Main Street NYC: The Bowery, Manhattan

Friday, March 20, 2009

WNYC's Brigid Bergin takes us to a five-block stretch of the Bowery, from Houston to Delancey streets. The street is still home some century-old institutions like the Bowery Mission and specialized retail districts for restaurant supplies. But in recent years, an influx of new businesses along with cultural destinations are reshaping the neighborhood's economy and streetscape.
A New Life for the Bowery? by Brigid Bergin

The Bowery Mission was founded in 1879 and has been at this location since 1909.

The red doors open to a chapel where services are held daily. When the temperature dips below 40 degrees, the Mission staff opens the space for homeless men to sleep. The black doors lead to the Fellowship Hall, a cafeteria and kitchen that serves hot meals 365 days of the year. The Mission is privately funded and owns its buildings.


Alejandro Romero, 39, came to the Bowery Mission in July. He is a student in what they call their fellowship program. It's a six month substance abuse rehabilitation program for men. The students live on the upper floors and are required to work full time, doing everything from unloading the food trucks to taking out the garbage.


Herb Curruthers, 56, cooks meals at the Mission. He first came to the Bowery as a client 16 years ago after spending 8 years in jail. He's since gone to culinary school and has become a chef.

Here's Herb's story


Bari Pizzeria and Restaurant Equipment at 240 Bowery is one of the largest restaurant supply stores on the block.


Nicholas Carone's father owns the store, and he says he grew up there. Carone says business is down, but the family is renting out an unused storefront across the street to make up the difference. The family also owns the Sunshine Hotel, a single room occupancy hotel above the empty storefront.


The seven-story New Museum opened in December 2007. The project was actually some 20 years in the making. While Soho's once thriving gallery scene has been largely displaced by high end retailers, a new crop of galleries have been emerging on or near the Bowery.


>>Listen to Soterios Johnson's tour of the New Museum, with Museum Director Lisa Phillips.

Across the street from the museum is Green Depot. It's at 222 Bowery in what used to be the city's first ever YMCA. Beatnik writer William Burroughs is said to have had an apartment there in the 1970s.


Green Depot's owner and founder Sarah Beatty says the street's history is part of what attracted her to the neighborhood. Beatty first got involved in green business when she was having her first child.

The store sells a variety of housewares, design materials and cleaning supplies. It's basically a crunchier version of Home Depot.

250 Bowery is supposed to be the future site of a luxury green hotel (sensing a theme here?). But there's no construction at the site right now.

Joseph Ayoub:


Joseph Ayoub is a senior project manager for Foundations, the company that's managing the construction site. He says the project has faced many challenges. Now with the economy, it's not clear when, or if, the hotel will go up.


The feeling of uncertainty is not unique to the Bowery, but the sense of which direction this main street will go.... returning to its rough and tumble 20th century identity or picking up where developers left off... is what we'll be watching.


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Comments [9]

WNYC - WNYC News Blog » Main Street NYC

[...] Main Street NYC: The Bowery, Manhattan [...]

Dec. 18 2009 05:44 PM
WNYC - WNYC News Blog » Main Street NYC: The

[...] Skid Row, which now teeters between commericialization and gentrification.  But as several listeners noted, the street’s  legacy runs deep . [...]

Apr. 03 2009 10:30 AM
M Heyer

what a great overview of different things going on, old, new and possibly future in this hustle-bustle neighbourhood.

While I can appreciate the previous commenters love for the area, I am not quite sure how anyone would have wrapped the apparent and entire complexity of the Bowery, which can fill a book and then some, into a 5 min piece? The piece gave an overview, introduced different aspects, eras, people and parts of the community. I enjoyed learning about these slices of the big pie and look forward to hearing more in the future!

Mar. 27 2009 10:01 AM
K Webster

Thanks Editor. We look forward to the next installment!

Mar. 26 2009 08:59 PM
John Campo

This myopic report just adds to the woes of the Bowery. I as a supporter of WNYC expect better reporting than this from a community funded radio station. I have lived on the Bowery for 40 years as a Professional musician - writer and as a Bowery resident I have had to endure the stereotype bigotry imposed on honest people trying to raise family's and make a living outside of the norm.
The final product is seen as a Museum when most of the artist have long gone basically forced out by such places. Artist like Jasper Johns - Robert Indiana, Robert Frank, William Burroughes, Danny Simore, Mike & Randy Brecker, Sam Rivers, Armand Fernandez, Maizel, Mya Lin, and many other that came to the Bowery to remain annon's in a world where they wouldn't be pestered. Great names aside the Bowery and any other neighborhood in NYC are just that, families, and the small business that make up a place where people fight to be a community. As a resident you always vie between the tourist business and the neighborhood business, in so far as you are always treated like a tourist in most shops no matter how long you live here. This is the story. How does a someone live his whole life raise his family normally like any where USA in a place that is know either as Skid Row or a place where you can piss in a doorway after a night at a trendy bar. Does the city want to help the Bowery reform by giving out more Liquor licenses? And how does a addict feel seeing his life story played out anew by the next generation of losers in front of his eyes nightly. That is a story. Maybe the reporter would have been better served to visit the 5th precinct and ask what the police think of the new gentrification. It is obvious that someone has an idea of what the Bowery should become although while groups like the Bowery alliance of neighbors remain a whisper.
I see another Bowery one that can grab the moment of the time and change not for bridge and tunnel bar goers that scream, stab, and shot each other until daylight, but a place that theaters and their actors, Music venues and their musicians, Sculptors, painters, and photographers and their galleries, Families and their children can live in an environment of human scale for gentlemen and gentlewomen. Maybe a tree that is treated with respect. Maybe a place where you can cross the street without being in fear of your life. Maybe bollards so trucks can't park on the sidewalk. Maybe enforcement of the laws like - No engine idling - No horn honking -
No killing Trees - No washing resturant equipment on the sidewalk. Maybe some green spaces where neighbors can sit and talk and enjoy life. That is what we all want isn't it? A city where we can enjoy the excitement of the great vibe caused by people in interaction without making someone's A-list...
Common people for a common cause now that is the WNYC I thought you were. Leave the sensationalism to Fox.

