Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Out and About in the East Village

In this ongoing 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: This longtime resident wanted to share his story but asked to remain anonymous
Occupation: Retired
Location: St. Mark's Place between First Avenue and Avenue A
Date: Monday, May 1 at 3:45 p.m.

I’m from Europe. I immigrated here from Greece when I was 5. I came to the Lower East Side, about less than a mile from here. There were a lot of Greek immigrants at that time. It was OK – a lot of people in the neighborhood knew each other, and there was a big Greek community up until about the 1970s. A lot of the old timers started dying and moving out and Chinatown started expanding. There are only a handful of families left now. I’ve lived on the Lower East Side my whole life.

My father had a merchandize business on the Lower East Side, selling housewares, glasswares, cookware. A friend of mine knew the super of a building. He controlled who was going in and out, so I spoke to him and he said, ‘I can keep an apartment aside for you.’ They were much more available then.I started out at $225 a month – it was more than amazing.

I moved in around 1979. I was just glad for a place to stay that I could afford. I lucked out and soon after I moved in, the super friend of mine, I told him, ‘I think I’m thinking of moving out,’ and he said, ‘You know what? Don’t you dare move out. The rents are going to be much higher and you’re going to regret it.’ So I figured, let me listen to the voice of experience, because somehow he had an inkling of what was to happen, and it turned out exactly right. I’m glad I listened to him. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be around here.

When I was in my 20s, and my father’s business was still open, friends from the neighborhood used to go to a place called Adam and Eve. It was on Waverly Place, right near NYU — a big hangout place for students and people in that age group. We used to go there and just drink pitchers of beer and get smashed there, but the difference was that we weren’t out to cause any trouble or be annoying or anything. We used to just sort of hang around with each other. We didn’t get involved with anybody else there.

After I closed my father’s business, I went to work in Century 21 in Brooklyn, and later in the wholesale jewelry business in Chinatown. I stayed there quite some time, 18 years, and then around 2001, the business started going down so I got laid off and I went to work in Midtown in the big jewelry district on 47th Street. I went to work for another wholesale place but much bigger, much busier. The boss and the manager realized right away that I had more experience than most of the people working in there. He grabbed me right away. It’s hard to find somebody to do that kind of work. They had a big mail-order all over the country. Crazy boss, very strict, very paranoid and stuff but I learned how to deal with it.

There were a whole bunch of drug dealers right on that corner where the bar Good Night Sonny is. It used to be a cleaners and they used to congregate and sell that stuff on the corner. They put the guy right out of business because his customers were too afraid to drop stuff off and pick stuff up. I would avoid that side of the street – it was horrible. When Giuliani became mayor, he started cleaning up a lot of the street traffic – one of the few good things that he did. That improved the situation a lot. Didn’t solve it because they just packed up and moved to another neighborhood.

The neighborhood was like the Haight-Ashbury of the 1960s in a way. The East Village became like that and is still like that to an extent. Everything goes, total freedom, and a mixture of people. A lot of freedom just in the sense that you could be whatever you wanted and nobody would look down on you.

A lot of the old-timers have died or moved out or whatever and the yuppies started moving in. You can’t blame them for doing it, but since they’re willing to pay more ... the landlords just took advantage of it and started charging higher rents.

I would prefer it if the rents weren’t up so high but there’s nothing I can do about that. It’s unfair — it’s pushing out the working-class people and the poor people, and the students come in and they’re not thinking of long term. They just stay a year or two until they finish school. Landlords love that because then you can increase the rent by law, so the rents just keep on going up. It’s going to reach another housing bubble I think. I see a lot more signs around, apartments for rent, than I saw the year before.

The high rents have also been pushing out small business. It’s been very hard for any little business to survive. Along this block there’s a high turnover, especially further down. Some of the stores don’t even last a year, and then they’ve got to get out. That’s a horrible situation, because it can’t be that they’re all doing something wrong. It’s just that they can’t make enough. Nobody wants to work for the landlord.

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


Anonymous said...

If you were there in 1981, did you see the production of the promo video for "Waiting on a Friend," by Mick and his mates, which was shot on the steps of 96 St. Micks Place?

Gojira said...

I watched them shoot that video! I was having dinner in the tiny sushi joint that used to be next to Stromboli, I sat at the window table and had a perfect view of the entire proceedings. Fascinating, especialy in the EV of 1981 - not a place you expected to see members of the Rolling Stones hanging out in any way, shape or form!

2nd Ave Silver Panther said...

I'Ve lived in EV since 1974, and happened to pass by that video shoot on my daily walk with my dog to the park. I stopped and chatted briefly with the non-Stones sitting on the steps-they were local casual aquaintences. At the time, Keith Richards was a neighborhood fixture, and in a pre-TMZ and Page Six world, he was given his space and not hounded as a celebrity. Those were the dsys, my friend! Tv

Anonymous said...

Great one.

sophocles said...

I remember that cleaners, and the drug dealers, who were on First Avenue for years. Mainly marijuana it seemed. They were aggressive and noisy, but not particularly violent. I wonder why it took so many years for the police to clear the streets. Makes you wonder if they had some incentives NOT to clear the streets.

Anonymous said...

Long time resident and I confess, occasionally I did biz with those weed merchants. Last transaction - buying a dime bag when I look at the guy's pit bull and say "hey buddy!" The dog wags his tail and puts his front paws on my waist. Mr Dealer screams "mother fucker don't make me shoot you. You're makin' my dog look soft!" Scared me straight

Anonymous said...

Anything but Good Night Sonny and their other one the Wayland and their other one? Their bars attract the worst, boring yuppie crowd. I miss Simone and Yaffa.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your story. It's good to know that interesting people still live here.