Posts Tagged ‘memory’

And The Survey Says,… Part II

June 23, 2015
Crosby lunch

Crosby Lunch, the coffee shop on the corner of Crosby and Prince, where my mom would get me grilled cheese and milkshakes, is one of the places I miss most from my childhood.

A couple of years back, I did a roundup of responses to my SoHo Memory Survey that ended up being one of my most popular posts (see And the survey says, ….).

Today, I am revisiting the survey, as many people have submitted profiles since 2013 (If you have not yet submitted a profile, please go to the “Your SoHo Profile” page and fill out the form). Reading through the responses, I felt myself transported to another time, when things were most certainly quieter, dirtier, colder, friendlier, and more surprising.

Not that there aren’t surprises in the SoHo of today. The ever escalating number of shops that open in SoHo is surprising to me. I thought it would have plateaued years ago. The ever escalating property values in SoHo. I thought that, too, would have leveled off at some point (it has to at some point, doesn’t it?). The fact that Jon Bon Jovi’s loft in the New Museum Building sold for $37.5 million. But I’m not sure that was even surprising, just a stark contrast to the fact that people I know bought their lofts for $5,000, but that was in a different time, though in the same place.

I suppose that’s the takeaway of this post. That we have fond memories, good and bad, of old SoHo, but that is not to say that we are not fond of our present, though perhaps in other ways. The very fact that there are high-end stores and high property values is what has allowed me and my family to continue living in SoHo, through income from commercial tenants and the security of owning property in this highly desirable neighborhood. It’s just that our present is so very different in ways we could not have possibly imagined, back when SoHo was young.

2013_3_2_ 036

The corner of Greene and Prince Streets, ca. 1978, back when the Richard Haas mural was new. Photo: MCNY

What do you miss most about SoHo in the 1970’s?

Everything. It was the real New York. I remember a store called Barone, that was a fabulous make up store. I loved “Let their be Neon” that was great. The lights in some of the steps and the sidewalks. I miss Food, the restaurant. I miss the street cats. I miss the smell of the bakery on Prince Street.

The quiet.

The vibrant arts community. The building of our lofts to make them livable. The help neighbors gave each other in trading construction skills. Building the lofts together. Seeing each other’s art and encouraging each other. Sharing ideas and materials. Knowing everyone when you walked down the street or went to the store for groceries. Having my named called out when I entered Spring Street Bar or Magoo’s or Fanelli’s,

The other artists, the ability to interact and learn from one another, building a community of fellow artists, using our studios to show each other’s work, the peace and quiet to make art and think creatively. I miss the all night diners. I miss gathering at Fanelli’s when Mike was still alive and his sons worked there. I miss the manufacturing community that worked here, though many in sweatshops. Yet it made the neighborhood real.

It was a discovery everyday. Artists. Buildings etc. Today it is too “precious” for my taste but NYC never stays the same and I love that too.

The uniqueness, the awesome shops unlike anything else, the grottiness, that flea market in the empty lot, the shop where they sold only postcards.

The mix of cultures, of working class and middle class, families, and single folks, old and young, and artists, and real life. The streets at night, barren but full of promise and fun. So many characters.

Walking around the neighborhood and running into friends and acquaintances. The community of artists. The quieter streets and fewer stores.

  1. Discarded cardboard rolls from textile mills, which were good for sword fights and construction projects.
  2. AYH bike joint on Spring St.
  3. Walking thru galleries with my parents on Saturday morning and seeing all their unusual friends (men who kissed men! People who painted pictures as a job! Poets whose poetry never rhymed! Who were these people!??)
  4. Expedi Printing and Sam Chen (maybe was 80s?)

The entire neighborhood.

I still love the old buildings, the urban landscape. I’m sad it’s so commercialized. I loved the remoteness, the outlaw feeling. I remember going home from the bar at night, walking down the empty center of the street instead of the sidewalk, because it was safer.

The feeling that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

Mercer Street at Prince Street, Onetime Guggenheim SoHo, now Prada SoHo. Photo: MCNY, Edmund V. Gillon

Mercer Street at Prince Street, Onetime Guggenheim SoHo, now Prada SoHo. Photo: MCNY, Edmund V. Gillon


SoHo Memory Profile: Yukie

December 24, 2011
Mimi and Yukie in SoHo, ca. 1976

I realize that it must seem a bit strange that I am doing a profile of myself, since this entire blog is kind of a profile of me, in bits and pieces.  But I thought I’d end the year by looping back to my first post, on January 1, 2011 where I wrote that “[w]hat I would like to do, . . ., is to celebrate a very special place at a very special moment in time.”