Mar. 21 2009 02:08 PM

this reporter, brigid bergin, seems to have left out a large segment of residents - some of whom have lived here for decades (including myself), and are not the 'down and out' guys solely - and stereotypically -focused on.
my other neighbors -- yes brigid, this area is a neighborhood -- are a stable community of long term residents and commercial establishment districts; lighting, restaurant supply, and jewelry -- with many, many residents in the arts - literary and visual - waaaaay before the new museum was even conceived!!
with a socioeconomic bracket from high to low, The Bowery represents the diverse facets which form the fabric of our city.
the existing buildings have pedigrees of 100 -200 years of age - a repository of our city's legacy, our historical roots! it is shameful to witness those who myopically would cause this to be lost to succeeding generations!!
so there is all this, and much more, to The Bowery which an observant and not solely agenda-driven reporter could have, and should have, included.

Mar. 21 2009 01:49 PM

The East Village History Project currently has a new free exhibit on the history of the Bowery from 1783 to the present, including address-by-address particulars, obscure and renowned, to provide New Yorkers with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the significance of this oldest of New York's streets. It was once the city's theater and red light district; both Tammany Hall and the gangs of New York operated out of its saloons.

When Broadway was the thoroughfare of the elite, the Bowery was for everyone else: curiosity 'museums' next to whorehouses next to immigrant banks next to flophouses next to theaters...Jim Crow was a minstrelsy character created for the Bowery stage. The oldest brick house in New York is on the Bowery. Vaudeville, Yiddish theater, magicians, fortune-teller/panderers -- you name it, the Bowery had it.

At the new East Village Visitors Center in the Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery. Opens mornings around 11am. Free -- it's in a tiny exhibition space/alcove between the cafe and the bar. It's not MOMA or the Met, but there's plenty of surprising historical information and it's nicely mounted.

Also, the East Village Visitors Center is holding its opening party April 3, 6-7:30, all welcome!

We've got much, much more address-by-address research on the Bowery on our website:

Mar. 20 2009 08:28 PM
K Webster

The Bowery is a big place. An astonishing neighborhood of complex communities and interests: SRO tenants, families in tenements, artists in lofts, kitchen suppliers, lighting stores, missions to those in need, gardeners, theaters, and cultural institutions. Asian American Arts Center, Bowery Poetry Club, Bowery Mission, Liz Christy Garden, Dixon Place, CBGB’s, Amato Opera, and many more are/were institutions in this still gritty part of town.
Some try to redefine The Bowery by their arrival here. You might want to dig just a bit deeper for the full story. The New Museum plasters its logo up and down the street (even in front of local art institutions). It paves over the remains of an African Burial ground in its rush to be built. As for being surprised at the gentrification that followed its arrival, I quote a museum official (NYTimes 3/28/07: “once the new building opens, it will change the complexion of the Lower East Side”. Ms. Phillips wasn’t ever “alone” there were many arts institutions long before hers showed up. The “Green” hotel that purports to showcase living “green”? The small business next door had to be evacuated after the “green” demolition of a perfectly fine building to make way for the new hotel. (BTW: that is why it hasn’t been built – still sorting that out!). The Bowery’s Liz Christy garden, the grandmother of East Village Gardens, has been a fine showcase on living green over the past 20 years. The Bowery suppliers who own the SunShine Hotel? They had to be taken to court to protect the rights of their SRO tenants to stay in their homes of the last three decades or so.
What is slowly fading with the new onslaught is the delightful, irreverent cacophony of a working community that grows by that indefinable magic of people creating a place for their neighborhood and neighbors. You can’t fake that and you can’t create it by following “market” trends. Hence the collapse of such failed strategies writ large on the national and international front.
There is hope however. I noticed the relocation of a local lumber store on our illustrious street. A return to something real?

Mar. 20 2009 11:54 AM
WNYC Newsroom

One editorial note: this piece is the first in a series. Future stories will cover other dimensions of the Bowery including stories from residents. Your ideas and input are welcome. Please keep submitting your feedback.

Mar. 19 2009 09:46 AM

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