Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle for Manhattan Loft Neighborhoods / Tribeca loses Bazzini, gains Sarabeth’s

old to new, again (and again)
The New York Observer
noted yesterday that the long-awaited lease for Sarabeth’s has been signed, signaling the end of the Bazzini presence in Tribeca. If the story sounds familiar, that’s because the family that owns Bazzini said publicly at least as long ago as this April 2009 Downtown Express article that they planned to close (“[w]e are eyeing leasing the space….A year or a year and a half from now, we could still be there”) and in October 2009 Downtown Express identified Sarabeth’s as the potential new tenant.

This story leads me to a new Manhattan Loft Guy locution about the nature of loft neighborhoods. Let’s call it “Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle for Manhattan Loft Neighborhoods”, though it probably ‘works’ equally well in describing any true loft neighborhood.

To do rough justice to the original concept from physics, we will start with a lay description from How Things Work, with some pregnant bolding:

To know the velocity of a quark we must measure it, and to measure it, we are forced to affect it. The same goes for observing an object’s position. Uncertainty about an object’s position and velocity makes it difficult for a physicist to determine much about the object.

Of course, physicists aren’t exactly throwing medicine balls at quanta to measure them, but even the slightest interference can cause the incredibly small particles to behave differently.

The Manhattan Loft Guy adaptation:

even the slightest interference increase in residential population can cause the incredibly small particles dynamic loft neighborhoods to behave differently change in ways the new residents will eventually lament

the back story
Although the Bazzini operation at Jay and Greenwich Streets has only been a cafe and retail store since 1997, the change from a Bazzini cafe to a Sarabeth’s restaurant and retail store is yet another sign of Change in Tribeca. As the Downtown Express put it 17 months ago, Bazzini is “perhaps Tribeca’s last tie to the old Washington Market food trading days”. Or, as they put it more broadly last October, this is “the latest example of ‘new Tribeca’ beating out ‘old Tribeca’”.

We’ve been here before. Yes, the ‘character’ of Tribeca is not what it was in the 1970s, when there were still food processing and warehouse facilities. Which is not what it was in the 1980s, when there were fewer such active businesses. Which is not what it was in the 1990s, when there were still fewer such active businesses.

any excuse is a good excuse
I need very little excuse to reprise one of my favorite all-time quotes, which is from the last of the Tribeca butter-and-egg guys, so is very relevant to this story:

You’ve never seen so many people under three feet high…

That was Steve Wils in a Downtown Express article from July 30, 2000, explaining why he moved his business to New Jersey in 1998, which I quoted in my March 12, Quote For The Day, 2000 edition. (That post has a bunch of links to old New York Times stories around the theme that Tribeca is changing.)

Various articles I have seen feature quotes from local residents or people who come to Tribeca for work or school complaining that Bazzini’s is closing, and about the change in the neighborhood. There are laments from residents of Independence Plaza (built in the early 1970s), nearby loft dwellers resident since the 1980s, kids from Stuyvesant High School (moved to Chambers and West Streets in 1992), workers from Citicorp up a few blocks on Greenwich Street (built in late 1980s), and I remember somewhere reading about a sad five-year old (born in the 2000s). You see where I am going here?

It is likely that all of these people came to the neighborhood because they liked its ‘character’, and the movement there of similarly like-minded people changed the character. Eventually, there were enough additional people living and working there that long-time businesses were no longer compatible with the new environment and new businesses were attracted to the new environment. Eventually, the people felt that the environment had tipped enough that it was no longer what it was before they moved there.

I suppose one could look at this phenomenon as an application of The Law of Unintended Consequences, but I might start calling it The Loft Law of Eventual Lament (on another day; don’t worry about that digression).

Here are some data points on a timeline for the area now known as Tribeca (formerly known as the Lower West Side):

  • 1886  21 Jay Street / 339 Greenwich Street built for Mohlmann family wholesale grocery business (per NY Times)
  • 1943 Bazzini family bought building (per NY Times)
  • 1968  Bazzinis start processing nuts there (“driven there from Park Place by urban renewal programs that swept many of its competitors to the Hunts Point market in the Bronx or out of the city entirely”; per NY Times)
  • 1972  Independence Plaza development began by city (middle income housing, Borough of Manhattan Community College, Washington Market Park), Greenwich Street from N. Moore to Chambers
  • mid-1980s  D’Amatos [sometimes “Damato”] buy five buildings along Greenwich and Jay Streets from Bazzini family (per NY Times); originally used in the business, the D’Amatos eventually sell them for residential development
  • 1986  Hotel Bar Butter leaves 16 Jay Street; there since 1947 (May 4, 1987 New York Magazine, starting at page 96)
  • 1987? PS 234 opens down the block from Bazzini’s
  • 1988  small Bazzini cafe opens on ground floor (1,000 sq ft)  (per Tribeca Trib)
  • 1996 zoning changed from industrial to permit residential (per NY Times)
  • 1997  Bazzini nut factory moves to Hunts Point, Bronx (per NY Times)
  • Wils butter and egg business moves to New Jersey
  • 1999  21 Jay Street conversion to 10 residential loft rentals (“2,000 to 2,600 square feet of space, are $7,200 to $9,400 a month. …$15,000 and $17,000 for the two duplex penthouses, with 3,900 and 4,500 square feet”) (per NY Times) (later converted to condos)
  • 2002 amended condo declaration filed
  • April 2009  Downtown Express article about Bazzini plans to close
  • October 2009  Downtown Express identifies Sarabeth’s as potential new tenant
  • September 2010 Observer article about Sarabeth lease signing, 15 years

don’t be mad at me, I am not blaming you
I am not saying that all change is good, or that people who liked the way things were are not entitled to complain. I am saying that change is inevitable, and that sometimes the people who complain about the changes bear responsibility for the changes. And I mean “responsibility” in a causation sense, not a moral sense.

© Sandy Mattingly 2010

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