Walking Tour of Lower Manhattan

“Take a walk on the wild side” or just enjoy this virtual tour of your New York.  Lou Reed’s song from the 1970s was quite risqué but today the lyrics could easily describe just another day in NYC!

Lower Manhattan north of Canal Street provides a paradise for local shoppers. Enjoy boutique stores, galleries, designer clothing sales and a wide array of restaurants.  In 2019, New York City was rated by Timeout Magazine as the best city in the world to visit.

So if you can’t quite make it there now, go there online!

Lights Shining Bright

Let There Be Neon – a store opened back on 451 West Broadway in 1990 owned by Jeff Friedman – makes quite a few things shine bright. Originally opened by Rudy Stern, a painter, docu-filmmaker and artist in 1972, two years later it was recognized as “the first ever gallery dedicated to neon,” and was the first to install a neon environment for a disco. Its history tells much more of a tale, but today it offers works of art via animation, graphic design, pieces for residential areas, film, TV and other media and more.

What is the beauty and excitement behind this?  Friedman believes that:

“Neon is red when it’s lit, the pure color of neon. But we also use argon, which is blue, and by combining the different gases with different glass colors or phosphorus inside the tube, that’s how we get all the different colors.”

During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, “Let There Be Neon” was still shining bright, at least in all its neon glory, was store after store was shuttered following stay at home orders.

Now that things are somewhat getting back to normal, the SoHo region is boasting its offerings.  From galleries to architecture, boutique and unique stores, this move is being bolstered by a rezoning proposal put forward by Bill de Blasio, NYC Mayor.  If accepted, this would add a substantial amount of apartments to the area – 3,200 – 800 of which would be priced lower than the market rate.

While this would indeed help tackle the homeless crisis, the question has to be asked as to what it would do the city’s culture?  Plus there is the environmental concern.  Nonetheless, Will Thomas who sits on the Open New York board believes it would actually create an “historic opportunity, claiming:

“This would really change the unspoken rules around development in New York City. Breaking down the exclusionary barriers of SoHo is a matter of racial justice, is a matter of housing justice, and especially right now during a pandemic, affordable housing is more needed than ever.”

Whatever transpires and however it impacts the environment and the region’s culture,  ‘Let There Be Neon’ shined bright it will continue to illuminate its environs.

Up and Coming Local Performances

Entertainment is slowly coming back to our neighborhoods.  New York governor Andrew M. Cuomo recently announced that from April 2nd, venues can reopen, following certain regulations such as only filling to 33 percent capacity and no more than 100 people indoors, 200 outdoors.  In cases where they take a negative test before entering the numbers can increase to 150 and 500 respectively. 

This, in addition to the NY PopUps that the Governor launched toward the end of February. These free events were established to “revitalize the spirit and emotional well-being of New York citizens with the energy of live performance while jumpstarting New York’s struggling live entertainment sector, is a private/public partnership overseen by producers Scott Rudin and Jane Rosenthal, in coordination with the New York State Council on the Arts and Empire State Development.”

The Pop-Up system was created as a pilot program in an attempt to see how live performances can return to the stage in a safe manner. Zack Winokur worked with a council of artistic advisors in the region to engineer the festival.

Black Lives Matter Below 14

We’ve all heard about the BLM movement but how has it manifested in our own neighborhood?  We take a look at this phenomenon through two lenses: corporate and art.

Black In Corporate is the brainchild of Candace Marie. Inspired by the work she put into the design and decoration of her own apartment, Marie explained:

“The art all came from different places. At the time a lot of Black-owned businesses saw a surge in people purchasing their items, so a lot of it was sold out. So I was piecing it together, trying to find the same aesthetics and things like that. It’s like this puzzle piece, trying to assemble a home.”

Enhancing the corporate world for everyone is vital. Marie’s company slogan is: “Championing for Black individuals behind ALL corporate walls – where changed is needed most.”  Through her work she seeks to create resources to help others thrive in their work not only exist.

In the realm of art, Destinee Ross-Sutton has recently made a “splash.”  The online exhibition she engineered for Christie’s was an immediate hit. Say It Loud (I’m Black and Proud)”  was a little different from a normal sale.  Anyone who wanted to buy a piece had to commit (via contract signing) that they would not flip the work!   Following the success of this project Ross-Sutton has created her own show “Black Voices: Friend of My Mind,” which opened just before Christmas in SoHo at an 8,000 sq. ft space that used to house the works of gallerist Paula Cooper.  Ross-Sutton’s exhibition is a first in the sense of being a “nomadic gallery” that will open in different cities worldwide.

Halloween: Do It Safely

While Halloween definitely was not the same as it historically has been, that did not stop downtown New Yorkers from celebrating the event.  True, the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade – that has been happening for close to five decades – got cancelled but there were still many cool and scary activities for people to enjoy, in a socially distanced way.

So what was on offer?  There was the virtual miniature puppet parade; the New York Public Library’s Virtual Dance Party; Halloween Water Towers – an interactive kids event learning how to build their very own water tower; the Halloween Spooky Singalong for 4-11 year old which also had a fancy dress competition.

