The Loss Of St.Vincent’s Has Local Businesses On Life Support

When St. Vincent's closed after 160 years of serving Greenwich Village and most of downtown on the west side, no one really predicted the impact this loss would have on local business. As those of us who live in the West Village tried to adjust to frequent panic attacks and a general state of fear at the loss of the hospital and the sense of comfort we all felt knowing it was there, we had no idea that the businesses we had supported and frequented over the years would soon be gone too.

I have lived on Greenwich Ave for about 18 years, and sure I’ve seen the landscape change. I’ve seen shops come and go, endured the coffee house fads, the occasional bad restaurant, a dry cleaners here and there, these are changes you’ll see in any part of the city, but something always replaced them and quickly, not this time. As I walk around my neighborhood day after day I see another business closed or closing, and these aren’t just sterile, big chain businesses, these are friends, store, restaurant and boutique owners who’ve become a part of our lives, these people are now gone, or leaving and I want them back! Hard working people who have lost their life’s work, good people who have had to fire staff and who now have to struggle to support their families.  

Within a three-block radius of St. Vincent’s I counted at least13 empty stores; just three blocks in any direction of the monolithic, shuttered hospital…imagine that, it’s shocking. Sign painters are the only people making any money as For Rent signs litter 7th Avenue and Greenwich Avenue. We lost the most wonderful magazine and card store on 7th Avenue next to the Duane Reed and its charming owner Eddie, the deli next to that is gone too. The video store on Perry and 7th, gone…Artepasta on Bank and Greenwich has closed, the restaurant 41 Greenwich has closed, Lips moved onto greener pastures, the Petite Café is gone, Portofino Sun is closing, (will be closed when this is printed) Tah-Phoozie gifts…gone, and countless others. TRAGIC! 
 
Estimates show that since May (the hospital closed in April) at least 20 restaurants and stores of all types have shut down, that’s approximately three a month. We cant even calculate how many jobs lost that is but it’s well into the hundred’s, add that too the over 3,500 hospital employees who were laid-off and simply put, this is a neighborhood on the verge of total collapse, and there is STILL NO HOSPITAL! To make matters worse I now have to live in fear that the drab, homogenized, mallification of Bleecker Street and the itching, spreading rash of Marc Jacob’s and Ralph Loren stores that have driven out the mom and pop shops, bookstores, and boutiques over there will spill over here, stripping away any quaint and unique flavor from what’s left of this area.  
 
I went out the other day to talk to the storeowners that are left to see how they are doing and how they see their future and let me tell you, according to these folks, the future is grim! My first stop was at The Village Gift Shop where owner Nandini Shelly told me her business is off by 70% and she is months behind on her rent, she can’t foresee staying open past the New Year. Next I spoke to talk to Grettel Ramirez, she and her nephew Andy run The Original Sandwich Shop, a fantastic place and a neighborhood staple for years and years. Grettel told me their business is off by at least 50% and they have had to let go of most of their employees just to try and keep a long running, very popular, family business afloat. I also spoke to the owners of the two delis that anchor Greenwich Ave, one at West 10th and Greenwich and the other on Greenwich just west of 7th. Once thriving delis, there shelves are less stocked, the very friendly owners aren’t smiling quite as much and both told me that they have suffered a 30-40% decrease in business since April and both are working more hours then they had been, and these two men work A LOT because they have had to let go of staff. The very funny, controversial and always out spoken Ted Kefalinos of Lafayette Bakery said his business is off by 50% (by the way, his carrot cake is an art form). 
 
This list goes on and on but you get the picture. This neighborhood is being ravaged and other than the residents, few seem to care. I spoke at length with one person who does care a great deal, Tony Juliano, Chairperson and President of The Greenwich Village/Chelsea Chamber Of Commerce, he and his office are well aware of the problem and are doing everything they can to create a stop gap to the loss of local business. Juliano said the chamber, whose membership is about 85 percent small businesses, is talking to landlords about reducing or at least holding the line on commercial rents. He and his office are also creating several different programs that will help local business operators reach new markets, try and stabilize the business they have and hopefully grow their business as well. 
 
The GVCCC is really doing a great job trying to stay a step ahead of this problem, which seems to be spiraling out of control. They are working with GOOGLE® to show storeowners how to market themselves online, and there is also a Shop Local campaign starting up and a holiday gift guide that local businesses can advertise in. None of these solutions are perfect but at least they are something, and until another hospital can open (a possibility that grows less and less likely each day) or something else happens to replace the lost jobs in the neighborhood, the success of the remaining businesses is left up in the air. I applaud the efforts of Mr. Juliano and his staff for trying, something the Mayor and the State seem to have forgotten how to do. Mr. Juliano was also quick to point out the concern and efforts of Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Assembly member Deborah Glick and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who have been working on the problems of neighborhood small businesses too.  I urge all local business owners to contact the GVCCC online for a list of upcoming events and seminars which may benefit them at www.VillageChelsea.com.
 
Who could have predicted this disaster in the making, and why isn’t anyone doing anything about it? We have telethons for hurricane victims, and flood relief, we as Americans and especially New Yorkers are the first too come to the aid of other states, and countries in need, so where is the help for one of the most famous, safe and beautiful communities (not to mention populated) in not only the city, but the country and perhaps the world? How long will the Village remain safe? Empty stores and restaurants mean empty streets and at night empty streets breed crime, I fear the rate of robberies, stolen cars, and muggings will rise quickly it’s imminent.
 
Why have WE been abandoned, doesn’t anyone care that if you’re in an accident on Washington St., or you have a heart attack walking on the Christopher St. piers you could die by the time an ambulance can get to you, and then get you ALL THE WAY ACROSS TOWN to Beth Israel ? 
 
Isn’t anyone in power concerned that hard working New Yorkers have lost their livelihoods, their businesses, the chance to grow a business, employ more people, contribute to a community? This in my opinion an outrage, this neighborhood is packed with celebrities, aren’t they concerned about what’s going on in their own backyard or are they only worried about what goes on in New Orleans or Haiti? Maybe this isn’t a big enough issue to get their faces in the paper and garner a little press for themselves? Charity starts at home people and we’re losing ours by the minute!
 
 

 

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