The Dining Sheds have saved NYC now that they threaten to destroy it.
Ellen Koenigsberg has owned a vintage clothing store on Ludlow Street for 20 years, a feat so remarkable it reminds you of the runner who keeps a blazing pace into middle age, after serial injuries. Occupying the ground floor of a small building, the Ellen store is about the size of a master bathroom in a posh apartment. The vibe is unpretentious – Oxfords, silk blouses with bows, dresses with department store labels that predate eBay.
For more than two decades, his business has survived repeated attacks – from the uncontrolled marketing of the Lower East Side and the codified likes of the Instagram age, to the inroads of retailers like RealReal (the San-based consignment “disruptor”). Francisco) and the dramatic changes in purchasing habits induced by Covid. The end could have come a dozen times and far too predictable. Ms Koenigsberg, a former makeup artist, is also indebted to a landlord who suffered building code violations and was sued by the city for making illegal Airbnb rentals. So it would have been hard to imagine, at the start of the pandemic, that the most seemingly dangerous killer had not yet appeared.
“Does it look like Paris?” Mrs. Koenigsberg asked one morning recently. We stood outside his shop on Ludlow Street, which was flanked on both sides by plywood dining sheds stretching deep into the street, one with graffiti that leaned towards aimless vandalism in relation to any attempt at art. Garbage bags were stacked in front. If the alfresco dining scene on the Upper East Side or in the affluent Brooklyn neighborhoods evoked the Left Bank, here it has seemed chaotic and dirty – anathema to anyone inclined to the long, winding walk of a genre that could end in the fortuitous purchase of an 80s Bill Blass scarf.
Shopping has been a bustling pastime on the Lower East Side since the 19th century, but at some point in the 21st century a fratboy-style bar-shopping replaced it as the reigning recreation. “It was really bad before Covid, but it made things unbearable,” Ms Koenigsberg told me, the “this” being a party that poured into the streets with no apparent closing times. Often after the Flood, she arrives at her store in the morning to find greasy towels, cockroaches, extinguished cigarettes, and evidence that last night’s celebrants chose to relieve themselves at the most convenient time possible.
Garbage, indifferent pedestrian traffic, music pumped through the streets all led Ms Koenigsberg to join 21 other plaintiffs, who collectively spent hundreds of years living in the city center, in a lawsuit against the city outside. the New York State Supreme Court last month. , requiring that a serious impact study be carried out before the outdoor dining program is made permanent and extended.
It’s the nature of things in a place where space is so scarce that a munificent political gesture here so quickly comes to look like a tree there. The city has allowed bars and restaurants to take to sidewalks and streets as an emergency measure to save a devastated industry vital to the economy. But in parts of Manhattan, this colonization of public space now makes it harder to get around, to say the least to get around in a wheelchair or to put a street cleaner or an ambulance in a car. narrow alley. The costume describes all the different ways it happened, with Ms Koenigsberg describing the sense of abandonment she felt as someone who had fully supported the restaurant’s initiative – her father owned a steakhouse in Midtown – but would now like to see the same attention turned to stores like his.
The petitioners are, for the most part, people of a similar profile – Ms Koenigsberg is 62 years old and lives with her teenage daughter in a rent-stabilized walk-up near her store, meaning they are not not made up of the rich, inconvenienced by the increased traffic which lengthened the road to the country. Margie Dienstag, who came to New York from Haiti as a child and has lived in her village apartment since the early 1980s, explained how all the extra noise and stimulation made life especially difficult for her. autistic son.
“We were here during the pandemic; we do not have a second home; we were the ones who had take out. Local restaurants were not delivering food to East Hampton, ”she said. “We supported them. But now it’s too much. What she hopes for is better and more effective regulation, perhaps starting by ending the pest problem. As the president of a local neighborhood association, she planted flowers around the tree beds in the spring only to find them destroyed by rats who made their home under dining sheds and who, as she said , “Benefit from room service”.
Around the corner from Ellen on Rivington Street is another vintage clothing store whose glass front has recently been marred by a very difficult to remove acid-based paint. Diem Boyd, who founded THE Dwellers ten years ago to deal with quality of life issues in the neighborhood, lives upstairs and has fought against what she sees as escalating lawlessness. , fueled by the pervasiveness of alcohol and now extreme enough to resurrect an open-air drug trade. When we met, she pointed to the second floor of a building across from her apartment which, last spring, had been the site of a shooting range until police shut it down.
In an affidavit submitted with the lawsuit, Ms Boyd explained that in a 57-acre parcel of the Lower East Side, there are over 130 active liquor licenses, which works out to about 2.3 bars per acre or 11, 5 bars per block. She quoted the former New York State Liquor Authority commissioner noting that in terms of establishments selling alcohol, the area was “probably one of the most saturated areas in the world.”
A few weeks before the complaint was filed, the city’s planning commission held a public hearing on al fresco dining in which a representative of a hotel group pointed out that the program had saved 100,000 jobs in New York. Some restaurateurs said it was often difficult to determine the rules and regulations accompanying the program until they faced hefty fines for breaking them. The incoming city government will have its own ideas of how open streets should work, but a clear message about what is needed should be a first step. Another way forward could be to tailor rules and regulations to the needs of specific neighborhoods, given that some are much more densely populated than others. It is also easy to imagine an approach in which restaurants in these areas would operate rotating outdoor tables, essentially taking turns. Manhattan is half the physical size of Paris with almost as many people.
What might work on Saint-Germain Boulevard – or Madison Avenue – won’t necessarily work on the Lower East Side, where overcrowded apartment buildings living at the turn of the 19th century sparked public health crises for decades. The wild nightlife shouldn’t be the reason all the more.