Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Out and About in the East Village

In this weekly feature, East Village-based photographer James Maher provides us with a quick snapshot of someone who lives and/or works in the East Village.

By James Maher
Name: Ben Bahud
Occupation: Owner, New York Ink, Magazine and Convenience Store
Location: Avenue A, between East Fourth Street and East Fifth Street
Time: 12:30 pm on Sunday, Nov. 10

I was born in Israel, but my background — I’m Palestinian. I’ve been here almost 25 years. I was 22 when I came over and I’m 47 now. I came by myself. I worked for somebody back home who had a restaurant here on St. Mark's Place. They liked my work and asked me if I wanted to come, and as a young man you always want to get out there and do better, you know?

I worked in Café Mogador on St. Mark's Place for almost six years and then I started my own restaurant. I worked in the kitchen as a cook. I was a chef. But, you know, I never really wanted to be a good chef. It was just something to start with, and then I opened my own restaurant. I opened a few stores like that.

I always wanted to do business. I love business. I always did investments here and there and there. Any small investment that I believe in I will put money into. Right now I just invested in a cleaning store on 6th Street. Any opportunity out there, if I feel it will be successful. So far, I haven't done any bad investments. The worst, I got my money back.

I work online now, day trading. I always had a broker and then one day I saw in the newspaper, I’m talking about like 20 years ago, an add for E-Trade where you could do it yourself. I just couldn’t believe it. And back then I couldn’t speak much English and said, ‘Oh wow, really?’ Because money with brokers, you don’t do very much. I started on my own. I was losing, losing, losing, and making, and losing. Then, you know, as you grow up, kids, college, you start becoming more serious. I trade the right stuff.

I love Avenue A. The storefront glass was broken when I first took the place. This is how bad this area was. [This spot] wasn’t my choice really. You look for an empty spot and it was a few blocks away from St. Mark's Place. I started as an investor. I never wanted to leave my job.

My landlord, rest in peace, was a German concentration [camp survivor]. He had a mark on his hand. I loved him. I worked with him many years. My partner worked as a waiter in the restaurant that I worked in. I asked my partner to go to talk to the landlord to get the place and he wouldn’t give it to him. Then I went to talk to him and he gave it to me. He probably thought, ‘This guy he came from another country, he’s planning to work hard.’ My landlord would always teach me stuff. Do this, do that, why don’t you do this? He was funny but at the same time he was a lawyer and a very good businessman. He passed away and now I work with his daughter. They’re very reasonable.

[Eventually] my friend had to go. He didn’t do very well. He was more artistic. He was nice. He had the place looking much better than it’s looking now, but money wise, no money. So I bought him out and I put somebody else in and then I came in. Then I tried it myself, it worked and I stayed here, and my wife came and worked with me another seven years. When I got in I could tell that I really liked it. I never thought that one day I would be selling cigarettes and magazines, but I did it. I liked it. It was alright.

The neighborhood definitely changed, big time. When I first took this store, I used to pay like $700 a month. And the people — the people were totally different. Especially the magazine business, it’s nothing like before. It’s nothing like 2008, not too long ago. People look at everything online now. People still buy here and there, but nothing like they used to. Newspapers especially. I used to sell like 60, 70 New York Times. Now I sell like 10, 15. There are still drinks, cigarettes. You end up making it. It’s not bad.

No offense to anybody but that’s the truth, you know. Before it was real bad. You even couldn’t walk on this street. The homeless and the rehab places are still here, so you still feel that 20 years ago thing, but it is to me, cool. It’s not bad or good, but it’s true. It’s mixed. Believe it or not, I get along more with people like this. They’re more human. Somebody you could talk to, you could laugh, we joke, they tell you their story. It’s not a hi-and-bye thing. I love them and I hope for the best for them. Hopefully they’ll heal.

Where I come from… I don’t know how to call it, but we’re street people too, so I get along with everybody. It was scary here but when people knew you and how you talk and stuff. I’ve just been blessed, thank God. No problems. I get along with everybody.

James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.


Gojira said...

Sorry, but there was NEVER a time when you couldn't walk down Avenue A. Even in the 70s and 80s it was the best of the alphabet avenues.

daho said...

That's such a great store, always has been. I used to go for the magazines (shame on me), but now still pop in for the candy. Ben is always such a nice presence.

OWR said...

Gojira Avenue A always sucked. It just sucked less than Aves B C and D.
Nevertheless I tip my hat to Mr Bahud he sound like a great guy!

Giovanni said...

Avenue A has always felt a little safer, maybe because it's a slightly wider Avenue than B, C,and D, maybe because it has more retail. or maybe because it's just closer to civilization.

nygrump said...

Ave A was the border - heading too B was when you knew you were entering the Zone.

Anonymous said...

Ben is a great sort from the old school, a person who will trust a stranger, which perhaps gets him burned now and then but overall leads to a beautiful life. He was making coffee on an old charcoal burner during Sandy in there, it was fun and he was doing a brisk business. There is a very warm human element about Ben, which is probably why there is whole crew of locals that have created a regular hang-out in front of the shop.

Sammy said...

I have always loved this spot. I had it so at one point they would text me Saturday evening when the Sunday Times came in so I could run and grab it. How's that for customer service!

Jaime said...

Ben is the man, I lived in that building for 4-5 years. Always friendly, made you feel safe, all around great guy. He is what you want in a neighborhood, and what the East Village is rabidly losing. Glad to see him featured!

Anonymous said...

We love the Pork Pie Hat Man and go to see him often - glad to see him featured

DrBOP said...

Dig that crazy lid!
Ben be stylin' :+)

Anonymous said...

This guy is a sweetheart, always has been, with his kind demeanor, genuine smile and his warm attitude. And this place has always had the best selection of international fashion and street style magazines for miles. I just wish he would bring back his cheap discounted boxes full of old back issues.

BTW< There was a time in the early 80's when Avenue A most definitely did not seem safe, particularly later in the night. Granted, it wan't as bad as Ave. C, and it never stopped any of us from going there. But to say that it never felt unsafe is simply not true, particularly if you were "readable" as gay, or a young female.

Buzz Gluebag said...

I've lived in this building for 21 years, and Ben has always been friendly and good to me since he moved in. For example, I have bought my English music magazines there, whose shipping schedules are erratic; and when passing he would let me know that the new MOJO, or Word or Uncut is/was in the store.

Gojira said...

I was readable as a young female and never once felt even remotely uneasy. Avenue B was a little dicey, C scary and D I didn't even go near, but A - for me, at any rate - was not an issue.

Anonymous said...

I am so lucky I get to see Ben every day for my morning coffee! A true gentleman .

Anonymous said...

i lived around the corner from this store for 15 years! i think i remember his partner, who was into experimental music; i walked in there once and thought a blender was running: it was the music on the stereo! anyway this guy is the best, shop has always been stellar, the best selection of magazines anywhere, and british candy too! plus good vibes from behind the counter: may he stay in biz forever!!

Anonymous said...

Good for you Gojira! Some of us Readable gays and young girls were perhaps a little more delicate! Fearless Trail blazers like you certainly paved the way for what we now have there.

Anonymous said...

Ben is like family.
He was open every day during 9/11 and the Sandy Black out.
His store is also in international center. Meet people from all countries. Can we nomnate him Mayor of East Village?
Ben is always there for all of us.