A Book From a Blogger About Disappearing New York


At Housing Works, an audience member near the door called out: “So what are we going to do?” A man behind him grumbled, “There’s nothing we can do.”

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Alessandra Montalto/The New York Times

Is this a call to action or a wake? Maybe a little of both.

Mr. Moss started out as the neighborhood curmudgeon of the internet, writing his first post, “oh Chumley’s we love you get up,” in 2007 when the Greenwich Village restaurant and onetime speakeasy closed after part of a wall and a chimney collapsed. In doing so, he created a platform for New Yorkers to gather online to mourn the demise of unofficial landmarks of commerce like the old Rizzoli Bookstore and De Robertis Pasticceria & Caffé. In the comments section, readers sometimes debate which losses deserve the collective pity party.

“Let’s be honest, for the past 15 years or so the place was packed with scumbag tourists,” a reader with the handle Gaziano wrote when Gaslight Lounge in the meatpacking district closed last winter. “Good Riddance. Goodbye.”

The blog also introduced a new generation of New Yorkers to activism. “He helped bridge the gap between people who just griped and those who are going to the meetings, going to the protests, writing letters to elected officials,” said Andrew Berman, the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

In 2014, the gripers met the activists when Mr. Moss led a star-studded campaign to save Cafe Edison, a Theater District institution, all while remaining anonymous. He would show up at events, lingering briefly in a corner. “For reasons I can’t understand, I have a tendency not to be noticed,” he said. “I often feel like I’m invisible.”

The effort to save Cafe Edison inspired lunch mobs, carolers singing about matzo balls and a YouTube video parodying Liza Minnelli and Larry King. The landlord was unmoved by the theatrics and the cafe closed anyway.

The Moss campaign “transmitted the issues to a different crowd of people than what we would do — was it more effective?” said Simeon Bankoff, the executive director of the Historic Districts Council. “Well, we still lost Cafe Edison. But did it make a bigger blow in the media membrane? I think it did.”

The Cafe Edison rescue effort spawned #SaveNYC, a social media campaign started by Mr. Moss in 2015 to defend mom-and-pop businesses. The #SaveNYC website describes the group as “a grassroots, crowd-sourced, DIY movement.”

Mr. Bankoff, whose organization gave the “Vanishing New York” blog an award in 2016, thinks of #SaveNYC as “a bunch of decentralized volunteers.” He added that Mr. Moss “almost acts as a gateway drug to further preservation activities and further community activism.”

Mr. Moss has certainly inspired some New Yorkers to engage in more than comments-section banter. Look at the interactive map, Vacant New York, which tracks empty Manhattan storefronts. It works as an unofficial visual companion to the Moss blog. “It’s important that these losses are chronicled and written down,” said Justin Levinson, the East Village resident who created the map last September and said the similar name was intentional. “Otherwise they just disappear and people forget.”

The two founders of Take Back NYC, a group that pushes for City Council legislation to protect small businesses, met through #SaveNYC. “I had always shrugged my shoulders and said, ‘This is the market, it is what it is,’” said one of them, Kirsten Theodos. “I never knew there was a solution until Jeremiah started writing about it.”

But the Moss blog and the idea that the city is being invaded by Pinkberry yogurt and overpriced condos, are not without detractors. “People have always been complaining that New York is not what it used to be,” said Ada Calhoun, the author of “St. Marks Is Dead” (W.W. Norton, 2015), pointing out that New Yorkers also complained when the street grid was designed in 1811. “Missing a period of time that you weren’t in, or that you were young in, that is an eternal New York story,” she said.

For Mr. Moss, new chapters seem imminent. His apartment building has a new landlord who “has ambitions for the place,” he said. And a developer recently bought the Union Square building where he maintains his therapy office, with plans to redevelop the property. “It’s a horrible feeling to feel like you’re not wanted here, like you’re not valuable,” Mr. Moss said.

Back at Housing Works, though, fans patiently waited in line long after Mr. Moss had finished reading, hoping for a chance to meet him before he was gone.

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