simple is beautiful
New York Daily Photo: March 2008
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Monday, 31 March 2008

Street Revival

I've never seen anything like this on the streets of New York. I was taking a leisurely Sunday afternoon stroll along East 7th Street heading towards Tompkins Square Park when I noticed a line of people on the sidewalk. The block is quiet and this is a rather unusual time for a long line - I see no retailers that may be running a promo with a celebrity tie-in. So I ask and am told that there is a minister who will be coming out of an overcrowded church basement to administer healings and blessings on the streets. People are being moved forward to the edge of the sidewalk, facing the street and leaving space behind them (I incorrectly assumed to allow room for pedestrian traffic). So we all stood and waited in front of City Light Church (beneath St. Mary's Orthodox Church at 121 East 7th Street).
Out comes our greatly anticipated minister and we can see this is no ordinary minister - he is heavily tattooed and adorned with jewelry, earrings and piercings. He's having individual conversations, holding heads in his hands, pushing or blowing lightly and down they go, being supported and guided to the sidewalk by assistants behind them.
Some were trembling before he came to them, many remained lying down on the sidewalk as he moved to the next in line. One woman (see here) was crouched down for several minutes - I got down next to her and noted that she truly looked ill and was unable to get hold of herself.
This is Todd Bentley, a 32 year old man who heard the voice of God in his former drug dealer's trailer and was saved from a life of drug abuse (he overdosed three times) and prison. A new revivalist with edge. He is based in British Columbia, Canada where he heads Freshfire Ministries. Judging from his website he is a busy man - constantly touring. He has crusaded in over 55 countries and heads an orphanage in Uganda.
There are many new ministries, addressing various groups and demographics. The Christian theology is being repackaged and delivered via contemporary vehicles, themes and messengers. Joel Osteen is another example, playing to a large arena in Texas.
I make no judgements on the goings on in this event except to say something was definitely happening to these people. Of course, I'm a little naive - revivalist meetings have been going on for some time but a direct experience is new to me. I was invited to step into the end of the line - I only regret I didn't to see for myself ...

Friday, 28 March 2008


I remember reading a review of the TV comedy series, Seinfeld, which criticized it for focusing on the insignificant and inconsequential - the characters indulging and obsessing over things of no import. I think the reviewer missed the point and apparently didn't see the self-referential classic episode explaining the raison d'etre - characters Jerry and George propose a new show about nothing. With more disposable income and free time, it's not surprising to see indulgences at many levels. The obsession by many with minutiae and ephemera is quite real and preoccupies much of our daily lives.
Retailers abound in new York City that cater to every whim, fancy and serious interest imaginable. The native population and tourist traffic is large enough to support specialty merchants - I have featured many on this site: Barbie in Furs, The Evolution Store, Scrap Yard, Economy Candy, Agent Provocateur, You're Not in Kansas, Ten Ren Tea, Eileen's Cheesecake, Myers of Keswick, Zoomies, Murray's Cheese, John Jovino Gun shop, Pink Pussy Cat Boutique, Canal Rubber, Botanica, Kiehl's, Pearl Paint, Pearl River Mart, Taschen, Matt Umanov, Bleecker Bobs, Peanut Butter & Co., Patel Brothers, The Strand, Seize sur Vingt, ABC, Mooshoes, Vilebrequin, Girl Props.
The photo was taken in Fishs Eddy (named after a small town upstate New York) on lower Fifth Avenue. The display of porcelain hand molds was very striking - I've never seen this many together. These molds are used for rubber glove manufacture - they are dipped in a liquid latex and removed - once dried, the latex is stripped off and voila - a latex glove. I read that these molds are quite common in antique shops and are used around the home as a decorative item. With a little imagination, I'm sure many uses can be found - the sign below them assures us that they are "handy for just about anything." Or perhaps this is a display which sells things for nothing :)