Eidolon, the Brooklyn Boutique I co-owned from 1999-2009

I am a product of SoHo in the 1970s.  A very special place at a very special moment in time.  My experiences growing up here have made me who I am today, for better or worse.  Since graduating from college, I have been a grants administrator, an editor, a literary translator, a handbag designer, a boutique owner, a collage artist, an archivist, a librarian, and a writer. I have also gone to graduate school twice, once in my twenties and once in my forties.  I guess I’m one of those people who is pretty good at a lot of things but not super-proficient at any or one.  Another way to look at it is that I have a spectrum of interests that I pursue avidly, more for experiencing the process than obtaining the result.  I enjoy the ride and hopefully pick up some knowledge and skill along the way.

Two of the handbags I made for my Brooklyn store

Stereotypical parents would have plotzed long ago from the agony of seeing such a flighty and fickle daughter make her way through the world.  But my parents once said to me, after I told them that my store was about to celebrate its tenth anniversary, “You’ve had that place for ten years?  It’s about time you thought of something else to do!”  Variety is the spice of life, and it is not shameful, rather, it is your birthright, to move from one passion to the next, and nobody will think the less of you if you did not go to law school or marry a doctor.

This was the spirit of the SoHo that nurtured me into adulthood.  This is not to say that everyone around me changed their professions every ten minutes.  Some did, some didn’t.  However, it seemed to me that everyone was here because they needed a place to like what they like and be who they are without others bugging them about it.  Many of my friends’ parents were artists, like my father, who found a community of  like-minded souls south of Houston Street, and their children, my peers, were able to benefit from their having been brought here, or born here.

A Rainbow in the Desert, a volume of my translations of Japanese litarature

I have often thanked my lucky stars that I was not born in rural Japan.  It could have happened, and I’m sure that I would have loved my home and my community and the opportunities they afforded me.  But what a different existence it would have been!  My mother ventured out from her home in the mountains where the kitchen had a dirt floor, the house was filled with the smell of the pigsty just outside, and the toilet was a hole in the ground where a truck came to vacuum out its contents once a month or so.  She left and followed my artist-father to New York, moving to a place where the conditions were not much better or different!  A loft space with no rooms and a coal burning stove for heat where she could not wash the windows for fear that someone would notice that they were living there illegally. Odd neighbors who would come and go at odd times in odd getups whose houses smelled odd, like an angry skunk was living in the bathroom.  Filthy streets with piles of “garbage” from which they pulled their home furnishings.

These beginnings made it possible for me to be the kind of person who goes with the flow and can be flexible, not to mention the kind of person who can withstand cold weather, having passed many winters being able to see my breath in bed.  I am not perturbed by the sight of vermin, as I have had cockroaches living in my house with whom I was on a first-name basis.  I treat everyone with the same level of familiarity and respect because growing up, SoHo was a motley community of people with such a wide variety of past experiences and future plans, none of whom had any money, so there was not an obvious hierarchy to warrant using the honorific with one person and the familiar with another.  So everyone used the familiar, by default.

Untitled (2007), one of my mixed-media collages

But those of you who have followed this blog from the beginning know all of this.  These are the tropes to which I have returned again and again throughout this past year.  I thank you for indulging me my navel gazing and I thank you for your participation and sharing.  Going into the next year, in order to fill out this narrative, I would like The SoHo Memory Project to become more and more about memories other than my own and less and less about what I remember, although I acknowledge that the line between the two is elusive, as many of us have shared the same experiences.

Memory is also elusive,  at best an unreliable friend on whom we must rely when there is nobody else to lean on.  Our story will never all come into crystal-clear focus, but what I am hoping for, if not clarity, is to give shape to amorphousness and ambiguity.  I don’t know or care if growing up in SoHo was better or more fun than growing up anywhere else, but the discussions of the past year have begun to clarify what was so special, so singular, about the experience, value judgements aside.

%d bloggers like this: