The Fight to Save New York City

Three years ago, we told you about Louis Shoe Repair (see that post below), which has been open in the same spot since 1921. We fell in love with the place, and stopped by regularly to have our shoes shined when our workplace was nearby (sadly, our offices moved way downtown over a year ago).

That shop, now in operation for 94 years, will close later this month, and not because it’s not still a viable operation—they’re doing just fine. No, they’re closing because the corporation that owns the Empire State Building (that’s where LSR is located) is raising their rent to—wait for it—$25,000 a month. For a shoe-repair shop.

This is going on all over NYC. Thriving businesses of long standing are being forced to close by rent hikes at levels that no small business could handle. This unrelenting greed is changing the very nature of the city we—and perhaps you, too—love so dearly.

There is a group that is working to get some form of protection in place for small businesses; you’ll find them on Facebook here. (You’ll also find a SaveNYC ad in the lefthand column of this site; click that to visit the group’s website.)

Do what you can. Pitch in. Write to the mayor’s office. Write to your city councilman. Tweet when the SaveNYC folks ask you to. If you love NYC, even if you don’t live here, this is your fight, too.

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This post originally appeared on May 18, 2012…

Long-time habitues of this space know that there’s no simple pleasure of which we’re more fond than the shoeshine. Few services yield as much satisfaction per dollar spent.

There are a handful of shoeshine parlors near our place of employ, but all but one, Louis Shoe Rebuilders, are dead to us now. This delightful shop, situated on the ground floor of the Empire State Building on the 33rd Street side (honestly, couldn’t we just stop right there? What more could anyone ask of a shine emporium than that it be located in the Empire State Building? But there’s much more to recommend LSR), has been in business since a decade before that storied favorite skyscraper was erected.

Heck, Louis Shoe Rebuilders predates talking pictures by six years. It opened in 1921, relocated while the ESB was erected, and then returned to 33rd Street when the construction was complete.

And yet, as with most neighborhood shine parlors, the prices remain improbably—almost impossibly—low. Had my grandfather ever made his way from Okemah, Oklahoma, to the Murray Hill section of Manhattan back in the 1920s, he would have been charged a quarter for a shoeshine. Today, the tariff is $3, which, allowing for inflation, is virtually the same price.

Consider, by contrast, the cost of a haircut and a shave. In the old days, a tonsorial two-fer ran you the same quarter one paid for a shine (remember that old jingle, “Shave and a haircut—two bits”?). Today, at the barber shop we patronize every two weeks, a shave and a haircut costs $32, tip not included—and that’s a bargain price in our neighborhood. What was the 1921 equivalent of thirty-two smackeroos? Just under three dollars. So while the price of a shave and a haircut, even allowing for inflation, has increased tenfold, while price of a shine has remained, in relative terms, level.

It’s downright miraculous.

What’s more, we very rarely find a shoe shine man (or woman) who isn’t friendly and engaging (and our experience at Louis lived up to that trend), which only heightens the pleasure taken from the experience.

As does the chance to be a relative sport, when it comes to the gratuity. Who wouldn’t pay six dollars, and happily so, for a quality shoe shine at a venerable shop the likes of Louis Shoe Rebuilders? No one but a mean-spirited cheapskate, that’s who, and that six dollars covers the price of the shine, plus a 100% percent tip.

When was the last time you tipped a bartender or a waiter 100%? Perhaps you never have. Well, you can enjoy that rarefied experience at your friendly neighborhood shoeshine stand.

The shine service at Louis is handled these days by Maria and Bolivar Gomez, a married couple in their forties who emigrated to the United States from Ecuador.

When we immediately snapped a couple of photos upon entering the shop, Bolivar shot us a glance that we weren’t quite certain wasn’t askance, so we paused and asked permission, fearing we’d made a misstep. He shrugged his shoulders, as if to say, “Take a picture if you like,” but he seemed none too happy about it. And when we stepped up and took a seat at one of the shine stations, he asked, “How many pictures did you take?”

“Just two,” we said.

“Ten dollars, please,” he said, totally deadpan.

However, Maria’s giggle gave him away immediately, and he quickly apologized for the prank.

As the pictures in the above slidshow confirm, entering Louis Shoe Rebuilders isn’t like stepping into a time machine. The shop’s got a classic look to it, but not an especially vintage one—except for one feature: Along the wall on the left as you enter is a line of small booths that each looks something like a witness stand in a courtroom.