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Rhyme and Reason

Here we have the need for differentiation rearing its head again. Heirloom vegetables have been around for eons but there has been no real need to promote them until the marketplace became very crowded with competing products. I wrote about the consumer and vendor sides of this in Where's the Special and Claims and Hooks.
Last year I was introduced for the first time to heirloom tomatoes and was impressed - posting here. On a recent trip to the Union Square Greenmarket, I ran across this array of heirloom potatoes. I had never really considered a world of heirloom vegetables beyond tomatoes, but there are many: beans, corn, cucumbers, lettuce, spinach, radish, melons, potatoes, okra, peppers, peas, squash, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, watermelons.
As with any heirloom vegetable, there are many cultivars - a number of them can be seen in the photo with names like Purple Peruvian, Russian Banana, Rose Finn, LaRatte, etc.
I have not tried any of these, but I plan to - with the plethora of food and product options out there, I think it only makes sense to judge on merit and on a case by case basis - some trends are great, some just marketing spin.
Regarding the title of this posting. It once occurred to me that there was something quite curious about potatoes and tomatoes - they only had each other as good word rhymes and they were also both members of the nightshade family (plant family Solanaceae which includes potato, tomato, peppers, eggplant, tobacco. It also includes some poisonous plants). At one time many years ago a friend into Macrobiotics told me that the reason they avoid nightshades is because they are extremely yin. Many years later, a friend told me that the reason her mother, who had arthritis, avoided nightshades was because the alkaloids (primarily solanine) aggravate the condition. However, I'm still intrigued about the connections via rhyme and reason ...

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Seven Deadly Sins

New York City is an ideal place to commit any or all of the seven deadly sins - temptation looms around every corner. In learning about this cupola and its conversion to residential use, I have to admit I have committed at least one - envy (which I have been guilty of before).
This building's rooftop dome is one spot where it would be easy to commit all seven sins in one place (perhaps with the exception of sloth - I can't imagine the occupants being particularly slothful. Perhaps if a rich child inherits the place.)
There are many of these magnificent, grand Beaux-Arts buildings around town with cupolas and there is a growing trend to develop and occupy the small handful of these domes available. See my posting here on the Police Building, a dramatic structure with an enormous dome (also converted to residential use).
The photo is of the two-story, octagonal gold-leaf cupola atop the Sohmer Piano Building at 170 Fifth Avenue in the Flatiron/Chelsea District. Designed by Robert Maynicke and built in 1896 by developer Henry Korn, the 13 story landmark beaux-arts building was once a piano showroom. After residential conversion, the cupola was was purchased in 2001 by Gregory C. Carr, former chairman of Prodigy.
In reviewing the seven deadly sins, it occurred to me that the optimal way to commit them would be to split them up - some before and some after acquisition of a dome home. Before, we have Envy and Wrath. After hitting the Lotto and buying said property, one can envision a den of sin for indulgence in the pursuits of Pride, Gluttony, Lust and at the end of a "hard" day, Sloth. That leaves Greed, a sin easily committed anytime - before, after or throughout. Your choice :)

NOTE: For your reference, the seven deadly sins in latin are:
Luxuria (Lust), Gula (Gluttony), Avaritia (Greed), Acedia (Sloth), Ira (Wrath), Invidia (Envy), Superbia (Pride). Each sin has an opposite among the seven holy virtues - in parallel order they are chastity, abstinence, temperance, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Pillow Fight

At first I noticed tiny white lint-like material on people's coats and in the air. As I strolled south through Union Square, coats were more heavily covered in what turned out to be small white feathers. It was clear that something serious was afoot and soon the source was revealed: a massive pillow fight. Pillows of all colors where flailing about with the pavement deep in feathers and stuffing. More photos here.
But this was more than just a pillow fight. Saturday, 3/22/08, was New York City's participation in the International Pillow Fight Day, organized by newmindspace. Newmindpace, founded by Toronto art students Kevin Bracken and Lori Kufner in 2005, organizes free, monthly events in cities throughout North America (bubble battle nyc, capture the flag, light saber saber battle ...)
There may not be an overarching reason for this pillow fight, but there was plenty behind its origin - the annual event appears to have evolved from the pillow fight flash mob, although the official website warns: "We must begin with a simple request: please do not call your pillow fight a "flash mob". Massive pillow fights predate flash mobs by at least a decade, and calling it a "flash mob" cheapens your event: it brings to mind images of anonymous, mindless zombies, assembling in public briefly to bewilder passersby and disperse, having never milked the sweetest benefits of a free public gathering. Pillow fights are not flash mobs."
A flash mob is a specific form of smart mob - a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, do something unusual for a brief period of time, then quickly disperse (the term flash mob derives from flash crowd - a term coined in a 1973 story called Flash Crowd by science fiction writer Larry Niven.) A smart mob is a form of self-structuring social organization through technology-mediated, intelligent emergent behavior. The concept was introduced by Howard Rheingold in his book Smart Mobs: The Power of Many. This was written about in 2002 in a New York Times article by Clive Thompson: The Year in Ideas; Smart Mobs. "In Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution (Perseus; 288 pages) he describes how large, geographically dispersed groups connected only by thin threads of communications technology -- cell phones, text messaging, two-way pagers, e-mail, websites -- can be drawn together at a moment's notice like schools of fish to perform some collective action."
Gnutella networks (like Limewire) are decentralized/anarchic examples of some of the most powerful smart mobs.
Teenage "thumb tribes" are often cited as the origins of smart mobs, from oyayubizoku in Japanese, which means "clan of the thumbs" or "thumb tribe." In Tokyo, teenagers would assemble seemingly spontaneously, using text messaging on cell phones to organize.

