I never thought I would see the day that Manhattan would look like Beirut.
Author Dominick Dunne wrote a book years ago entitled “Another City, Not My Own” about his return to Los Angeles after years of being away. It has been four months since the Membership Night at the Met Breuer, and I swear it was almost surreal going back into New York City for the first time in over four months. I felt like I was in exile.
First barely anyone was on the bus into New York. I was one of about seven people on the bus that had to stop in Union City, NJ first before getting into Manhattan. It was strange to see everyone with masks on. It was a real eye opener. I felt like I was entering a different world and you could feel it when we arrived in Port Authority Bus Terminal. I had never seen the terminal so quiet in all my years coming into the City. Even late at night when I used to take the 12:20am or 1:20am buses out of Manhattan, there will still people all over the place at night.
When you get into Port Authority Terminal, there is not a lot of people hanging around anymore. All the stores and restaurants are closed except for a few fast-food coffee places as not everything has opened up yet. Coming out of the terminal, there are no longer the crowds hanging out outside the terminal like there used to be. Everyone is on their way to where they have to go.
I started my walk up Eight Avenue past all the bodegas, fast food restaurants and many closed hotels. This stretch of Avenue was very quiet and because of the recent protesting and looting due to the George Floyd incident in Minneapolis, the Theater District was completely fenced off. You could not walk through that section of the neighborhood. There were a few fast-food places open for takeout and the popular Shake Shack, the upscale hamburger restaurant, was open for takeout and going strong with the few tourists and businesspeople in the area.
Some businesses were still closed and boarded up due to the nights of looting the first week of June during the protests. Plywood covered some of the smaller stores and hotels while most everything else was either starting to open up or opened. This was a very different scene from a week ago.
When I arrived at Columbus Circle, my end point for the project on the West Side, Columbus Circle Park has fencing and guard rails around it. They were trying to protect the statue of Christopher Columbus that stands tall atop a pedestal.
Columbus Circle in its better days
All over the county, people are vandalizing statues of what they conceive as ‘controversial’ historical figures and Christopher Columbus seems to now be a major target. The statue, created by artist Gaetano Russo, was donated by Americans of Italian descent and lead by publisher Carlo Barsotti, was dedicated in 1892 on the 400th Anniversary of Columbus arriving in the New World.
Artist Gaetano Russo
Now the statue, fountain and park are behind fencing to keep vandal from defacing the statue. It is a sad day in this Country when people try to ‘erase’ history because they do not agree with it. Trust me, the police were all over Columbus Circle.
The Christopher Columbus Statue at Columbus Circle
It was even stranger as I walked down 59th Street toward Fifth Avenue. All the hotels were boarded up on the lower levels, the apartment buildings had guards inside and out and to see plywood across the Plaza Hotel and the Park Lane Hotel it almost makes me wonder what Leona Hemsley, who once owned the hotel, would say? The guards and the doorman were standing tall in front of the hotels trying to direct people.
Turning the corner to Fifth Avenue was very calming. All over Fifth Avenue merchants were either taking down the plywood or had taken it down by Monday afternoon when I started my walk. Just six days earlier, businesses were scrambling to put the boards up and now they were taking them down. The guards were still there but there was security inside and out in stores up and down Fifth Avenue.
Bergdorf-Goodman with plyboards (has since come down)
The new Nordstrom Department Store that opened on Broadway was just taking the last of their plyboards down when I took a quick on Broadway to see the store. By the time I passed The Plaza Hotel, Bergdorf-Goodman and the Apple Store had either taken their boards down or were just finishing. Walking further down Fifth Avenue, the condition of the shopping area went block by block.
Fifth Avenue boarded up (still up at the time of this writing)
The exclusive stores on one side of St. Patrick’s Cathedral were still boarded up and Saks Fifth Avenue had taken all the plyboards down but still had guards all around the store. Even Rockefeller Center which just five and a half months ago was mobbed with people for the holidays was fenced off with guards and police all around it. You could only see the fountain in the distance.
Fifth Avenue north of St. Patrick’s Cathedral (still up at the time if this writing)
Saks Fifth Avenue had been really closed off with plywood on the doors and windows and barbed wire against the building. Armed guards with watch dogs monitored the store for several days. When I got there on Monday, the guards and dogs were still there but the boards were taken down, but the store still looked eerie.
Saks Fifth Avenue boarded up (has since come down)
The guards did not look like anyone’s fools, and I walked by quickly on my way down Fifth Avenue to East 44th Street. The Cornell Club which is where I work when I am in Manhattan working on the blog, was closed tight and would not be opening according to the sign until July 1st. Across the street from the club, the headquarters for Brooks Brothers Men’s store, which just declared bankruptcy, was still boarded up tight like that whole section of Madison Avenue. Madison Avenue also was just opening up the afternoon I was in Manhattan.
From East 44th Street, I walked down Fifth Avenue through the old shopping district below East 42nd Street and it was sad to see the old Lord & Taylor building being torn apart for an office building. A company that has been in business since 1826 declared bankruptcy and will be liquidated as soon as stores are allowed too fully open. This was a company that was once one of the best women’s stores in the world reduced to closing because of bad management.
Even Lord & Taylor could not get a break from all this
I rounded the corner at West 34th Street to see Macy’s Herald Square, where I had worked for four years back in the 1990’s when the neighborhood was not that great. The store had just taken the plywood off the store and the windows that were damaged on the night of the looting a week ago had been replaced. There was security and guards all around the store and strangely enough people were eating their lunch in the plaza by Herald Square like nothing had happened a few days earlier.
