Will New York City be gone for good?

 

IMG_4797

In true NYC spirit, on a miserably rainy day, these middle-school students went sailing for the first time on the East River, in tiny wooden boats they built by hand

 

By Caitlin Kelly

If you’ve never been there, it’s hard to imagine — a daily crush of energy, talent, ambition and haste.

It’s a city people flock to from across the globe and across the U.S., to study, work or enjoy a great vacation.

I first came to the city, (as suburbanites here call it, as if there were no other!) around the age of 12 or so, to visit my great-grandmother, Blanche, the Countess Casagrande. (Yes, really, thanks to an Italian husband I never met.) She lived on Park Avenue, still the ne plus ultra of Manhattan real estate.

I came back in my early 20s a few times, once to perform as an extra in Sleeping Beauty with the National Ballet at Lincoln Center for a week, other times for pleasure. I met a handsome young man in the shoe department of Brooks Brothers who took me that evening to the town’s most exclusive joint — Studio 54. Of course, we went to Fiorucci first to buy a pretty dress.

Back when Conde Nast — still the publisher of Vogue, Vanity Fair and many other glossy magazines — was at 350 Madison Avenue (next to Brooks Brothers!) I met with editors at Glamour and Mademoiselle, leaving my enormous black portfolio of clippings there for a few days, hoping beyond hope one day to write for them. Amazingly, they read an as-yet-unpublished story tucked into my portfolio’s back pocket which was due to be published in a Canadian magazine, and re-bought it for Glamour.

That, at its best, has been my New York City — a place where even a young (very lucky!) Canadian, even wearing all the wrong clothes! — could quickly sell to a market of her dreams.

 

IMG_3763(1)

Via Carota, Grove Street

 

So my New York is archeological, layered with memories over decades.

Since moving to a NYC suburb in 1989, I’ve spent countless hours in New York City, 95 percent of them in Manhattan; Brooklyn, now impossibly hip, is too far, as we say, a schlep.

So I miss it!

My hair salon — owned by Alex, a man in business for decades, whose three chairs welcome everyone from a Grammy-nominated musician to Brooklyn museum curators to Wall Street executives but also silver-haired seniors accompanied by their aides — is on Grove Street, in the West Village. (That’s Greenwich Village, which no local calls it. Either the West Village or East.)

Across the street from him is Via Carota, admired as one of the city’s best restaurants — and what a delight it is.

Was.

 

Will it be again?

 

That’s the question hitting everyone here, hard.

So many people rely on one another, economically and professionally, from the nannies and chefs and dog-walkers employed by the wealthy to the owners of the 25,000 bars and restaurants and all their staff to the thousands who work in orchestras and theater, not just Broadway.

And rent here is so high that many who’ve fled back to their parents’ for the duration — like one young woman who told the Times she was paying $1,800 a month with two room-mates —  may never return.

 

IMG_0875

The Koch Theater, Lincoln Center

 

Here’s an analysis of what the city faces going forward (as we say, fah-ward):

It took just a matter of days to shut down New York City, once the coronavirus took hold. Restarting it will take much, much longer.

The economic impact in the city from the global pandemic has been striking: Hundreds of thousands are already out of work; at least $7.4 billion in tax revenue is projected to be lost by the middle of next year.

And the changes will be felt long after New York begins to reopen its economy.

How New York City, the epicenter of the country’s outbreak, begins to recapture its vibrancy is a question consuming political, business and cultural leaders.

The very features that make New York attractive to businesses, workers and tourists — Broadway, the subway system, world-class restaurants and innumerable cultural institutions — were among the hardest-hit in the pandemic. And they will take the longest to come back.

 

 

The city has lost 13,000 people, so far, to COVID-19.

 

 

So many have died so quickly — 400 to 700 every day for weeks — that hospitals now have refrigerated trucks outside as morgues, with bodies stacked on makeshift bunks three high. That plain wooden coffins, stacked, are being planted on Hart Island, the place for unclaimed bodies.

 

IMG_20170405_103534754

The annual orchid show at The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx

 

Friends in the city are traumatized by the constant wail of ambulance sirens.

Beloved neighborhood haunts are closing, like Coogan’s:

 

Coogan’s was the promise of New York incarnate: multiethnic, friendly, welcoming, smart. The premise of the business was the opposite of social distancing.

It opened in 1985 and in time became an Irish place where the bartenders were Dominican-Americans and the waiters African-American and the customers, all of the above and more. So many held court there over the years, it is hard to keep them straight. Did Mr. Walsh still remember the Israeli karaoke singer?

 

There’s the New York City you’ve all seen in films and TV and commercials.

Then there’s the real New York, home to millions, some for generations, others for a few years.

My mother was born there and married my Canadian father — who she met in the south of France — at St. Bartholomew, one of the city’s most beautiful churches, on Park Avenue and enormous. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like, at 17, to walk down that aisle. They moved to his hometown of Vancouver, where I was born.

But New York City always beckoned me; for an ambitious Canadian journalist who could get a green card thanks to my mother’s citizenship, why not try?

I’ve had some great adventures here.

Found two agents who sold my two books to major publishers.

