Tag Archives: Alphabet City

You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one

5 Jun

In my class, one of the large projects we’re working on is about the 2010 census. We’re angling it as a perception versus reality type of thing, meaning we’re on the streets digging around to see what people THINK happened in the census over the past 10 years (perception) as compared to what the numbers tell us (reality).

A map of East Village on a wall in the journalism institute.

My class is covering two sections of East Village. The sections are called “tracts.” That being said, this next bit is for my curious New Yorkers. Everyone else, don’t worry about the coordinates. It’s really not vital to your¬†understanding, and it’s pretty confusing if I do say so myself.¬†The first, Tract 20, spans from Avenue D to FDR Drive, then East 6th Street to East Houston Street. The second, Tract 38 covers 9th Street to 3rd Street, then 1st Street to the Bowry (or 3rd Street).

So, more or less, we’re talking two areas that are a few blocks long and wide.

Professor Latty assigned each of us a different angle to cover. Mine was to talk to businesses that had been around the neighborhood forever- mom and pop shops- and to find out how they’d seen the neighborhood change.

Based on my recent Flower Stall find, I was more than happy to accept this challenge, having an excuse to wander the village for hours.

My friend Nadine and I tackled this task together, because her job was to cover new businesses, which, consequently, were often located right next to the old ones.

We started on Tract 38. This is truly the heart of East Village. It’s a well off neighborhood, with numerous shops and restaurants. NYU has buildings not too far from this area, and we had a lot of ground to cover.

Here's the VMA from The Ramones, conveniently located on the right as you enter the store.

My favorite find of the day was a store called Trash & Vaudeville, located on 4 St. Mark’s Place. Apparently, I’ve been out of the rock n’ roll loop, because this place is famous. Like, really REALLY famous. It’s been around since 1975.

Let me paint this picture for you: the shop is right next to a really popular bar, so there’s a lot of traffic. When you walk in, you’re greeted by people who are true rock n’ rollers. I’m talking spiked hair, studded belts, mohawks, band shirts, spandex…you name it, they’ve got it.

Then, you have one of two options. If you look to the left, you’re facing a wall of photos of celebrities who have been in the store. The one that stuck out to me was Avril Lavigne. If you look to the right, you’re facing a VMA belonging to The Ramones (that’s right…a Video Music Award. As in, MTV) in a glass case. So, regardless of the decision you make, you’re going to find something fascinating.

The outside of Trash & Vaudeville, along with Jimmy.

Then, the store goes back for what seems to be the rest of the block. So basically, this place is huge. Not to mention the downstairs.

I approached one of the employees, explained myself, and was told to wait for Jimmy, who could tell me more about the store than anyone. Jimmy was pointed out to me, and he was on the sidewalk talking to customers, convincing more and more people to come into the store.

I knew I was in for quite the interview, so I waited. And waited. And waited. After about 20 minutes, a frazzled Jimmy tells me he “needs a minute to get his thoughts together” and then he could talk.

I was so intrigued at this point I can’t even explain it. So, I looked around the store and waited for Jimmy to collect himself.

Once he finally finds me, we go out onto the balcony and I ask him one simple question: “How have you seen the East Village change since you’ve been working here?”

Jimmy looks at me, sighs, and proceeds to tell me my question was boring.

I won’t lie, I was a little taken aback because I really didn’t know how to reword the question to catch Jimmy’s attention. So, I asked him what he would like to tell me about.

He went on to explain the history of the shop and how “everyone that’s anyone in the rock n’ roll world comes here to shop.” He told me his frustrations about the “monstrosity of a vacant building” that’s next to his shop, and how the neighborhood’s economic status has shifted.

He shared with me his feelings on the lack of diversity in the East Village. (This statement was really surprising to me, but Jimmy knew what he was talking about.)

He then told me how everything has become so over priced and expensive that only a certain type of person can even afford to live on the block anymore. That’s where the loss of diversity comes from.

“If you go uptown, all you see is a velvet rope or an $8 cappuccino- which isn’t necessarily bad- but it’s a change from how things used to be,” he said.

At first, I didn’t understand where Jimmy was coming from, but he painted a picture of East Village that was so vivid I couldn’t help but feel like I was there. He told me of the local beat cop that would walk around the block everyday and that knew everyone’s name. He told me of the old men that used to sit across the street and play checkers day in and day out, and he told me of his personal struggle to make it in New York.

That visit really opened my eyes to what people who have truly grown up in East Village see as compared to what outsiders see.

I went to a few more shops, some sharing Jimmy’s opinion and some believing that East Village really hadn’t changed much. It was interesting to hear stories and step back in time to what East Village used to be.

After spending a few hours wandering around Tract 38, we made our way to Tract 20- which is in Alphabet City.

I won’t even lie, I was a little intimidated going to the rougher part of town. Avenue D is where the projects are located, and it doesn’t exactly have the best reputation.

The few shop owners that spoke enough English to talk to us (it’s a mainly Hispanic neighborhood…I knew I should have paid better attention in Spanish class back in elementary school…) told us that basically what you see is what you get.

One shop owner in particular said that seeing white people was very unusual in that side of town.

Though we were in the same village, Tract 20 felt worlds away from Tract 38.

A story that began with a few statistics about vacancies in each tract turned into a story of diversity and change in the East Village. Without going out to talk to these people, I never would have learned that two neighborhoods a few blocks apart could be so different.

There is one common thread amidst all of these differences, however.

Each and every person I spoke to told me of a dream they had. Whether it was for the neighborhood, like the store owner in Tract 20 who told me he hoped crime rates would diminish so Alphabet City could be a more welcoming place, or Jimmy in Tract 38 who told me of his journey in the rock n’ roll world, East Villagers, along with everyone else in the world, are people with hopes and dreams just waiting to come true.

I think Jay-Z says it best: “Concrete jungle where dreams are made, there’s nothing you can’t do…”

Here’s to New York, dreams waiting to come true, and rock n’ roll!

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