A Legendary Manhattan Street, Ruined

NEW YORK - MARCH 20:  Cars are parked near the...
This is what's left of the real Bleecker. Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Hey, if you love Marc Jacobs, you’ll love the new, shiny Bleecker Street, that odd dog-leg of a street that starts out running north-south in the West Village before turning east-west. He’s got five stores on this strip, leaving some street-lovers, like me, mourning the old Bleecker.

I’ve been loving that street since I moved here in 1988, but have watched its hideous yuppification over the past decade with dismay. Nusrati — that crazy corner emporium of jewels and tunics and rugs, out — Ralph Lauren store, in.

Gone is the great Japanese store, several antiques stores, bookstores. Now it’s all faux hipsters and cell-phone-photo-snapping tourists thrilled to be able to shop all the Big Name Designers they can find at home in their malls in Shanghai and Rome and Tulsa, but still cop a Magnolia Cupcake a block away.

Reports The Wall Street Journal:

Other retailers that recently signed new leases and are open or expect to be operating soon include: menswear shop Freemans Sporting Club, French retailer A.P.C. and a bookstore from fashion designer Marc Jacobs—his fifth shop on this stretch of Bleecker. Molly’s Cupcakes and Echelon Cycles have also closed on deals.

Even the William Gottlieb estate—the area’s largest private landlord and one with a reputation for letting leases expire and stores remain vacant for an extended time—is aggressively courting new tenants. It recently hired brokers Ripco Real Estate and CB Richard Ellis. Spokeswoman Lin-Hua Wu says the estate “has signed a number of new commercial and residential leases in the past several months.”

Not everyone, of course, welcomes the influx of retailers. The makeover of Bleecker’s once sleepy stretch of antique shops, pet stores and dry cleaners began when Marc Jacobs arrived in 2001. Even before the area’s newest retailers open their doors, they are already generating angst among long-time West Village residents.

“I hear more complaints about gentrification than about the boarded-up stores in the neighborhood,” says Kim Herzinger, owner of Left Bank Books, who decided to relocate his shop to Eight Avenue from West 4th Street off Bleecker after his lease expired in January.

When the lease for a Laundromat or deli expires and is handed off to a fashion accessory shop, residents complain their quality of life suffers. “Everybody misses the services,” says Marilyn Dorato, a local resident who presides over the Greenwich Village Block Association. “You can’t get a pair of shoes repaired around here anymore.”

If you’ve never heard it, play “Wednesday Morning 3 a.m.” by Simon and Garfunkel, on which they memorialized the street in this beautiful ballad:

Fog’s rollin’ in off the East River bank
Like a shroud it covers Bleecker Street
Fills the alleys where men sleep
Lies the shepherd from the sheep
Voices leaking from a sad cafe
Smiling faces try to understand
I saw a shadow touch a shadow’s hand
On Bleecker Street
A poet reads his crooked rhyme
Holy, holy is his sacrament
Thirty dollars pays your rent
On Bleecker Street
I head a church bell softly chime
In a melody sustainin’
It’s a long road to Caanan
On Bleecker Street
Bleecker Street.

6 thoughts on “A Legendary Manhattan Street, Ruined

  1. inmyhumbleopinion

    Caitlin, you are so right! I went back to New York to visit family last summer for the first time is a few years and spent time roaming the Village and SOHO. You’d think aliens had abducted the place and replaced it with one of the high-end malls in Las Vegas. Times Square, I can understand. Madison Avenue and East 57th Street, no problem. But the Village and SOHO had always been the heart of Bohemia and little treasures of cafes, ethnic food, and art. (I mourned the closing of the 2nd Avenue Deli in its original location, due to sky high rents. C’mon–33rd Street? Seriously?)

    Really, does the world need another designer label store no one but the super rich can afford? I think not.

  2. andylevinson

    CB Richard Ellis is a front for the $200 billion California State Public Employees Retirement System, CALPERS…..CALPERS gives CBR 100’s of millions of dollars to invest

  3. Thomas Medlicott

    My wife and I stayed at Abington House, a Federal era building with about eight individually named and decorated apartments. We loved Bleecker St., the Left Bank Bookstore, the Magnolia Bakery, the small park on Bleecker and even the Marc Jacobs store. This was the summer of 2007 and we had been ponying up all year for two weeks in New York City, a wedding of our niece at the Columbia University Chapel, and part of the visit with our sons’ and daughter.There was a little glass shop in the West Village, just home and commercial, but I fantasized bringing my particular glass specialties to town, setting up a business and walking to get coffee and a scone to eat in Abington Park with the New York Times. Our town is voting pro or con on a Super Walmart – a couple of Marc Jacobs shops and further “gentrication” in the West Village sounds like sour grapes. Tom Medlicott

  4. Caitlin Kelly

    imho, you get it…The “old” Bleecker, which I chose in the photo with this post, is the stretch between 6th and 7th, where you can still glimpse bits of it. But if you knew and loved the “old” version, as you and I did, you know what’s been lost and it is never coming back.

    Soho, too. I recently, to my delight, rediscovered Pastec, a wonderful shop that was for years on Broome and is now in the East Village. I had a long chat with its owner who was miserable with Soho’s total shift from small/indie/quirky to mall city and fled. She said she is much happier where she is now and loves the supportive neighborhood feeling.

    Tom, welcome back. I have been wondering where you were and missing your comments. I get that — compared to the mall-ification of America you face and describe Bleecker remains cute and quaint. But the Bleecker I knew and loved for 20 years was not one super costly designer clothing store after another. I find them as tedious and annoying in their uniformity as you find Wal-Mart.

    1. Thomas Medlicott

      Hi Caitin – I’m happy to be back. My mother took a fall in mid October and although I thought I had elder-care wired, I didn’t. This was a journey between hospitals, doctors, skilled nursing facilities, and, lastly, assisted living. It took some time and balancing a family, business, and T/S became tough. LA had Melrose Ave., Denver had the Mission District, and Santa Fe had small galleries without the focus on brand and chic. Hopefully, the cycle will swing back for the West Village and there will be more artisans like myslef (but younger.) Tom

  5. Michael Middleton

    Excellent post. I hadn’t even realized how different the street is until I read this. Guess I will have to pay more attention when I’m there in the next week or two.

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