In working on this article I came across the site It is a good source if you would like to learn more about terms like smart mobs, flash mobs, thumb tribes, flash campaign, flash crowd, crowdsourcing, culture jamming, swarm logic, microblogging, lifestreaming ... If you're not familiar with microblogging, check out Twitter.

Note: See the article on the origins of the first Flash Mob in 2003 in Fibreculture .

Monday, 24 March 2008


What do you get when you mix the freakish, unusual, unconventional, inappropriate with the beautiful, elegant and traditional Easter wear? Why a New York Style Easter Parade of course. If you have any event in this city, you had better expect anyone to show up. There was no shortage of drag queens, transvestites, eccentrics or the macabre - at various moments I felt like I was at the Village Halloween Parade. In fact, the person at the lower right in the photo appears regularly at every parade including the Halloween and the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. It was quite a juxtaposition with St. Patrick's Cathedral as backdrop. I'm sure many of the themes and wardrobes were not sanctioned by the Roman Catholic church.
This is my third year at the NYC Easter parade and I have featured the more unusual participants in the main photo.
For a series of photos from the parade of the beautiful and floral, please go here.
The parade itself is more of a gathering with the epicenter at 50th Street in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral. There are no barricades or precession. It is quite casual and relaxed. The turnout this year appeared to be somewhat smaller - likely due to the chilly (but sunny) weather. Dogs were well represented (also dressed for the occasion), as well as children, families, themed ensembles and street performers. Here and there you could spot the occasional modest bonnet ...

Related Postings: Easter Parade 2006, Easter Parade 2007, Spring Madness, Peeps, Mermaid Parade 2006, Mermaid Parade 2006 - Part 2, Mermaid Parade 2007,
Mermaid Parade 2007 Part 2, Halloween Parade 2006 Preview, Halloween Parade 2006, Halloween Parade 2007 Preview, Halloween Parade 2007, Halloween Parade 2007 Part 2.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Gotta Get Out

Many things are different about NYC - some obvious, some not so obvious. One of them is LIFESTYLE, like eating and entertaining. There is an entire population here who eats out every meal, virtually every meal or most meals. The 17,000 plus restaurants in Manhattan alone make this easy.
Another huge difference is entertaining - city dwellers typically have substantially less space than suburbanites. Even those with assets are frequently "trapped" by good deals - under market, rent-stabilized apartments. The stratospheric costs of real estate creates an environment of much less mobility - it's not uncommon for people to stay in places for decades, some only to move if they leave the city entirely.
So with small places and no outdoor space - soon we have cabin fever and we gotta get OUT - just OUT, anywhere. Plus what if someone were to call on a nice afternoon and find you IN. Or perhaps ask you tomorrow, what did you do yesterday?
But where to go. How about a bar, once dens of alcohol and cigarettes with people crying in their beer. Things have changed. With smoking gone, healthier habits (a person can now enter a bar and with no guilt, actually with pride, request a soy chai latte), a new generation, laptops and WI-FI, many bars are no longer the same. They have become living rooms for many.
VBar & Cafe, opened in 2000, typifies the new era and is one of the nicest neighborhood bars I have been in. Located at 225 Sullivan Street in the Village, it's atmospheric, dark, woodsy, has a nice library, music, free WI-FI, lite food and nice people (however it can get crowded and noisy at busy times). It is also pleasant by day - nice for a lite lunch, some work, socializing or a place to take a break. Virtually every customer review I have read extols its virtues with "hidden gem" the constant refrain. So if you want a great bar/cafe or perhaps if you just gotta get out - try this hidden gem ...

