The other day I was walking with my dog Sam the Lab along Lexington Avenue when I noted the remains of another local institution, the toy shop Mary Arnold that had been delighting kids and serving parents in that spot for over thirty years. What was left were the forsaken paper decorations in the window - a huge tear of crepe paper where a toy had once lived - and a notice that the store had moved on. Swify's the little restaurant across the street was permanently shuttered. Everywhere the names and numbers of realtors decorated empty shop windows. With the disappearance of other major toy shops in Manhattan - FAO and Rappaports - Mary Arnold was the last "Mom and Pop" toy shop where you could buy a sticker or coloring book, a doll, or a tricycle, and learn the grandfatherly discipline of standing still for what seemed hours as the child tried to make up its confused but dancing mind.
A block away a store that sold hand painted Italian pottery announced its departure. The revered Shakespeare & Company bookshop has now been obliged to turn half its space into a coffee shop - how else to compete with Amazon? Travel along Lex or 3rd Avenues and you face one empty shop after another as skyrocketing commercial rents leave NY a city of banks and blanks. The antique shops are gone - death by Ebay - and the city feels smaller, not grander for these losses. Elders complain of the closing of local coffee shops, familiar places, even D'Agastino - which prided itself as New York's grocery since 1932 appears to be departing this city as one encounters the empty shelves with their message of "hanging in until a buyer is found" but not much longer.
Real estate development which helps to keep the city alive - is also the very killer of its character - replacing individual shops, eccentric and necessary stores that sold Austrian lead soldiers (no doubt poisoous but the genial companions of my boyhood) and small pastry shops that were filled with delicious Austrian, French, German, and Jewish delights - gone - gone to the Wells Fargo Bank - each branch as friendly as a hospital corridor - together with its Sister Chase Manhattan absorbs the formerly human spaces.
As an octogenariann I will be living out the rest of my life - whatever is left to me - on these very streets. Their depletion of the eye catching shops, the small bookstore, the hardware, key shops, and the plain old fashioned junk shop, makes Central Park more essential than ever - for although a Pan Quotidian bakery can take possession of one of its lakeaside shops there is no force (yet) capable of driving out the trees and supplanting them with new high-rise buildings. There are architectural monsters lurking over the park but they are denied admittance although their shadows hover over it like murderers in a BBC mystery. Other than theater - which is too expensive (I know, I know it costs a fortune to put on a show - try telling that to Micky and Judy and their barn) the museums are the anchors that are keeping NYC a wonderland - with more fascinating exhibitions than ever before. But how can the young artists afford to come to this city and enjoy its stimulating riches? Yes, it is great to love New York, but we must work together to keep the greedy who are driving out the good from loving it to death. We must defeat the Trumpian spirit not only on the ballot but in our beloved streets.