Every weekday a copy of Gothamist Daily arrives by email. Gothamist, its Website says, is “about New York City news, arts and events, and food, brought to you by New York Public Radio.”
More often than not I just scan the headlines, but one tickled my interest last week. Written by Jeremiah Moss, the article was entitled, “The Diamond District: ‘One Of The Last New York Blocks Left In Manhattan.’”
Moss is the pen name of Griffin Hansbury, author of Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul and creator of the blog Vanishing New York. Here are two links, the first to the article in Gothamist (https://gothamist.com/arts-entertainment/diamond-district-midtown-flavor?utm_source=WNYC+%2B+Gothamist&utm_campaign=aa77cb25e2-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_65dbec786b-aa77cb25e2-85839029&mc_cid=aa77cb25e2&mc_eid=dab0647c64&utm_medium=social&utm_source=email&utm_campaign=shared_email), the second to a fascinating profile of Moss published in Financial Review (https://www.afr.com/life-and-luxury/arts-and-culture/jeremiah-moss-the-man-who-wants-to-save-the-new-york-everyone-loves-20171030-gzardi).
I share these with you because my family has a link to the Diamond District, the stretch of West 47th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. The wedding band I wear on my left hand, the wedding band and engagement ring Gilda has worn, the same for my brother’s wife and my sister, and the baubles that adorned our mother, all came from the Diamond District. But not from just any merchant of jewels along that street of treasures. Ours came from the shop our mother’s sister, Aunt Vicki, and her husband, Uncle Harry, had at 55 West 47th Street. They had prime real estate in the Diamond Exchange building—a window kiosk to dazzle the imagination of any lady and her paramour.
Fifty years ago, when I was most familiar with 47th Street, the Diamond Exchange housed a honeycombed floor of activity. It might still do so today. I do not know. Aunt Vicki and Uncle Harry relocated their business to Los Angeles in the 1970s.
For a more personal perspective, I emailed the Gothamist article to one of their sons, my cousin Stanley. Also a jeweler, Stanley shared his memories vis-a-vis those of Jeremiah Moss:
“Interestingly....this is obviously the 47th Street of today....not the 1960’s and 70’s.
“When we were there, there was no falafel and such. It was Berger’s deli, the Smokehouse restaurant or the Blarney Stone.
“The Persians came to America, especially Great Neck (where his family lived), in the late 1970’s, the Israelis in the 1980’s.
“The character of the street changed dramatically, both the people and the jewelry itself.
“Many of the sons of successful jewelers actually moved off the street and into offices upstairs, away from the “new” riffraff. LOL
“By the late 1990’s, the old timers, the Eastern European Jews....many with numbers tattooed on their arms were gone. Passed away or retired to Florida.
“Walking down 47th Street is just not the same.”
Broadway Blues: I could say the same for Broadway from 8th Street to Houston Street. It was on that stretch of pavement that my father’s factory jumped from one address to the next as his leases came up every five years or so forcing him to relocate either because the rent became too high or the landlord, in many cases New York University, opted to turn factory lofts into upscale apartments.
718 Broadway. Then 692 Broadway (above Tower Records). Then 683 Broadway. Then 611 Broadway (above what is now a Crate & Barrel). From the mid 1950s to the late 1970s the factory ricocheted along Broadway. It was one of many owned by small manufacturers sewing lingerie and knitwear in buildings 10-12 stories high with service establishments on the ground floor.
When residents, not businesses, started populating the buildings, NYU turned street level space into a shopping and restaurant mecca. Even Bloomingdale’s chose to open a store on Broadway as the retail district expanded to Canal Street.
A mall without doors. As my cousin Stan said of 47th Street, Broadway today is just not the same.
The Rent’s Too Damn High: Sunday’s New York Times provided another sad glimpse of the changing Manhattan landscape. Chelsea Convenience Hardware is closing, a victim mostly of a steep rent increase and the evolving way consumers shop (https://nyti.ms/2QGNbwA).
After reading the article, take a few moments to read some of the comments. Mom and Pop stores close not just because of rent increases, or Amazon, or competition from big box retailers. Or maybe because their service and selection were sub-par. Or a combination of all factors.
But whatever the reason(s), one cannot disagree that the landscape of a neighborhood changes. It’s just not the same.