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Nadine has lived in the East Village for almost four decades and has witnessed her neighborhood evolve from a low-rent, drug-infected zone to one filled with luxury high rises and major retailers. Here are Nadine’s thoughts on the East Village’s metamorphosis and its impact on its long-time residents.
I have lived on East 14th Street for the last 30 years and prior to that I lived on East 13th Street for eight. I consider myself a barnacle on the East Village—thanks to rent stabilization.
My first East Village apartment was shared with a roommate in a tiny apartment we fondly named “Purple Nirvana” because we had painted the whole thing that color. At the time I was on a 10-year-waiting list for an apartment in Peter Cooper Village/Stuyvesant. When I finally got the call, I was ready and off to East 14th Street I went.
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Back then, my mother was nervous she could never visit me because the area seemed so dangerous. She wasn’t wrong: The neighborhood was a drugged-out war zone by night and a seedy, rundown, low-end retail extravaganza by day. The thought that New York University would one day build dorms there would have seemed ludicrous. After all, no good parent would even consider having their kid live anywhere east of Third Avenue at the time.
Still, I finally felt grown up. I had an apartment in a building with an elevator! Living on the 11th floor I even had a view!
The area was filled with small mom-and-pop shops, like Raul’s Candy Shoppe, which has since closed.
I owned a large car and battled with Raul for years over parking spots. Raul basically moved into his car every other day for two hours in observance of alternate side parking regulations and wouldn’t allow other drivers to park on his side of the street. Annoying, for sure, but this was the type of NYC character that made me not want to live anywhere else.
However, things began changing and developers descended on the area. As a result, luxury housing and fancy shops are everywhere. One might think that living next to tonier stores and moneyed tenants would be an upgrade over the junkies and less-than-sparkling shops, but that is not necessarily true. There are pros and cons.
Jump to 2019 and the East Village has exploded into a million different retail ventures. I now live next to the likes of Trader Joe’s, Target and a new subway station entrance for the L train on East 14th Street and Avenue A. Residents are flocking to live here now that the nether region of Manhattan is reachable by subway—everyone wants a piece of it. It’s crowded and overwhelming.
While these new things certainly can make my life easier in many ways—transportation and affordable wares—there are indeed downsides.
For many years, the sleepy, bucolic landscape of Peter Cooper Village/StuyTown was the only attraction this far East. There were no supermarkets for many years and the only groceries available were those that were sold by the 24-hour bodegas. In the ’90s The Associated Supermarket on First Avenue was a game changer. But not like Target and Trader Joe’s are.
Sadly, this year after more than 25 years in business, the Associated Supermarket finally closed its doors—it was no match for the Trader Joe’s coming across the street and a new Target on the opposite corner. This was big business coming in to bulldoze the current competition quite literally. Ironically the low prices in these two newcomers are unrivaled and therefore very welcome. However, they lack a certain character or “flavor” that had become synonymous with our nabe. That is a loss.
Along with all this fanfare came nightmare construction, never-ending noise, and constant traffic. To make matters worse—a large and very ugly work site was set up for the construction crews that all StuyTown residents residing on 14th Street are faced with every time we leave our buildings. The street right outside my building now faces a large, ugly wall, which blocks the light. This disaster has been going on for the last year and a half.
We are still unable to open our windows because of the pollutants in the air, not to mention that Con Edison is just a hop, skip and a jump away on East Fourteenth and Avenue C. I would not be surprised if the asthma rates in this part of town are significantly higher. I am now on an inhaler for my symptoms.
The question now is: Which is better: The quiet, peaceful Village that once was (minus the drug activity) or the big money business across the street? On one hand Trader Joe’s offers exciting new and healthy food options for lower prices, especially to the existing elderly population, which was not always available to them due to lack of accessibility and distance. Now that these options exist across the street many older StuyTown residents are enjoying the diversity of exotic choices and lower prices. Similarly, having a Target close by means we can get what we need without shopping online or lugging heavy bundles from further away.
On the other hand, the area has become less of a community and more like an anonymous shopping mall.
No matter, I’m sure more and more changes will happen. Such is life. I have no plans to leave, come what may. I am a resilient New Yorker. Vive La East Village!