Outdoor parties – in small numbers – were still permitted, but indoor events were cancelled.  But what was cool this year was how the Empire State Building became a (Hasbro’s) Simon Memory Game, in a giant version, available to anyone with a view of the building or a weblink!

Yes, it’s hard and yes things are different but the creative genius that New Yorkers (and others around the world thanks to technology) are privy to encounter is just wonderful!

Bumping up Local Retail

While there is a lot of local quiet, retail and entertainment are not completely dead. Yes, many businesses have been shuttered for a long time with no end in sight and hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs.  But all is not lost.

One example is Arias, the contemporary women’s fashion label launched by Nina Sarin Arias.  Famous consumers of the brand include: Priyanka Chopra and Gigi Hadid among others.  Her first store was recently opened at Manhattan’s 466 Broome Street. Spanning 1,500 square feet, Arias founded her label initially back in 2017 as direct-to-consumer.  She explained:

“It’s always been a dream to open a store and it means even more to me to do so in this unprecedented time. I chose to open our doors and show support for the city as our collections are made in New York.  It’s an important moment in my brand’s development and I couldn’t think of a better location than in SoHo, which is an intersection of fashion and art. The Arias woman has always shopped our brand online and attended our trunk shows. I am now able to share the world of Arias with my clients — an experience she has been waiting for.”

Other encouraging news are the government initiatives that have been put in place to help the local consumer.  One of these is the new parking regulations which make things a bit easier.  According to Executive Director of the Downtown Manhattan Beach Business and Professionals Association, Jill Lamkin:

“Parking has always been one of the most difficult hurdles for businesses in Downtown Manhattan Beach and it’s further complicated by COVID. Our restaurants cannot welcome guests indoors and are surviving by serving outside. Locals embraced outdoor dining with overwhelming enthusiasm, and we are thankful! It does, however, further reduce our precious parking. Add beach-goers to that, and retailers and service providers are left with very little parking for the customers they so desperately need to survive. lease also help us by preserving parking for those who truly need it and we will save more of our businesses by allowing people to quickly drop into their favorite store, salon or grab a to-go meal. If you can walk or bike, please do. We know the shortened parking isn’t convenient, but we’re in survival mode and we hope you’ll support us in our efforts.”

Cycling Around Post-COVID-19

So much is currently up in the air in our newly-normalized coronavirus environment.   One thing that has been positive is the increase of bike use around lower Manhattan. This of course is good for so many reasons: environmental, health and fitness, etc.  Indeed, a recent  report  found that this could possibly become the new way of commuting to work for those in the region.

In part, this new trend has been made possible by increased accessibility for cyclists through the bike lane network that currently stands at close to 2.5 miles and is due for further expansion. As well there are more Citi Bike stations.

Given that so many individuals are concerned about exposure to coronavirus through public transport, bike commuters are likely to increase.  In related news, the South Bronx – E. 160th Street and Tinton Avenue – was the location of the 1,000th docking station installed by Citi Bike within the five boroughs.  According to Ruben Diaz Jr., President of Bronx Borough:

“This is a huge milestone for New York City’s Department of Transportation, Lyft, Citi Bike and The Bronx, opening the city’s 1,000th Citi Bike station in our great borough. Considering how important the Citi Bike program has become to the city’s transportation grid, especially helping our essential workers and healthcare workers get around during this pandemic crisis, I look forward to working on helping this program continue its expansion into The Bronx and throughout New York City. Micromobility is New York’s transportation future, so I’m glad to see Citi Bike’s 1000th station in the Bronx. We need affordable, green and accessible transit options, especially in areas underserved by public transit. The Bronx has waited a long time for Citi Bike to expand into our neighborhoods and I’m looking forward to further expansion into my district and other Bronx communities.”

Below 14th Street: What’s New?

With all the lockdowns and businesses closing due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s extremely heart-warming to hear of companies that are trying to start offering services to the public.  Here we take a brief glance at what has been happening recently.

First, a couple of weeks ago, Locanda Verde opened.  Chef Andrew Carmellini opened up this Italian restaurant in the heart of TriBeca offering New Yorkers a real taste of rustic, simple, Italian fare with homegrown US produce.  Featuring Deborah Racicot as the pastry chef, the menu is small but classic and satisfying.

Then there is the opening of the Shibui Spa, located at the brand new Greenwich Hotel.  The general manager pointed out that it was on the understanding that it will start slow due to the pandemic but that they are still happy to be re-opening.

While this is not new, the Tribeca Grill should also be included in our optimistic heart-warming local business stories.  They are marking 30 years since they first opened in 1990.  Way back then it was an abandoned coffee factory that Robert De Niro, Drew Nieporent and Marty Shapiro had the foresight to re-purpose as a restaurant and film center.

These are tough times without a doubt.  But somehow, someway, New Yorkers are rising to the challenge.   We wish – everyone – the very best of success!