas, few small merchants are able to afford extraordinary increases. They vacate to newer businesses, often national giants, who can pay these rents.

They were at it again when the Village Gate, a Greenwich Village Landmark, closed in 1995. To add insult to injury and inflict the greatest humiliation, the space was taken over by a CVS Pharmacy. (Actually, most of the long-time NYC residents I know prefer CVS over Duane Reade.) On September 22, 2007, I wrote Izzy and Art, about my meeting with two legendary forces in the New York City music scene.

Art D'Lugoff opened the Village Gate in 1958 at 158 Bleecker Street, where it occupied the ground floor and basement. The club was housed in the large 1896 Chicago School structure by architect Ernest Flagg, a flophouse for transient men, known at the time as Mills House No. 1. 1500 rooms overlooked either the street or two interior grassed courtyards. In time, the courts were skylighted and paved. The property became a seedy hotel, the Greenwich. In 1976, the building was converted to condominium apartments with balconies, the Atrium.

Throughout its 38 years, the Village Gate featured such musicians as John Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Tito Puente, Wynton Marsalis, Nina Simone, Herbie Mann, and Aretha Franklin, who made her first New York appearance there.  The club hosted a benefit concert for Timothy Leary in May 1970 which featured performances from such counterculture luminaries as Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Noel Redding, Johnny Winter, and Allen Ginsberg.

The venue was also host to a variety of shows over its lifespan. Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris debuted at the Village Gate in 1968. From 1971 to 1973, a musical comedy revue called National Lampoon's Lemmings worked there, and in 1974, "Let My People Come" opened at the Village Gate Theater. From 1988 to 1991, the improvisational comedy troupe Noo Yawk Tawk performed at the upstairs theater.

Today, the Village Gate sign still remains, the only remnant that They left…

Related Posts: Not Enough Dough, It Hurts Me Too, Color of Money, Gorillas and Cookies, Jeopardy

3 comments:

Leslie said...

While some new businesses are a fun addition, the loss of others that have graced the Village for years is a shock. Even though it does not reach back as far as the Village Gate, the Grey Dog on Carmine (see your 2008 article) was dissolved because the building is being torn down.
Imagine my delight when I saw they had reopened in my neighborhood, on Mulberry St. btwn Prince & Spring. They seem to be drawing a nice crowd as the weather warms...a sorely needed, reasonably priced cafe in Nolita-land.

Thérèse said...

Sad!

Chicken Underwear said...

As a middle aged punk rock fan many of my young students asked me how they could allow CBGBs to close. Like "we" had a say in in.