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Color Brigade

Today is the first day of Spring - I find our collection of individuals and their wears appropriately festive and uplifting. New York City's populace comes in an extraordinary spectrum of colors, both skin and fabric. I came across this group in Union Square Park. When I arrived, the fellow in blue pants was being interviewed and filmed - it appeared to be an unplanned event. As I watched, the group grew in size - they became quite animated as a new member of the color brigade arrived (woman with the bag). It appeared that the level of self adornment and outlandish dress was de rigeur - I would be curious to know if their social circle includes anyone dressed more conventionally.
I have done a number of postings featuring various captures of local color - here are the links:
The outrageous Fashion Forward, People of Color, Narcissism Gone Wild, Snake Charmer, Superheroes, Circus Amok and the more subdued Wood Nymph
Of course nothing tops the parades: Halloween Parade 06, Halloween Parade 07 Part 1, Halloween Parade 07 Part 2, Easter Parade 06, Easter Parade 07, The Dance Parade and the the Hispanic Day Parade.

Note: You have to love those shoes ...

SPRING TIP: This Sunday is the annual Easter Parade, which takes place on Fifth Avenue in the 50s. I have been two years in a row (see the links for the photos for 2006 and for 2007 above). The parade is more of a gathering (no barricades or marching). I highly recommend it - one of the most underrated events in the city. The event goes way beyond Easter bonnets - there is even some full costuming ...

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

23 Skidoo

When you have a structure that is a huge NYC icon, a National Historic Landmark and internationally recognizable, you have both a responsibility and a serious challenge. After all, not only has the Flatiron Building been photographed by millions, but the roster also includes some of the country's most prestigious photographers such as Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen and Berenice Abbott. The beautiful photos of Steichen and Stieglitz have done much to immortalize the Flatiron.
This is why I have waited over two years to do a photo and piece on the Flatiron - it needs to have justice done. The perfect opportunity presented itself last Thursday, the day I photographed Ashley Alexandra Dupre's residence on 25th Street after the Spitzer scandal. Being out before dawn in the neighborhood, gave me an opportunity to swing around the corner and capture the building at sunrise on a magnificent, clear day. I felt like a serious photographer that morning, having chosen the conditions and making a pilgrimage at the appropriate hour. With little traffic, I was able to position myself anywhere with ease - including the middle of the streets. See a second photo here.
The building owes its name to the triangular plot of land upon which it sits, which was called the Flatiron block. Contrary to urban mythology, this name predates the building's construction. It was officially the Fuller Building, but from the beginning it became popularly known as the Flatiron. One of the city's oldest existing skyscrapers (22 stories, 285 feet tall), it was built in 1902, designed by Chicago architect Daniel Burnham in the Beaux-Arts style. The exterior is a rusticated limestone with glazed terra-cotta.
On its own island block, it is circumscribed by 23rd Street, Broadway, Fifth Avenue and 22nd Street, diagonally across Madison Square Park. The area neighboring it is known as the Flatiron District.

Trivia Note: One of the competing stories for the origin of the expression "23 skidoo" is due to the wind tunnel effect generated by the siting of the building. In the early 20th century, men would gather on 23rd Street trying to get glimpses of women with their dresses being blown up by gusts of wind. The police would give them the "23 skidoo" to remove them from the area ...

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Shrine to Kitsch

Although New York City is not thought of as a locale for themed restaurants, we still do have our share, particularly in neighborhoods that see heavy tourist traffic. Uptown we have places like the Hard Rock Cafe, Planet Hollywood or the Harley-Davidson Cafe. In the Village we have Jekyll and Hyde Pub and the Slaughtered Lamb. A horror themed bar/restaurant is something you would expect in Disneyworld or Las Vegas, not in Manhattan.
Being St. Patrick's Day, I felt some obligation to at least see if anything was blog worthy. There was the Empire State Building in green but I decided that some drunken revelry would be be a better capture. So armed with cameras, my photographer friend and I took a short stroll down West 4th Street, which has a number of bars, restaurants and adult shops like the Pink Pussy Cat Boutique. The Slaughtered Lamb, like most other bars, was in full swing, sporting the requisite green motif with people spilling into the street. The pub appears to be the haunt of primarily students and tourists. Inside one can see various horror/gothic displays like a glass case with a werewolf biting a woman's neck. The basement is a dungeon where pool and darts are played.
The Slaughtered Lamb was inspired by the British pub of the same name in the film American Werewolf in London. The owner, Donald R. Finley, graduated from Columbia University in 1986 with an MBA before forming Eerie Entertainment and opening his various establishments, which include Jack the Ripper, Jekyll and Hyde Pub and his uptown extravaganza in a 5 story building, the Jeklyll and Hyde Club.
What's absolutely amazing about places like this is the range of opinions about them. I spent the morning reading patron reviews that ranged from one to five stars. The most commonly used negatives were kitschy or tacky. Yet many loved the atmosphere, food, decor and service - others hated all the same things and saw it as a shrine to kitsch ...

