[Storefront photo from 2009 via Facebook]
Late last week, Helaine Sorgen made official what had been a poorly kept secret among her customers — Clayworks Pottery is closing after 44 years at 332 E. Ninth St. between First Avenue and Second Avenue.
The upcoming closing has nothing to do with, say, a decline in business.
"My building has been bought by a predatory landlord who will not renew my lease," she said. "It's been over a two-year fight, and the time has come to close up shop."
She shared with me a copy of her goodbye letter to the community. (The letter is displayed on the front window of the shop.)
Her last day will be around Sept. 15.
Well, it’s been quite a ride. When Clayworks opened in the EV in Jan, 1974, it was like an outpost of civilization. Empty stores were everywhere. Clayworks was the kind of unique, individual store that helped build this neighborhood into the desirable commodity it is today. Through four decades, I have been able to watch the EV grow and change from my window. It has been the finest front row seat I could ask for.
Clayworks survived everything the mad universe pitched at it — Hurricane Sandy, blizzards, The Great Recession, swastikas painted across the storefront, the front window being intentionally blown out, water main breaks, ceiling caves, the crack epidemic, and of course 9/11, all come to mind, plus the usual personal real-life challenges. Clayworks has always held its own, with great thanks to the support of this neighborhood and my loyal clientele.
That is, until the recent and well documented invasion of the EV by predatory landlords and perfidious financiers. You see, Clayworks now occupies real estate deemed too valuable to allow it to stay. The new building owner and the plethora of shell companies he hides behind wants me out, and this is a war that I cannot win. I have spent the past 2 years fighting. I am tired and my time is up. Let me be clear — this is not the story of an unsuccessful store hanging on for dear life. This is the intentional stomping out of yet another mom and pop store by predatory real estate weasels. We small businesses are a family. Every store whose light goes out is a small death among us, another cross in the graveyard. There, we are legion.
Clayworks is as much a part of the EV as the EV is a part of Clayworks. I live here. My heart lives here. The EV is my neighborhood, my community. I want to see thrive. I know there are 2 camps of thought in the EV currently. There are those who want to keep the wild, fierce, gritty, creative, independent EV spirit. There are others who want less edge and attitude and more sameness — tamer, user friendly stores, plus bars and restaurants that are trendy and cater more to the on-demand desires of a new generation. Why can’t we have a balanced mix here is the question.
I believe, if protected and supported by the City, it would be possible to have both — to support change, and yet maintain the unique identity that many of us treasure. But the Small Business Jobs Survival Act languishes in the purgatory of the City Council. Some form of this legislation, which supports small businesses the way other more enlightened cities do, has been moldering in the CC since Miriam Friedlander’s time. Politicians wave it around to get votes, but as soon as they are elected, it goes back into the junk drawer.
Now, we hear there is a movement to form a small-business-only region, and a protective registry for legacy businesses that have been around for 35 years or more. Well, that would be Clayworks, but, ironically, it’s too late for me.
I am not opposed to change but frankly, what is going on here is full-scale rape and pillage. So folks, it’s up to you. You vote with your ballot and you vote with your dollar. The kind of neighborhood and community you want to see is in your hands. If it matters, and it should, then be mindful. Exercise your right to vote and your right to make some noise.
It has been an incredible privilege to have been able to earn a living being a potter in the EV. I’ve always hoped that in a small way, Clayworks helped to make the world a better place, one mug at a time. I want to thank, sincerely and gratefully, every person who laid down their hard earned bucks to buy my work and support me. In my 44 years here, I have gotten to know many of you personally and my life has been greatly enriched by your company.
Everyone who came into this store, who shared their stories and lives, wove a fabric that connected us together, warp and woof, a tapestry of community and friendship. We made magic happen here. That’s really what it’s all about.
My last day will be sometime around Sept. 15. Whatever work I have left is all that there’s gonna be, so if you’ve been looking at something and can’t make up your mind, don’t wait too long! I will pack and store the rest with the intention of starting an online store (anyone out there who can help me set it up?). Or call me- I’ll meet you at the Veselka, you bring the $$$ and I’ll bring the goods!
With sadness and love,
A special shout out of love for Santo and Margaret at The Source, who have generously supplied me with great quantities of packing boxes. Also to GOLES, which has helped so many here to organize and fight back. And to Cooper Square, especially SaMi Chester, who works tirelessly for EV tenants, and has been more than generous in sharing support and information and encouragement in my battle, even though commercial tenants are not really his purview.
And to 9th Street, the best little block in the EV and my home for 44 wonderful years!
Previously on EV Grieve:
29-year-old Gallery Vernon is closing on East 9th Street