These booths serve the purpose of affording customers—especially female patrons—and their stocking feet some privacy as they await the return of their shoes after as-you-wait repairs are performed.

Needless to say, we immediately fell in love with that row of small booths, and with this shop. And so will you, if you’ll make it a point to stop by the next time you’re in New York.

A picture of Louis Shoe Rebuilding's shine stations

Dads and Grads Love Tees!

The season of dads and grads is upon us, and let’s face it, one would be hard-pressed to name two harder groups to buy gifts for.

That’s where Cladrite has you covered. Because everyone loves a new t-shirt, especially when it comes emblazoned with a swell vintage graphic. Our motto is, “Yesterday’s T-shirts, Today!” and we’ve got retro designs by the dozen! And not just tees—we offer hoodies, long-sleeved tees, sweatshirts, coffee mugs, barbecue aprons, and much, much more!

Think of it: You could take care of every dad and every grad you know in one fell swoop! Take a peek at our wares; we think you’ll be pleased!

Images from Cladrite's design collection

Happy Birthday, Benny Goodman!

Benny Goodman, one of the true giants of American music, was born 106 years ago today.

Known as The King of Swing, Goodman is best remembered as one of the greats of the swing era in the late 1930s and ‘40s, but he began playing professionally way back in the early ‘20s. He can be heard as part of the ensemble in some of the greatest records of the 1920s and early ‘30s.

We had the great pleasure of seeing him perform at Carnegie Hall on June 25, 1982. We’d moved to New York City just four days before, and we had no business spending the money it would cost to get a ticket, but this was just the sort of opportunity that had inspired us to relocate to the Big Apple, the chance to experience the best the world has to offer in every artistic discipline. To be in the same room with the likes of Mr. Goodman and the musicians who graced the stage with him that night—Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, Panama Francis, and Phil Flanigan—as they shared their estimable gifts with the audience in that historic hall.

That was what New York meant to us then; it still does today.

After the show, we ran over to Colony Records near Times Square to buy a Benny Goodman album, with the intent of waiting by the backstage door and asking him to sign it when he came out.

That meant waiting several hours for the evening’s second show to end, but we stuck it out. Why we didn’t go find a coffee shop and have some dinner, we don’t recall. We probably thought there would be a mob of people awaiting Mr. Goodman’s appearance and figured we’d better stake out our spot as close to the stage door as possible.

But when he finally exited the Hall, there weren’t more than eight or ten people there, and he wasted no time in whisking right by every last one of us to duck into a waiting limousine.

It was disappointing, of course, that he didn’t stop to interact at least briefly with us, but hey, we can say we got to see Benny Goodman perform at Carnegie Hall and how many people can say that? What’s more, we stood not five feet from him as he exited the building and made his way home. So no regrets at all on our part, even if our LP went unsigned and our hands went unshaken.

Happy birthday, Mr. Goodman, and thanks for a wonderful evening.

Benny Goodman quote

Happy birthday, Kitty Kallen!

Kitty Kallen quoteSadly, there aren’t terribly many performers still with us who enjoyed success during the Cladrite Era—all the more reason, then, to celebrate songbird Kitty Kallen‘s 93rd birthday.

Kallen, born Katherine Kalinsky in 1922 in Philadelphia, sang on the radio as a child on a program called The Children’s Hour, which was sponsored by Horn and Hardart, the Automat people, and as a teenager, she had occasions to sing with the big bands of Jan Savitt (in 1936), Artie Shaw (in 1938), and Jack Teagarden (in 1940).

At 21, she replaced Helen O’Connell as the singer for the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, primarily performing duets with Bob Eberly. After Eberly entered military service in 1943, Kallen joined the Harry James Orchestra, with whom she sang on several hit songs, including two—“I’m Beginning To See the Light” and “It’s Been a Long, Long Time”—that reached #1 on the charts.

But Kallen’s career didn’t end when the big band era did. Her 1954 hit, “Little Things Mean a Lot,” was number one in the U.S. for nine weeks and remained on chart for nearly seven months, selling more than two million copies in the process. She had many more hits throughout the 1950s and early ’60s

She also appeared frequently on television, on Broadway in Finian’s Rainbow, in many of the world’s top nightclubs and in at least one motion picture. On her final album, Quiet Nights, she sang in the bossa nova style. A lung ailment would eventually force her retirement, but Ms. Kallen is still with us and we sincerely hope she enjoys a wonderful birthday today.