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Second Anniversary

NAVIGATION NOTE: Each of the 48 images below are linked to the original posting.
This is the second anniversary of New York Daily Photo - 700 postings and thousands of photos! I have put together a collage of 48 photos from the last year, featuring many favorite postings of mine and visitors to this site. I have tried to span as wide a spectrum in the photo as I have on this website - street life, parades, architecture, food, vistas, art, nature, the unusual, the hidden and whimsical. I appreciate the thousands of visitors and the positive feedback you have given me.

Thursday, 13 March 2008


UPDATE: As more unfolds, the media reports that Kristen, an aspiring singer from New Jersey who moved to NYC to pursue a music career, comes from a family of privilege. She left after wrecking a Porsche, given to her by her stepfather. After millions of hits, her MySpace page has been taken down, but you can see the photos here. Her song, What We Want, has sold hundreds of thousands of copies in the last few days via download ...

Was she worth $1000 per hour and losing the Governorship of New York State? I weighed many options for this posting, but the story of New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer and his liaisons with prostitute Kristen is so huge, that it seemed futile to do anything else. This is an international story - front page news in TV, newspapers and online publications everywhere. It dominates the conversations and minds of many. However, the real fascination is now with Kristen - who is this woman and what does she look like?
So, at 6 AM, armed with a camera in the darkness of early morning, I decided to make a pilgrimage to Kristen's apartment building on West 25th Street and at least witness the scene. The news crews, cameras and vehicles were everywhere, having staked out the building for days, hoping to get a glimpse and perhaps a statement from Kristen.
By now, everyone knows of Spitzer's trysts with Kristen through the prostitution ring - Emperors Club VIP, where he was known as Client 9. The details of the scandal and Kristen were broken by the New York Times.
The papers and TV are just flooded today with images, factoids and catch phrases - $1000 per hour, $80,000 spent, Spitzer's wife and family, the Mayflower Hotel, federal wiretaps, resignation, our new Governor David Paterson, the Mann Act, etc. Wikipedia even has separate entries for the prostitution scandal, Kristen and the Emperors Club VIP. This is also very much a NYC story, with both the Governor and Kristen having apartments in Manhattan - the Governor on the Upper East Side on Fifth Avenue and Kristen in the Flatiron District.
Photos from Kristen's Myspace site (see all of them here) were revealed yesterday in the New York times and are now appearing everywhere. Kristen, neé Ashley R. Youmans, changed her name to Ashley Rae Maika DiPietro in 2006. She now refers to herself as Ashley Alexandra Dupré.

I have decided to let this posting run through Saturday. I hope by that time, this entire affair will be more settled and less distracting. I will resume new postings.

NOTE: Sunday is the two-year anniversary of New York Daily Photo. I will have a special posting for this occasion - see you then!

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

A Second Look

There are many percs in doing a website like this. Discovering things I never new and learning new things about those I was familiar with. The most exciting are the big surprises - unexpected stories behind things which appear to be rather ordinary. In a city absolutely saturated with people and things, looking over and overlooking are standard fare.
When I ran across this striking sculptural light form at North Cove Yacht Harbor behind the World Financial Center, I assumed that it was just an above average ornamental light. I thought it would be difficult to identify this sculpture and glean any information about it and its creator. Not at all. This piece and its mate in granite, entitled North Cove Pylons, was created by renowned sculptor, Martin Puryear. An article here in Sculpture Magazine about the work. Puryear has all the makings, training, education, experience, and accolades of a major artist with feature articles (The New Yorker) a MacArthur grant, and major museum shows like the 30-year retrospective of his work at the Museum of Modern Art - here is a YouTube video of the exhibit.
Puryear, who is African American, studied native crafts while serving in the Peace Corp in Sierra Leone and later studied woodwork and design at the Swedish Royal Academy of Art. On his return to the US, he studied at Yale University where he received an MFA in sculpture. Biography, interviews, slideshow, photos and videos here.
I am finding that works of public art in NYC which I assume are perhaps whimsical, casually placed and/or created by unknown individuals are often by major artists and go relatively unappreciated.
So, take a second look at the obvious. Or, come here and let me do it for you :)