 

IMG_6572

 

The first time, after a meeting on a bitterly cold winter’s day at Simon & Schuster, (its hallways lined with the framed covers of all their best-sellers — SO intimidating!) I went around the corner to another city institution, The 21 Club, and had a strong cup of coffee and some celebratory profiteroles.

The second time I almost fired my agent after we met with editors at Portfolio, downtown on Hudson Street — she later called with their offer as I sat at the chipped and worn Formica counter in one of my diner haunts, Neil’s, on Lexington. (Which you can see in the terrific recent movie Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Spent a glorious afternoon, on assignment for the Daily News, aboard a tugboat.

Stood on a Broadway stage to interview a woman for The New York Times making history in the theatrical industry.

 

This is the city I’ve known well, worked hard in, wept a few times in — and mostly enjoyed.

 

It’s layered with my own memories now:

— the office building at 200 Madison, my first magazine job

— Central Park, around which I once roller-skated and where, after winning a softball game with my Canadian team-mates we burst into the Canadian national anthem in French, to the astonishment of our opposition.

— the block on Mercer which held the Coles Center, NYU’s athletic wing, and now (of course) will be condos

— Fanelli’s,the 173-year-old bar a block south of there with its gorgeous etched glass doors and crazy mix of patrons.

When I arrived — with no family, friends, job or alumni network, and a recession — I took up fencing. Of course! The NYU coach,  a former Navy man, was a two-time Olympian. Where else could this happen?

It’s never been an easy place for a newcomer.

People walk fast, talk fast, prize social capital and Ivy League degrees, genuflect to the right addresses and clubs, to money and power.

It’s normally expensive, intimidating, crowded, noisy, dirty…

But what will become of it?

15 thoughts on “Will New York City be gone for good?

  1. My wife and I visited your city back in 2013 and loved our stay and our time there. Will New York City be gone for good? Changed yes, revived yes, but I don’t believe gone for good. I do expect that we will all need to change from a personal perspective with the new normal that surviving the coronavirus pandemic will bring. The new normal will come with a huge cost, but especially for those who have lost loved ones or friends, those who will lose their livelihoods, those who will lose their hopes and dreams. I am extremely grateful that, so far, I have not had to pay these terrible prices, and I hope and pray that it ends soon for all of those that have had to …

    1. Thanks.

      As a local friend, who lived there for 36 years says, NYC has survived much before…I hope so. I will also be very curious to see if low-income workers FINALLY win the concessions they so badly need.

      And the mayor has to go. Not doing a good job.

  2. After Hurricane Andrew blew through Miami we rebuilt. I had the house of my dreams.. but nothing felt right or familiar on the other side of our front door.. so we left and got a fresh start in the Keys.

  3. Jan Jasper

    I love hearing of your experiences in New York City. You have written about NYC previously on this blog, but in this current entry, I really see your timeline going back to your parents’ marriage. I lived in Manhattan for 12 years and then after a hiatus, I came back and lived in Brooklyn for 4 years. I have now been in New Jersey for 15 years, but I still feel like a New Yorker in so many ways. Despite the occasional rudeness of New Yorkers, I find the brisk pace to be very comfortable. Everywhere else seems too slow. But I guess I couldn’t tolerate the NYC energy 24/7 anymore, though. My late husband and I moved here because we wanted a house and garden.
    I really doubt the City we know and love so well, will ever return. Too many small businesses and arts organizations will be decimated. This pandemic is heart breaking in so many ways.

    1. Thanks…

      One of the reasons I felt confident (foolishly!?) that I would be OK here was having some roots here, even long gone. It was always a real pleasure walking past St. Bart’s when I worked, for a while, in the 50s and knowing that without it, I wouldn’t be here!

      It took me probably a decade or so to feel more like a New Yorker, but I do now and often feel a fish out of water in slower, less direct Canada. When I go back to Toronto, people ask me why I walk SO FAST?!

      I am really fearful that people like Alex will for sure be out of business. That really breaks my heart as so many of them were crushed by landlords’ greed as it is, before this.

  4. My heart goes out to the plight of New York and the tragedy unfolding for the city; both the pandemic and the immense consequences of the economic hit. Will the city recover? I’m sure, given time, but I suppose the form of it will be different, culturally. My home town of Napier was destroyed by earthquake in 1931 and rebuilt in different form – one on which the place now trades. The transformation became more social than architectural, which always seems to be the way these things go.

    I hope all is well for you and Jose.

  5. JosephineKarianjahi

    NYC will come back changed. I lived there as an international student from 2010 to 2012. My NYC was far north – from 125th to 168th Street, where my campus was, and in between. It was regular fish fry dinners from a decades-old shop on 125th Street, and walking past the Cotton Club to buy Italian wedding soup at what’s now Fairway Market. NYC was gritty, and I found it very hard to get used to, but it showed me I could indeed live anywhere. It has some of the most amazing people in the world I have met to date. Some of the most resilient. It will come back stronger.

    1. Thanks for these great details…so NYC!

      It’s the mix of high-low/big box/indie that makes any city interesting. But especially this one…for every soul-less bank and CVS, there’s some amazing slice of history, like the Cotton Club or Fanelli’s.

      Hope you come back to visit!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s