B Is For Bistro

The Bittersweet Transformation of Avenue B

Rob Rosa, whose family has owned the legitimate bodega on the corner of 12th Street and Avenue B for 15 years, also appreciates the police presence, if not the potential Big Brother menace it entails: "I used to have to call the cops every day to get the drug dealers away from the front of my store. Now they're gone for good."

Unfortunately, the new Avenue B, with its gaggle of upscale businesses and condos, has increased more than the number of plainclothes policemen on Avenue B: it has also made the property values skyrocket. David Brockman, who opened Honeymoon Antiques on Avenue B near 7th Street a year ago, says: "I still think the East Village has the same grimy unpleasantness that it had before, but rents are really high now." He tells a story of moving out of his $450-per-month apartment three years ago, and then moving into the same size apartment across the hall one year later— paying two to three times more. As Tower Brokerage's Bob Perl puts it: "To buy an apartment in this neighborhood, unless you've bought in del Este, you'd have to be earning six figures a year."

Perhaps Lakeside's Jim Marshall put his finger most pointedly on the bittersweetness of gentrification on the Lower East Side when he said: "Avenue B is dead as a creative entity. I can't say it makes me happy to see that disappear."

Distress signals: local graffiti suggests not everyone is happy about the upscaling of Avenue B.
Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein
Distress signals: local graffiti suggests not everyone is happy about the upscaling of Avenue B.

Avenue B runs through the heart of a neighborhood that has perhaps seen too many waves of immigration, too much armed conflict, and too much mass exodus. The Lower East Side is one of the places that gave the term "melting pot" its original meaning, and as such it spawned a vibrant, densely multicultural environment. But that culture, which has slowly but surely been all but lost under this most recent push toward gentrification, will likely give way to something far more vanilla and blandly all-American. So, as building and commerce proceed apace on the new Avenue B, nostalgic onlookers mourn the impending loss of a neighborhood that is both flowering and in danger of losing its soul.

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