Volume 76, Number 39 | February 21 - 27, 2007

Talking Point

BeeCee Photo

<During Fashion Week at the Hotel Chelsea at the Doucette Duvall fall ’07 line showing by designer A. Tollman.

Fashion designers have unraveled my neighborhood

By Kate Walter 

“Oh no, they got the Japanese store too,” the young woman walking ahead of me on Bleecker St., exclaimed to her friend as they passed what used to be Old Japan Antiques and was now another Marc Jacobs outlet, set to open this summer. 

“We should protest. Put up stickers,” she said.

I knew exactly what she meant. While much of New York was enraptured by Fashion Week, I felt no love for Marc Jacobs and his colleagues. Their high-end stores ruined my quaint West Village neighborhood and turned the narrow streets into runways for rich tourists shopping for their overpriced creations. This shocking transformation happened rapidly during the past few years as lease after lease expired.

This isn’t the classic gentrification story where a scruffy nabe, like the Lower East Side, becomes hip and trendy. No, this designer takeover was an uber-gentrification of a historic district that was quaint and charming long before these upscale interlopers arrived. 

Supposedly, it all started when Jacobs saw the Magnolia Bakery (at Bleecker and W. 11th Sts.) on “Sex and the City” and thought the area would be a lovely location to open an outlet — or two — or three. He was joined by Ralph Lauren and a slew of others, including the Brits who hopped over the pond from London to open their doors on the latest fashion row.

On Bleecker St., my favorite card store is gone, so is the quirky gift shop and the New Age store and the place that made its own pasta. The Chatterbox Laundromat just closed, a popular spot where locals chatted outside on benches while their clothes washed and dried. In its place is Robert Marc, an eyewear outlet that sells handcrafted limited-edition frames. Just what we need.

I used to love those blocks with the antique furniture stores. Even if I couldn’t afford their classy chairs, I could imagine owning them. Now only a couple of antique haunts remain.

On Hudson St., the gay bookstore, Creative Visions, shut down and the site became an upscale maternity shop. Mrs. Hudson’s Video Library is long gone and the space turned into an emporium selling $600 imported footwear, which mercifully has closed. The original Brew Bar on Eighth Ave. became a shop selling pricey handbags. I still have to laugh when I walk past the hysterically named Shoegasm on Eighth Ave.

We residents don’t need tons of places selling expensive shoes or bags or cosmetics; we need stores where we can rent a DVD, buy a book, enjoy a chai latte. Factor in the gentrification of the Meatpacking District, with the new hotels, and the local corridors are a stylish shopping sprawl starting at 14th St. running down Eighth and Ninth Aves. into Hudson and Bleecker Sts. I can’t even get a cupcake at Magnolia anymore, what with “Sex and the City” fans hopping off tour buses and lining up around the block for sweets. 

Lately, every time I dare to venture onto Bleecker St., I notice another familiar place saying farewell and thanks for the memories. I can’t help but wonder who will be the next victim. When I bought Christmas gifts at the Biography Bookshop, I felt relieved it was still there.

This was the same day I’d just discovered that Hudson Street Papers had moved — yet another shock.

I miss those times when I could stroll up a quiet cobblestoned block to buy a card and not have to make my way through bands of label whores tramping all over my neighborhood flashing shopping bags from Jeffrey or Catherine Malandrino. I’ll take a real whore any day over these conspicuous consumers. It’s sad and ironic that designers drawn to the neighborhood’s quiet charm helped to ruin it for those of us who live here.  


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