For the past ten years or so, Moss has documented the loss of longtime small businesses and institutions in Manhattan, such as records shops, music clubs, luncheonettes, and even peepshows, on his blog, Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York. These businesses–some legendary landmarks and others everyday necessities–imbue neighborhoods and the city itself with flavor and character. They help make a block, a street, and a neighborhood unique, different, and memorable.
Moss argues–and I would agree–that these businesses are closing not due to demographic shifts, consumer tastes, or poor management but against the forces of gentrification besetting New York City (and other cities across the country and even the Western world). When another bank or chain store replaces such businesses, what remains of the texture and spirit of a neighborhood and, ultimately, the city?
An impressive crowd of students, young people, grey-haired radicals, and assorted “New York” types filled the bookstore, eager to to hear this chronicler of the endangered culture of their shared city. Housing Works quickly reached its full capacity.
Many in the audience remembered the New York captured by Moss’s book. Others, younger and newer to the city, wished to have experienced this New York. Everyone likely wondered and worried if New York still held a place for them.
Moss read from his book and fielded questions from the passionate, eager audience. Although disgusted and unsettled by the gentrification and homogenization of New York, Moss shared ideas on how activism and policy might mitigate their worst effects. Why would he continue blogging and pen a book if he didn’t believe in the possibility of positive change?
Will Vanishing New York prove to be a rallying cry or a eulogy? After I exchanged a few words with Mr. Moss and shook his hand, I left the bookstore as it buzzed with excited chatter and laughter. Outside, a crowd stood in line down the block, patiently waiting for the chance to meet Jeremiah Moss and buy his book.
Such a sight promised hope. The fight for New York’s soul might be far from over.