When I tell Jeremiah Moss—whose name turns out to be a pseudonym—that I love his blog, Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, but also can’t bear it, he laughs. “I get that a lot: ‘I hate your blog, but can’t stop reading it.’”
Through unadorned pictures—old signs, shuttered windows—and the odd, sad farewell notes of owners, Moss is cataloging the disappearance of small stores and local restaurants from New York’s streets and neighborhoods as rent hikes force them out and chain coffee shops and big, shiny, glass condos and office spaces replace them.
Moss, who is in his “early 40s,” speaks quietly and seems a private fellow, if full of passion and anger about what he perceives as the dissolution of the city. Many seem to feel the same way, judging by the comments on the site and his almost14,000 fans on Facebook.
Moss started the blog in 2007, having moved to New York from a small, working-class New England town “around 20 years” ago. “I had been complaining to anyone who would listen about what I saw as the shift in the city, particularly after 9/11, with Bloomberg [the city’s mayor from 2002 to 2013],” he says. “The city was upscaled and gentrified. Suddenly a suburbanized Middle America was taking over what had been a long-standing pocket of eccentricity and bohemianism.”
Moss has lived in the East Village the whole time, in a “crummy slum tenement where the landlord never gets anything fixed,” and he has witnessed his area transform from one inhabited by “oddballs, artists, gays, Ukrainians” in a welcomingly chaotic jumble to one more akin to “fraternity culture,” packed with “the middle classes, the heteronormative…” He pauses. “Football fans.” He says ruefully, “That thing I left the suburbs to get away from is now at our gates. It’s been really frightening watching the creep of Starbucks east. There are three or four within a handful of blocks in the East Village.”
He particularly misses Mars Bar (“dive bars have been falling fast”), The Holiday Cocktail Lounge, and Blarney Cove; Mars Bar particularly because it hosted artists and the punks who would descend there after a show at nearby CBGB. These bohemian joints were so uncompromising that they reminded Moss “you needed chutzpah to live in New York,” he says. “Now you just have to be very rich. Your soul doesn’t matter.” He also misses the original Odessa diner, Chelsea’s Rawhide gay bar, Prime Burger in Midtown, the Colony music store in Times Square, the Lenox Lounge in Harlem, and the much-cherished bar Bill’s Gay Nineties, where Tallulah Bankhead used to drink.
One farewell sign on Moss’ blog, from the departing management of University Pita at 12th and Broadway, reads, “Over the years it has been a privilege to serve this community here in the East/West Village.” The signs have a poignancy, says Moss, “because there is a tension in them in what they are not saying,” he says. “Phrases like ‘Due to unforeseen circumstances’ and ‘Due to a change in ownership’ conceal what they are really saying about their closure, which is ‘Thanks to our greedy landlord,’ although some do say that, too.
“But generally there’s this stiff upper lip. You can feel the sadness and regret. When I’m photographing the signs, someone will walk by, shrug their shoulders, or say, ‘Goddammit, when did that happen?’ There’s a sense of loss and sometimes shock—that something they expect to see there isn’t coming back.”
Between 2001 and 2013, Moss calculates, the number of small stores that closed in New York had been in business for 7,000 years—and those are only the businesses he tracked or was tipped off about. The real number, he thinks, is even higher. Some owners died, he concedes, but most of those businesses were forced out by rent hikes.
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