Other Cool Things

The Loss of Valuable Things

In the fall of 1978, I moved from Florida to New York City. I was twenty-one, and had $200 to my name. How insane was that?

My first apartment was on East 12th Street, a one bedroom. It was $650 a month, which is today laughable but which was scary $$$$ at the time as my apartment in Florida was $150 a month. And, for eight months I had no job in New York City.

To afford the rent, I ended up with six roommates. Yep, six. A couple rented the walk-in closet. The bedroom, which had a high ceiling, was duplexed and one person rented the “ground” floor and another person rented the “upper” floor. Neither level offered standing room. And so on.

Seven people. In a one-bedroom apartment.

So, yes, this was insane. But…there was a compensating factor. At the corner was Strand Bookstore. The store was huge and stuffed with discounted books. Visiting the store for the first time was, well, an orgasmic experience and, during my years in the city (1978 to 1991), I visited Strand countless times.

Just south of Strand was a classic coffee shop. The decor was horrible, lots of gold and plastic and with a dropped acoustic ceiling. All the waiters were men, middle-aged, and Greek.

I loved the coffee shop, and always ordered the same thing: Diet Coke, a tuna melt, and extra crispy fries.

After leaving the city in 1991, I returned many, many times and on each trip made my ritual pilgrimage to Strand, always timing these trips around lunchtime. After buying several books, I would walk the short distance to the coffee shop.

A male, middle-aged waiter would approach, and I would smile inwardly. Where do they get these guys? I would order a diet Coke, a tuna melt, and extra crispy fries. When the meal would arrive, I would stare at it, my whole being feeling infused with happiness.

I adored this ritual. I mean, what could be better than new books, a tuna melt, and extra crispy fries, and all from familiar, beloved places?

 

Today, I was talking with my friend Patricia, and told her this story. She said: “Oh! I loved that coffee shop! I went there so many times! I wonder if it’s still there?”

I assumed the coffee shop was as permanent as the pyramids. But…

 

 

The coffee shop in 2009.

 

And, sigh, in 2014.

 

I have not been to New York in many years, but know that classic coffee shops are an endangered species in the city. Many have been replaced by Starbucks. But Starbucks does not offer a good tuna melt and extra crispy fries.

Learning about the loss of my favorite New York City coffee shop felt like a punch to my soul.

I am all for change. But sometimes some things should be as permanent as the pyramids. And if one cannot get a tuna melt and extra-crispy fries anymore in the greatest city on Earth? Well, that is just plain wrong.

At least Strand Bookstore survives. I wonder if they have opened a lunch counter, serving…

 

5 Responses to The Loss of Valuable Things

  1. Too many of my favorite stores/restaurants have closed over the years or sometimes even the building has been torn down. They will live forever in my memory, as the coffee shop will live in your memory Ross. At least the Strand is still there. These places really do give a city character. Bittersweet memories though.

  2. So bittersweet the nostalgic memories! As others have said at least the strand is still there! So sad to see the coffee shops vanish:-( they gave neighborhoods character:-)

  3. Oh this isn’t hard to believe…

    You should see how they sleep in San Francisco now….They sleep via mortuary style…just lie on a tray and push into a slot…

    I lived/born twenty something miles out and left 6 years ago….I worked sooooo hard to rent my own place because even that far out people didn’t live with out a half dozen roommates per rental…

    I miss California, like you miss New York but I wish sooooo many years ago I knew about how cheap one could live around here(Missouri)…

  4. Beautiful story Ross. I have many memories at the Strand as well and given it’s status, it is sure to be around for awhile. Sadly, New York has turned into a playground for the billionaires of the world and is no longer a place for those of us who are of more moderate means.

    Here is my New York story….

    It was my childhood dream to live in Manhattan and after living in progressively larger and larger cities I finally was able to fulfill my dream in 2007 at the age of 42 after being laid off of a job in Chicago and receiving a healthy severance package. I settled into a snug 225 sq ft fifth floor walk up in the West Village. The first few years were absolute heaven, I was living my dream, or so I thought…. A few years later I had the fortune to purchase a larger(295 sq ft) apartment in a doorman building in Hells Kitchen. While I missed the West Village, I had achieved the ultimate goal of owning real estate in Manhattan.

    But the city was changing all around me. The changes began long before I arrived, but I saw them accelerate at an unbelievably rapid pace. NYC has always been about commerce and money, but the level of money flooding into the city is unprecedented in recent years. Small Mom and Pop business (diners, shoe repairs, bodega’s, etc) are closing shop at a rapid pace because greedy landlords are doubling and tripling the rents. The creative class can no longer afford the rents and are now eeking out an existence in outer borough neighborhoods once considered desolate and distant.

    After meeting the man who would become my husband in 2013 and then moving upstate into an 790 sq ft one bedroom on the Upper West Side, the dream of living in NYC began to die. We managed to create a fairly comfortable life, but doing so took it’s toll on us. We both worked high stress professional jobs and found ourselves having less and less time to enjoy the benefits of living in Metropolis and more and more time focusing on what we needed to do to keep this life going. Following the election in 2016, we both came to the conclusion that work/life balance is more important than living in a doorman building. We cashed out, bought a 165 year old rowhouse in Philly which needs a lot of love and will keep me busy with projects for years to come, and moved in this past January.

    I will always love New York City, but the New York I dreamed of is long gone and will never return. I managed to spend almost eleven years there achieving the honor of being able to officially call myself a New Yorker (that takes ten years), and my husband spent 25 years there, but we are in a much better place now.

    I thought I would miss it tremendously when we left, but aside from having a doorman to sign for packages, and having a diner downstairs, we don’t miss it nearly as much as we thought we would. I have a car for the first time in 25 years, and ironically, we both walk more now than we did in Manhattan because we live in a residential neighborhood and everything is a ten minute walk away. My in-laws live in Manhattan and it’s only two hours away, so I can go and get my fix from time to time… And then retreat to my newly beloved neighborhood in Philadelphia.

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