A lighthearted look at the news, events, culture and everyday life in New York.
By Nina Pajak
Remember when there were some stores and restaurants and bars and boutiques that weren't Duane Reade?
Yeah, me neither. But sometimes, when I'm on my way to have lunch at Duane Reade or get my hair done at Duane Reade or meet a friend for a drink at Duane Reade, I try to really pay attention to those negative spaces in between the Duane Reade and the other Duane Reade and that other Duane Reade. And it turns out that those aren't negative spaces at all: they're independently owned and operated businesses.
A who? You might ask.
You know, an "indie." A mom and pop store. A not-Duane Reade, in layman's terms. The Upper West Side in particular has seen an enormous change on this front over the years. Just in the last six months, I saw an entire block (which contained my second-favorite diner and favorite pizzeria) get wiped out in one fell swoop to make way for a giant, luxury condominium building. The block next to it had already suffered the same fate, and now I can't even remember what came before that new Duane Reade (seriously) and condos (in which I hear Matt Damon now lives—ooooooh!). I'm all for commerce in the area, and in some ways seeing giant chain stores move in is still preferable to all of the empty storefronts I'd been seeing not too long ago. But with every H&H and Silver Star Diner and clothing boutique that closes to make room for new construction and big, space-gobbling Goliaths, the neighborhood loses a little bit of charm. Also, I can knock another week off my countdown to the day we're officially priced out of the area.
I am seeing a pleasing and surprising new crop of mom and pop restaurants, food shops and other stores. But I'm very relieved to learn about the new zoning initiative which is gaining ground and now has support from borough President Scott Stringer. Essentially, the law would prevent certain types of behemoth businesses from taking over the joint by limiting street front space to 40 feet, and to only 25 feet for banks. It also might include a provision which would allow stores to have a minimum space of only 15 feet, an amount unusable for any chain but perfect for the little guys.
Naturally, the idea is being opposed by The Real Estate Board of New York and the New York Bankers Association, who issued a statement from their offices, which both happen to be located on the Death Star, "something something something Lord Vader something something gotta go watch Wall Street 2 again."
Time will tell whether this new initiative will pass. In the meantime, I have to hustle over to Duane Reade. I think my dry cleaning is ready.
Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I'm always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.
Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.
The Nina In New York Archives:
for more features.