|Written by Administrator|
|Tuesday, December 15, 2009|
The ghosts of uptown’s past
Driving north on Broadway around W. 190th Street in Friday’s frightful chill, a heartwarming holiday tableau rolled past: a three-foot-tall menorah tied to the top of a minivan. You could tell the driver was a real believer because fluttering from the sides of the van were yellow flags emblazoned with menorahs, automotive accessories expected to be seen uptown when celebrating Dominican independence, not Jewish holidays.
But as 2009 closes out, and with it a year’s worth of economic anxiety, any sign of holiday cheer – even if it is strapped to the top of a car – is welcome insulation against what is tentatively shaping up to be a just as anxious 2010.
Judging from a Saturday evening walk around the Heights, it seems like Northern Manhattanites have been slower to decorate their homes and businesses than in past years. The stalwarts, of course, are out in force, notably Coogan’s Restaurant, Fort Washington Collegiate Church, the Washington Heights Business Improvement District and Grandpa’s Brick Oven Pizza. But overall, there seem to be fewer decorations this year.
That’s certainly the conclusion that local blogger and tweeter Manhattan’s Peak came to when surveying the local scene. Dejected by the lack of publically displayed ornamentation, particularly compared to the stories of how the community used to be a veritable “festival of lights” back in the day, she is orchestrating a good old fashion holiday lighting campaign to brighten the gloom.
Hopefully she will have more success than the business groups who could not muster support for seasonal lighting along Inwood’s commercial corridors like last year.
But perhaps this is a literal reflection of the darker mood that hangs over the community, driven largely by the very real economic concerns that weigh heavy on thousands of local residents and business owners.
We have heard countless stories about locals who have less work or no work compared to last year. This week we are also reporting on how the stocks are running low at are food pantries. One conversation from the spring stands out in my mind, chatting with the owners of De Café coffee shop on Broadway near W. 204th Street about how many of their customers were cutting back on their orders because of lost wages. A few weeks later the owners closed up shop and sold the business.
Unfortunately, this dark economic cloud has an even darker lining: the shady practices that have sustained some local businesses and careers have recently come to light.
The most prominent non-holiday date squeezed into the final weeks of the calendar is former City Council Member Miguel Martinez’ sentencing scheduled for yesterday, after this issue went to press. He pled guilty to three counts of misusing public funds in July.
Recently Martinez has been on a contrition press junket, telling anyone who will listen that he made mistakes in accepting his ill gotten gain, but maintaining that he will be remembered for his good works. This attitude was mocked in a recent edition of the Village Voice.
While Martinez’ approaching date with justice had kept the rumor mills churning all fall, the grapevine went viral last week with the district attorney’s announcement that it had indicted the owner of the new “family restaurant” D’Noche in Inwood for a failed attempt to bribe an official at the State Liquor Authority.
As the Manhattan Times contacted one community leader after another to learn more about the case, each responded with shock, not so much that a bribe was offered but that the alleged perpetrator was caught. This follows last year’s investigation into the underhanded dealings at the Harlem office of the SLA, which is where countless liquor licenses have been filed for uptown establishments in recent years.
The ensuing speculation as to who will be caught next has been as hotly debated as the value of new Yankee centerfielder Curtis Granderson.
This holiday season has also seen two prominent busts, one a drug and weapons operation centered around W. 212th Street the other the closing of Keenan’s Bar after cocaine was found in the basement.
I was reminded of how far removed city regulators and enforcement had been from Northern Manhattan during a recent tour of local empty storefronts that could serve as temporary art and performance spaces (if even the New York Times now routinely references “Inwood’s burgeoning arts community,” as it did November 29, we need to keep finding new places to showcase all our artists).
Among the most suitable spaces I saw, one used to be a nightclub – long since closed – that had been a money laundering front. Another was a basement that had illegally housed multiple residents. A third was a former “medical office” where the low ceilings – there was just enough clearance for me to walk upright – allowed for an illegally installed second floor with several “massage” rooms.
This all makes one think about how much work incoming Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance will have if he follows through on a campaign promise to open a satellite D.A.’s office in the Heights.
But in Northern Manhattan, dishonest business practices have proliferated for so long and so far under the radar that they pass for business as usual. Outgoing D.A. Robert Morgenthau built a reputation prosecuting white collar crime downtown: Vance could make his name by prosecuting Northern Manhattan’s no-collar professionals.
So far my favorite seasonal sign of the times this year, the one that best sums up what’s happening in Northern Manhattan at the moment, has been the modest “Holiday Sale” promo strung to the gate at the Sherman Avenue Town Car lot near W. 211th Street. The used car lot is currently accepting discounted deposits on the sale of livery cabs.
It’s the perfect gift for that person on your list in need of a new line of work.
The Manhattan Times is the bilingual newspaper of Washington Heights and Inwood.