A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 243

Thursday, December 9

In the mid-to-late 1980s, I lived on East 26th Street in Manhattan. That’s on the edge of a neighborhood known as “Kip’s Bay,” named for the pre-Revolutionary Era landholder Jacobus Kip. His estate “covered one hundred and fifty acres” of “meadow, woodland and stream” and extended eastward to a rocky indentation of the East River known for its shape as Turtle Bay, or alternatively as Kip’s Bay.

By the 1930s, when the Federal Writers’ Project put together a guide to New York City, the writers had termed much of the district “a slum.” Most of the bay had been filled in long before, and the guide reported that “El trains of the Second and Third Avenue lines thunder by constantly,” while “an endless, noisy procession of trucks” stormed over First Avenue.

During my time there, the neighborhood was a sort of Nowhere Ville—not so different in that from the area I had previously occupied, Boerum Hill in Brooklyn. (If there is a hill there, I never found it; I guess the name-givers had to pretend that the area adjacent to Carroll Gardens had some sort of distinguishing trait.)

But back to East 26th Street: My apartment there was a one-bedroom affair at the top of a four-floor walk-up. Few friends ever visited me, for obvious reasons.

On my walk home from a doctor’s appointment today, I passed by the old building. The neighborhood hasn’t really changed much. The laundromat that used to be downstairs is now a “Brazilian” beauty parlor. Two doors down, there’s a “Tipsy Scoop Barlour” specializing in “liquor-infused ice cream.” On nearby Third Avenue, the D’Agostino’s supermarket is still in place although a bit gussied up with newish plate glass windows. And the liquor store where I once got a $10 bottle of Famous Grouse scotch (on sale as a promotion) also remains. But the bars and restaurants that line Third Avenue have all changed hands or gone out of business.

Also not very far away is Gramercy Park and the tony neighborhood that shares its name. I’m sure that Gramercy retains its share of the Beautiful People, just as it did when Mayor James Harper (one of the founders of publisher Harper & Brothers) lived there in the 1840s, or when Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish was there in the 1890s. A singular aspect of the area is the exclusive and privately owned park to which only nearby residents are allowed keys. Such a shame that the dog-walkers allow their charges to foul the surrounding sidewalks!

New York will never change—and it’s in a constant state of change. The builders are still throwing up new high-rise structures in the area, particularly along 23rd Street. But will anyone choose to live in the new buildings? That matter is no closer to resolution now than it was in the year 2020, when the COVID pandemic began.

Dinner: Croque-Monsieur sandwiches, red-pepper soup, and a green salad.

Entertainment: an episode of Britbox’ policier Shetland.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 171

The former Horseman Antiques on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.

Tuesday, November 17

Recently, Emily has decided that she must have a dresser or chest of drawers in order to store her clothes more handily. (In general thanks to the lockdown, our house has become more of a furnished residence and less of a make-do, weekend getaway.) She has found a couple of such chests for sale on eBay, but they are located far away—in Florida or somewhere—and sellers do little to facilitate shipping. We might arrange for such a piece to come here on a moving van that’s loaded primarily with someone else’s stuff. But even that would be likely to cost $200 or so, and the furniture we’re seeing isn’t free—even when the seller drops the price a bunch to entice Emily.

So I woke with a thought: What about that old strip of antique stores in Brooklyn that we often went to back in the ‘90s? Does it still exist?

It seems not. A 2008 article in a small Brooklyn publication describes a guy we bought stuff from on more than one occasion: “Norman Benjamin, the owner of Boerum Hill Restoration, says his store and others are closing or have closed because of shifting consumer tastes and the ‘upscaling’ of the neighborhood. ‘Twenty years ago, every address on the block was an antique store,’ says Benjamin, who opened his store in 1979 and will continue to operate a restoration business out of the back of 375 Atlantic. ‘There were easily 30 of them.’ Benjamin notes that most of the stores carried Victorian or turn-of-the-century antiques, which he believes have fallen out of favor with many consumers who now look for mid-century pieces.”

And that article appeared a dozen years ago! A 2018 article updated the sad decline of that antique-store strip. The 18,000 square foot Horseman Antiques closed after 53 years, selling its Atlantic Avenue location for $18 million, the article says.

Apparently the industrial-antiques City Foundry still existed in 2018, as did the curio-oriented Holler & Squall. But much of the commercial space along Atlantic had been taken over by trendy restaurants and clothing boutiques. Who knows what further damage the pandemic has wrought? Many of these spaces may simply be shuttered now, with their future unclear.

What happened to the vast inventory of desks, pianos, chairs, chests, and odds and ends that once filled such stores? Some may have gone upstate to shops in towns like Hudson or to Pennsylvania. Other stuff is probably just in cobwebby basements or Salvation Army outlets.

There are still a couple of antiques shoppes out on the East End, but their wares carry steep prices. Bridgehampton once sported a whole row of antiques stores, now all but vanished. There were a few more such places in Amagansett.

And the places that do still exist are open only a few hours a day on a couple of days each week. Don’t forget your mask.

Dinner: chicken paprikash, noodles, and a green salad.

Entertainment: Episode 3 of season 5 of The Crown, and more old episodes of As Time Goes By and All Creatures Great and Small