Macy’s Herald Square boarded up (has since come down)
I could not believe what I saw on TV the night it was being looted and there were small fires outside the store. I had been working at the store during the Rodney King riots, the first attack on the World Trade Center and the problems in Crown Heights but I never thought I would see anything like this as the neighborhood is far better today than it was back then.
Macy’s the night of the looting a week ago
I never thought I would live to see this at a store I worked at for four years
As I walked by the store filled with colorful displays and ‘reopening soon’ signs you would have never known any of this had just happened a week earlier. People were just walking along the sidewalks like it was a regular day.
My walk continued down Seventh Avenue past the Fashion Institute of Technology, which was all boarded up since the campus is closed for classes and guards were all over the place. Here and there small restaurants and shops had now opened for curve side business and deliveries.
I crossed over to West 23rd Street to Ninth Avenue and again small take out places had reopened and drug stores were buzzing with people. There was a lot of people walking around in the neighborhood, taking to one another or walking their dogs. I walked past Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen which was gated at that time as service ended at 1:00pm and there was newsletters and posts on the fence that dated back to March 13th when the Soup Kitchen closed for business.
I walked up Ninth Avenue and crossed over again onto West 38th Street to where all the reasonable restaurants and take out places who cater to the Garment District are located. Most were closed for business but there were still a few Chinese places still open to the workers in the area.
I walked back into Times Square and took the subway to Chinatown. Now that was unusual. The platform had about four other people on it and it was spotless. There were no homeless people hanging around and the everything was very clean. I took the N Subway downtown and the car was spotless as well. I had never seen such a clean subway car. There was only two of us on the car and he was about ten feet away from me. We got to Chinatown the quickest I ever had in all the time I took the subway. Another eerie thing was all the posters on the walls of the subways were dated back from either February or March. By Chinatown, there is still a poster for a failed Christmas film.
Chinatown in lower Manhattan is usually a bustling neighborhood where you can barely walk the streets because there are so many people on the sidewalks. The sidewalks are usually lined on all sides by fruit and vegetable vendors and people selling prepared foods. I had not seen the neighborhood this quiet ever. Even when I visited Chinatown after 9/11 for my birthday dinner it was not this quiet. Almost all the businesses were still closed.
Mott Street which is the heart of Chinatown was deserted. Most of the popular restaurants and take out places were closed. Wonton Noodle Garden, my go to place for Cantonese Wonton Soup, was just doing takeout and delivery. It is hard to believe the last time I had eaten there was March 9th and it was almost empty then.
Most of Mott Street and the side streets were closed for business.
It was strange to walk down a street of closed restaurants and stores. Unlike Little Italy located across Canal Street, they have never closed Mott Street down for outside dining. There were a few restaurants opened here and there and I was surprised that Chinatown Ice Cream Factory on Bayard Street was open that afternoon and they looked busy.
I walked all over the neighborhood and one after one of my favorite spots to eat where either closed down or were in the process of opening up again. There were not too many choices to eat at in the late afternoon. Still, I walked to Chrystie Street and my old standby, Chi Dumpling House at 77 Chrystie Street A, for some fried pork and chive dumplings ($2.00). I swear that just cheered my up after everything I saw.
Chi Dumpling House at 77 Chrystie Street
I sat in Sara Delano Roosevelt Park and just enjoyed the warm sunny day. The food at Chi Dumping House could put a smile on anyone’s face. These plump pork and chive dumplings are perfectly fried and crisp and crackle when you bite into them. With a little hot sauce, it was the perfect meal.
The dumplings here are so good
The people who were walking around seemed happy to be outside and that there was calm in the air. It was a beautiful sunny day and people were sitting and talking, jogging around the park and talking to their kids. There was some normalcy in the world that afternoon.
As I traveled back down Canal Street, I needed something sweet to finish off the meal and everyone one of my favorite bakeries was closed so I tried New Cameron Bakery at 242 Canal Street.
New Cameron Bakery at 242 Canal Street
The selection was pretty small that afternoon and I chose one of their Sweet Topped Buns ($1.35). A couple of bites of that and it really made the afternoon.
The sweet topped bun
Before I took the E Subway back up town to leave the Manhattan, I took a quick stroll through SoHo (South of Houston), which once upon a time when I was growing up was a manufacturing district and then was an artist enclave in the late 70’s and through the 80’s. By the 2000’s, it had become an extremely expensive and exclusive neighborhood. After a night of looting and stealing, the whole neighborhood boarded up.
SoHo boarded up
I had not seen the neighborhood look like this since the 1970’s and I can’t believe it looked the same when I was a kid. I have to admit the graffiti on the plywood was interesting but not something I really wanted to see here now.
This was truly pathetic
It is a sad day when you see human nature at its worst but I am still convinced that there are more good people in this world then bad and I still think we are winning!
Places to eat (that are open):
Chi Dumpling House
77 Chrystie Street A
New York, NY 10002
Open: Sunday-Saturday 10:00am-10:00pm
My review on TripAdvisor:
My review on DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com:
New Cameron Bakery
242 Canal Street
New York, NY 10013
Open: Call the bakery at this time
My review on TripAdvisor:
Videos from that night you would not believe:
Human Nature at its worst
People destroying their own city
Human Nature at its best:
Thank you for speaking for all of us! God Bless you!