Related Postings: Koons Balloons, Asaf and Yo'ah, Sky Mirror, Sfera con Sfera, Knotted Gun, 11 Spring Street, Sylvette, Night in Bloom, Subway Art, Sink or Swim.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

East of East

At one time, Gracie Mansion and Carl Schurz Park were stops on my whirlwind tours of NYC for friends, visitors and family. I always strove to include places that were both interesting, scenic and off the beaten path.
Carl Schurz Park and Gracie Mansion are probably some of the least visited landmarks in the city - many NYC residents have never been there. One reason is the location - easternmost on the Upper East Side and quite far from the nearest subway (the Lexington avenue line is one km away). It is certainly a planned destination - there is little of note in the nearby in the Yorkville neighborhood.
The elegant Federal-style wood frame dwelling was built in 1799 by a prosperous New York merchant named Archibald Gracie. The country house, overlooking a bend in the East River, was five miles north of the City at the time. A number of historical twists and turns later, the city acquired the property (1896) and in 1942 it became the official residence of the mayor of New York City. Parks Commissioner Robert Moses convinced City authorities to designate it as the official residence of the Mayor, and in 1942, Fiorello H. La Guardia moved in. Read a short history here.
Mayor Bloomberg has chosen not to live at Gracie Mansion, preferring his residence at 17 E. 79th Street - see my article on his residence here. The mansion is now used for meetings and events. In 2002, the interior and exterior was restored with increased accessibility to the public and City agencies.
Carl Schurz Park overlooks the East River. One special feature is the esplanade, officially the John Finley Walk, which flanks the park and affords beautiful vistas of the river, Hell's Gate, Roosevelt Island, Ward's Island and several bridges including the elegant Ward's Island Bridge which I recently featured - see here. I was surprised to learn that tours are available by appointment one day per week (Wednesdays). It is a very worthwhile excursion to tour such a unique property, so beautifully sited ...

Geography Note: If you examine a map of Manhattan, you will notice that between 23rd and 53rd Streets, First Avenue is the easternmost north-south thoroughfare. As the island becomes wider heading north, you have the addition of Sutton Place/York Ave. Then at 79th Street extending to 90th, going further east yet, East End Avenue. Carl Schurz and Gracie Mansion lie east of East End Avenue.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Where's the Special

I've been worried that special is over. I don't mean special like a sale, I mean special - something unique, different, unusual. Special is what many people look for - in people, places and things. That's why you come to this site. This is the reason people often line up. There is frequently an element of the creative in the special and there is typically a shortage of creative to go around. Of course there are also many, perhaps most, who find great comfort in the ordinary, regular or usual. Creatures of habit, lovers of routine. There's a piece of this in most of us. But this story is about the special.
At one time Zabar's, along with Balducci's and Dean & Delucca's downtown were truly special, very unique places. The quintessential gourmet food emporiums, meccas for residents and visitors. But now, many of these products can be found in national chains like Whole Foods, with enormous selections of specialty items.
Zabar's, located on the upper west side, was started in 1934 by Louis and Lillian Zabar renting an Appetizing Counter in a Daitch Market. Over the years, they took over the Daitch Market. Louis died in 1950. Saul and Stanley Zabar took over running the business. Today the store is over 20,000 square feet - almost a city block long at 80th and Broadway, serving over 35,000 customers per week. It is still a family owned and operated business.
Perhaps its not that special is exactly over, it's that it is fleeting - appropriated and co-opted at lightning speed - or hidden in the nooks and crannies. There are things in and things about Zabar's and their ilk that is still special. So, if you want the special, act quickly and/or look in the corners and edges. I'll see you there ...

Footnote. Perhaps there is nothing so great about special anymore - that I am just romanticizing the past. I see a new generation that appears to be happy with the ubiquitous. Luxuries and specialties have become very common - do we need the special?

