Yesterday, I walked downstairs from my apartment to discover that Mexican Radio, a restaurant next door to my apartment building whose customer I’d been since they’d opened in that location, had closed. This was the latest in a string of small business closures in my neighborhood over the last few years that included a newsstand, a laundromat, two delis and Spring Street Natural restaurant, which had been in its old location for over 30 years.
I wrote an email to Lori Selden, the owner of Mexican Radio, expressing my sadness at their closing, and the owner wrote back with a short history of her experience in the neighborhood, which I found absolutely fascinating. With Ms. Selden’s permission, I thought I’d share some excerpts from our email exchange here.
Good evening, Paul, and thank you for your sweet note.
It has been very sad and painful for us to shut the NYC doors after 21 years, 17+ at the Cleveland Place location.
We struggled for quite some time with excruciatingly high rent and overheads, not to mention just the onerous day-to-day routines that NYC requires. As a long-time resident of the neighborhood, you know all too well what we’ve been witnessing the last couple of decades and, most recently, the last five years or so. It happened to SoHo, it’s happening to the entire city—there’s just no way that small independent businesses can survive anymore.
What a different planet it was back then!
I think some our proudest (and saddest) memories are tied up in the fateful day when we all stood outside on Cleveland Place and watched The Towers fall. As you well know, our guys were all First Responders, many of whom we lost that day. The neighborhood was shut down with a Checkpoint Charlie on Houston (we would have to walk up there continually to vouch for our staff to come down into the restricted zone) and we felt honored to be able to provide a solid month of food, drink and the comfort of community to those of us living and working where the ashes fell.
When the cleanup was mostly over and the fire station received the gift of that sweet little Dalmatian, it brought a giant smile back into our lives as we all began to regroup and try to move forward.
We are both very grateful to have been in the right place at the right time.
I also asked Selden about 236 Lafayette Street, a building on the northwest corner of Lafayette and Spring Streets that had seemed mysteriously empty for years and which I was surprised some developer hadn’t bought and turned into luxury condos. She talked about that, as well.
Sam Salstein was the owner of 236 Lafayette until he passed away, and then I believe the family sold it to a developer of some sort. Sam and the guy who used to own the bank building (now Duane Reade) owned a lot of downtown real estate. In fact, the former owner of the bank building (Saul?) inherited it from his father, who bought it for like $20k in the ’40s! We had an office in that building for a short period of time back in the day.
236 was four “mini lofts,” super funky, with bathrooms in the hallway except for ours, which had been slightly improved upon at some point, so our bathroom was in the apartment. Thank goodness, as those hallways were FREEZING! At one point it had clearly been an industrial building and, as per usual, Sam put zero $$ into maintaining it, so funky it most certainly remained.
The windows facing Spring (now with the continual screen ad banners hanging) were the bedrooms and on the Lafayette side were the living room/kitchen areas above what we used to call La Cucaracha, the greasy spoon Dominican place where they played dominoes and blasted car radios all summer. Chris and Nora, who lived in the first apartment, always went crazy because the guys banged those dominoes so loudly that Nora eventually made them a felt pad to muffle the noise. It actually did help a bit! The best thing about the apartments were they got a lot of light. The worst thing was living above the 6 trains, especially when they power washed the stairs every morning around 4am right outside all our bedroom windows! We lived there for about 10 years…lotsa stories, as I’m sure you have as well.
Mexican Radio continues to operate two restaurants in Hudson and Schenectady, New York. For more information, go to www.mexrad.com.
For more posts on this blog about other New York businesses that have closed in the last few years, see also:
2016: The Year in Death (http://thegaycurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2016/12/2016-year-in-death.html)
Last Shower at Splash (http://thegaycurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-last-shower-at-splash.html)
Last Night at the Rawhide (http://thegaycurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2013/03/last-night-at-rawhide_30.html)
The Last Days of Bleecker Bob’s (http://thegaycurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-last-days-of-bleecker-bobs.html)
On the Death of Cities, Part 2 (http://thegaycurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2013/01/on-death-of-cities-part-2.html)
On the Death of Cities (http://thegaycurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2012/12/on-death-of-cities.html)