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November 15, 2012 / Katie

Gentrification: Coming to a Neighborhood Near You

Chinatown is changing. Of course, all cities are living, breathing organisms that are constantly changing, adapting, sometimes deteriorating, and often transforming themselves in a dynamic give-and-take with dips in the economy, successive waves of immigrants, and bursts of urban renewal. But even so, there have been many recent changes in the neighborhood too big to ignore. Here’s a quick rundown.

Open City Mag reported on the unlawful eviction of tenants at 11 Allen Street this past summer. The Lo-Down just published an exhaustive review of the LES hotel boom, including the newly minted Wyndham hotel on Hester and Bowery that opened on Nov. 1 (and looks tacky as hell).

On a recent walk down Grand Street, I noticed a new art gallery near Eldridge Street with a snooty-looking gallery girl keeping watch in tight leather pants. Sure, art galleries abound on the LES, but I was caught off guard when I saw this one across the street from the wet markets sandwiched between a Chinese bakery and a Buddhist supply store.

The kicker, though, is the long-abandoned Jarmulowsky Bank building on Canal and Allen. The Ace Hotel bought it for a cool $36 million. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked by that building and wondered what it might become one day. I never thought it would be another Ace Hotel (aka hipster headquarters). I work around the corner from the location on 29th Street and Broadway. The hotel hasn’t completely transformed the transient wholesaler neighborhood it’s embedded in, but it sits there like a silent rook biding its time before it can go in for the checkmate.

The one bright spot is the funky pink building on the corner of Grand and Orchard; formerly the Ridley & Sons Department Store (once the largest department store in the city), the 125-year-old building was officially landmarked in September.

I’ve never been one to chime in with the old gentrification refrain: “Things will never be the same.” Change is inevitable, a simple fact of life. Whining is not the solution. The only thing you can do is be the change you want to see in the world (easier said than done). But the idea of the Ace Hotel opening up shop on the edge of Chinatown makes me nervous. And a little bit sad. Will they remember what happens when you stand underneath the Manhattan Bridge at dusk?

What happens there at dusk, you ask? Absolutely everything.


Leave a Comment
  1. jeanniebeans / Nov 16 2012 11:01 am

    Agreed! Ace hotel opening at the edge of chinatown makes me nervous and sad. I love that chinatown is much safer than when I grew up there. But I miss the small homey feel of chinatown, before starbucks, duane reade and popeyes set up shop…

  2. Jason / Nov 18 2012 10:48 am

    I don’t disagree when it comes in generic stores in the city, but what do you propose for these buildings? It seems the same people that lament no one builds them like that anyone also complain when anyone renews them to work in our contemporary lives. The gritty NYC of the 1970s was a shithole. It may be the only thing you know about New York, but it is not what made it great, grand, infamous or influential. These majestic buildings were built with the idea of wealth and greatness, and they should be given their proper due.

    • Katie / Nov 25 2012 5:56 pm

      That is exactly the dilemma. I think we’re all in agreement that we don’t want to see these buildings sit vacant and dilapidated forever, which is why I feel so torn. With change comes uncertainty. How the Ace Hotel will change the dynamics of the neighborhood remains to be seen, but it will definitely change. And I suppose there’s not much you can do about that.

  3. pravit / Dec 10 2012 9:56 pm

    There are some nicer apartment buildings in Chinatown that have attracted young Chinese-Americans like myself to the neighborhood. And there are actually a lot of non-Asians who live in my building (my wife being one!). Does that make us gentrifiers? I’m not sure. We spend a lot of dollars in Chinatown; we pay the landlord, we buy all our groceries here, we eat out a lot here – and that’s not through some conscious choice to ‘buy local’, it’s because things here are the most convenient and the cheapest.

    Some of the old-school Cantonese stuff will probably disappear which is inevitable as the original population ages, but there’s still plenty of young immigrants from the Mainland in the neighborhood – as evidenced by all the flashy new bubble tea places and hair salons. And I think Chinatown is still a magnet for people who need to buy Asian groceries, eat Chinese food, or get their Asian hair cut – I don’t think that will change as long as there are people of Asian descent in NYC. I know I was always getting over here any chance I could get after work or on the weekends when I lived in Brooklyn.

    I’m guessing that in the future Manhattan Chinatown will probably resemble Flushing. Less Cantonese-centric, a bit more modern, a bit less grimy, but still very Chinese at heart.

  4. gwenkuo / May 27 2013 3:07 am

    Thanks for your interesting blog about Chinatown and Chinese culture. Somehow it occurs to me the attractive Chinese American star: Anna May Wong.. Enjoy 🙂

    • Katie / May 27 2013 9:25 am

      Thanks, Gwen! I love Anna May Wong.

      • gwenkuo / May 30 2013 1:57 am

        Thank you Katie! And I like your little girl profile picture, very cute and smarty look. Me too admire Anna May Wong so much.

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