Friday, 7 March 2008


Kalustyan's website has 45 pages of spices - 1,322 items. Perhaps you are interested in choosing from a selection of 41 varieties of coconut or over 100 types of lentils or dahl. If you want this breadth and depth of selection, you had better have a large number of patrons - your casual visitor or curiosity seeker is probably not interested in Tamarind paste or an extensive selection of Ghee. NYC delivers the patrons.
It is unlikely you will find a selection like this anywhere else. Kalustyan's, at 123 Lexington Avenue, was established in 1944 by K. Kalustyan and is now owned by Sayedul Alam and Aziz Osmani who have expanded the selection to create an international specialty food market, with a concentration of Middle Eastern and Indian food. They have thousands of varieties of food items - herbs, spices, teas, coffees, pastries, baking products, oils, nuts, seeds, breads, beans, chutneys, etc. Upstairs there are cook wares and a small deli with prepared foods and a couple of tables.
Another nice thing about visiting Kalustyan's is that it is in the heart of an Indian district (one of two in Manhattan). This is the destination if you are interested in having Dosas - try any number of places specializing in them like the Dosa Hut. Also, you can visit Foods of India next door.
Kalustyan's, is my favorite ethnic market - it's pleasant to shop in and is truly exotic with a selection that is wide and deep ...

Related notes and postings:
If you are interested in ethnic neighborhoods and food, I would highly recommend a trip to Jackson Heights, Queens. I made a pilgrimage there last year and did 4 postings on various merchants and aspects: Indian Gold, Jackson Heights, The Patel Brothers, The Jackson Diner.

If you like Middle Eastern food, you really need to try an authentic Ouzi and Ful Mudammas. I recommend First Oasis in Brooklyn for either dish (or Moustache in the Village for Ouzi.)

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Claims and Hooks

In a competitive and crowded marketplace, many a business, product, TV program or even political candidate needs a hook to distinguish itself. An idea, a claim or an exclusive feature. In the case of bars, oldest is nice to be and in NYC (like other places) the claim is sometimes made by more than one - after all, the prize of being first or oldest can be leveraged, so the battle of claims and counterclaims can be fierce. Adding a qualifier is a clever twist - this way, more than one establishment can take title to the same prize - a variation like oldest in continuous operation. For marketing, the qualifier can be dropped.
Ray's Pizzas are probably the most infamous in the city, with numerous pizza shops all using Ray in the name and some superlative or combination of superlatives - Original, Famous, Famous Original, etc. - and claiming to be first. The Ray's Pizza name has actually involved lawsuits. We also had a rather serious war over Guss' Pickles - see my story here.
In the world of oldest bars in NYC we have several contenders including Pete's Tavern, The Bridge Cafe and McSorley's Ale house (read about that here). Pete's Tavern, located at 66 Irving place at 18th Street, claims to be the longest continuously operating bar and restaurant in New York City (see 2nd photo here). They also say "its most celebrated regular, O. Henry, wrote the classic Gift of the Magi here at his favorite booth by the front doors, in 1904." Richard McDermott, a historian who has done a lot of digging, has cast doubts on all of these claims, including the O. Henry one. He has found that the Bridge Cafe (see my story here) is the oldest.
But the facts, particularly a newly revised history, typically don't stick in people's minds. Once something has been accepted as "fact", it is frequently repeated and believed forever.
I find that when so much emphasis is placed on claims, sight of what's important gets lost - the content and quality of the product or place. And Ironically, many of the places fighting over these things are not the best - they are frequently touristy spots hanging on to crumbs of questionable history to lure in customers. In the case of Pete's Tavern, I can't speak to the quality of the food or ambience - I have not spent time inside.
We are all barraged and saturated with messages. Unfortunately, to get our attention, businesses must frequently resort to pulling out all the stops and relentlessly hammering a simple claim with hope that it hooks ...

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Little Comforts

The longer you live in this city, the more you begin to appreciate the comforts that others have and take for granted - being able to drive places and park easily at your destination or doing laundry in your home (not that many of these comforts can't be had in the city, given the will and substantial money.) In time, even the little things start to become a treat, especially the unexpected - free gift wrapping of a package, delivery, a bike path, a dog run, or an unoccupied park bench on a sunny day.
New York is a city of walkers - if you don't like walking, this is not the best place to live or visit. Walking is nearly always the most reliable mode of transportation - rarely fraught with delays, traffic, rerouting or any other myriad of problems with subways, buses or cars. And for most New Yorkers, walking is an enjoyable activity in itself, with all there is to see in the vibrant, constantly changing landscape of this city. Of course, the biggest downside is braving the elements, particularly the unexpected, like getting caught in a rainstorm with no umbrella. At these times, a welcome comfort to the walker is a little shelter - an overhang, canopy or pergola.
So what better little comfort can one imagine than an enclosed pedestrian walkway (a.k.a. skyway or sky bridge) between buildings. I was startled at the sight of two while walking along Lexington Avenue and peering westward down 24th Street. It was a photo begging to be taken.
I think if I worked in either of those buildings and could find reasonable excuses, I would pass through that little skyway as often as possible, particularly on a cold and rainy day, admiring the views and fully enjoying the little comfort of not having to step outside or grab an umbrella :)

