Village Memories

The Greenwich Village stores and institutions that I grew up with in the 1960s are, for the most part, gone. But there have always been a few locales that have been in place for so long that you think they’ll exist forever…nothing is forever, not even Jon Vie, the local Sixth Avenue bakery with a city-wide reputation. Back in the days when roller skates were metal contraptions with four wheels that you fastened onto your saddleshoes and tightened with a key, I would roll around the corner, look in the bakery window, and one of the counter ladies would come to the door with a free cookie. One by one, the ladies retired and new clerks came and went, but the bakers remained and their rye bread and challah was the best in town. Now, I’m sad to report, it’s a store called Jeans USA stocked with brand new apparel made to look old.

Some of the long-gone landmarks that I remember include

    the Women’s House of Detention, a hi-rise jail built in the 1930s that rose above the old courthouse and took up the rest of the block from ninth to tenth street on the West side of Sixth Avenue, and from which windows the inmates would hollar to people in the street below. The Jefferson Market Courthouse was built in the 1870s by Vaux and Withers, and its famous facade, including the clock tower, still stands — now it’s the Jefferson branch of the New York Public Library, and the demolished prison is now a garden.

    Sutter’s Bakery on the northeast corner of Tenth Street and Greenwich Avenue where it was a treat to sit at one of the cafe tables and have a sandwich for lunch — now it’s a party store;
    International, just south of the south-west corner of Sixth Avenue and Thirteen Street, was a supermarket where I used to clerk; now it’s a Rite Aide. For a while there was a store on the corner where I would pour over huge Singer and McCall’s pattern books; I liked to sew. Across Sixth Avenue was a tiny little grocery/deli called was Smilers, where I used to buy the best rare roast beef sandwiches on rye break with Russian dressing, or Bialis for Sunday brunch. I think it became a Korean market (now closed and for rent) or maybe it was where the stationary store is – it’s hard to remember.
    Shopping for gifts was best accomplished at the Japanese store on Sixth Avenue, between Ninth and Tenth Streets, I think, where I could buy tea cups or pretty rice paper note cards, lanterns, or paper-covered boxes for cuff links and such. Then there was Fred Leigton’s on Eighth Street, where I was more likely to leave with a peasant blouse for myself than a present for someone else, or Papier Marche over on Greenwich Avenue, or in one of the many jewelry stores along those routes.
    Lowe’s movie theatre took up the whole triangular block bordered by Twelfth street, Seventh and Greenwich Avenues. It was there that I saw many a movie for 75-cents to a dollar-fifty, and paid 25-cents for a bag of popcorn. Across Twelfth Street was the Maritime building with windows made to resemble portholes — now part of the expanded Saint Vincent’s Hospital.

Expansion seems to be the name of the game, and I guess it’s a sign of prosperity, at least for those doing the expanding. The movie house on Fifth Avenue between Twelfth and Thirteenth Streets was taken over by The New School many years ago. Now I find that the bank where I had my first accounts has moved and that corner is being renovated for The New School. In fact, Walking about the Village I find lots of buildings now bearing the name of either The New School or New York University. I also see way too many nail shops, hair salons, and drugstores all within a few short blocks of one another. Ansonia drugstore on Tenths Street and Sixth Avenue has probably been there for more than fifty years (I can personally attest to at least forty-five), and Bigelows a block and a half south is ancient too. Both used to have a soda fountain, and I loved Ansonia’s root beer floats and Bigelow’s butterscotch sundays. But what I miss most is the diversity of all the little shops and unique stores.