NOTE ABOUT THE BUILDINGS AND PHOTO: The closer of the two skyways in the photo connects the 10th floor of the 1 Madison Avenue (on the left) to the 8th floor of 11 Madison Avenue (right). One Madison Ave is home to the Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower - previous posting here. Credit Suisse First Boston occupies the office spaces that this walkway connects.
The second walkway in the background connects the buildings at 200 Fifth Avenue (left) and 1107 Broadway (right). These were formerly known as the Toy Center Buildings and served as offices for toy manufacturers - the American International Toy Fair has taken place there since the early 1900s. The buildings were recently sold (1107 Broadway is being converted to residential condos). The treed space in the center, separating the pairs of buildings, is Madison Square Park.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Holdout and Holdup

The story of the notch in Macy's has been told before, but to find it you need to know that there is a story to be told. Most past by this intersection at Herald Square, one of the busiest in the city, never suspecting that the enormous sign proclaiming Macy's to be the World's Largest Store is the subject of a small drama. See a photo of the entire block here.
The strange tale is about the quintessential Holdout - in real estate parlance, someone unwilling to sell a key property standing in the way of development. 'Tis the dream of many that through pure happenstance and good fortune, one has an apartment or property which is crucial to a large project and holds out for an enormous sum of money, securing one's financial status ever after.
In the late 1890s, Macy's decided to expand from its 14th location to 34th Street. It secretly began buying property there, but word leaked out. Robert Smith snatched the property for $375,000. Escalating from holdout to holdup, the hope was to use this property to negotiate with Macy's and get occupancy of their 14th Street location (and some of the Macy's original customers).
However, Macy's did not take the bait. It built around the building, and continued to hold the 14th Street property vacant until the end of the lease.
They opened at Herald Square in 1902. The following year, the corner building was torn down and replaced with a new 5 story structure - the one you see here today (it was first leased to the United Cigar Store Company for $40,000 a year.)
Much later, after 1945, Macy's started to rent advertising space, covering the entire building. Although there have been opportunities to buy the property, to this date Macy's has not. They continue to rent advertising space for the 70 foot sign. Sadly, many of the retailers at this corner building have been tacky, unattractive establishments. Currently there is a Sunglass Hut - a step up in appearance.
So if you dream of holdouts and holdups, keep in mind, they may only be pipe dreams ...

Monday, 3 March 2008

You're Not in Kansas

I love this place - if you want the feeling of commerce with beehive activity, this is the place to go. Hustle and bustle, from busy to packed - B&H Photo Video sees over 10,000 customers per day. This is the country's largest photo supplier - they have everything. But whether you are a photographer or not, it is a must visit. More photos here.
The store was founded by Herman Schreiber and his wife Blimie (hence B and H) on the Lower East Side in 1973. It relocated to 17th Street in the photo district where it remained until 1997, when it expanded and moved to its current space at 34th Street and 9th Avenue. They occupy 70,000 square feet, not counting corporate offices nearby and a large Brooklyn warehouse.
Everything is a study in organization and good business management. After a purchase is made, goods are sent from a basement stockroom to the pickup area via overhead conveyers with green bins - see photo #3 here. The huge checkout area moves quickly with dozens of clerks taking payment. Take a few final steps to product pickup and voila, your items are already awaiting you!
Many retailers in NYC have become international icons - the Fifth Avenue gold coast retailers - Cartier, Tiffany, Saks, Bergdorf and others like Macy's. These stores all have a rich history, with many being founded in the mid 1800s. Their mythic proportions are made more indelible by the historic properties they inhabit in prime locations.
B&H Photo shares none of these attributes but has achieved iconic status in its own unique, New York way. Although large, the single location provides for the focus and expertise not typically found in a chain store. And B&H is no stranger to competitive pricing - they built their reputation on supplying professionals with equipment at rock bottom prices. So the Internet has not thrown them - they aggressively market and sell online. There is ZERO pressure to buy - none of the salesman are on commission. The return policy is very generous.
Visiting here is also a cultural experience - B&H is staffed predominantly by orthodox Jews - bearded men with white shirts, black pants, many with payot (sidelock hair curls), and tzitzis (white cords hanging from the waist). For many visitors, the site of this entire spectacle serves as a good reminder that You're Not in Kansas Anymore :)