The Trouble with Eighth Street

Monday, August 1, 2011
Eight Street businesses have seen better days.

Bohemian Eight Street has seen better days. (AN/Stoelker)

In his poem “One Winter Afternoon,” e.e. cummings describes Eighth Street in Greenwich Village at the “magical hour when is becomes if.” Well, it seems as though Eighth Street has reached that hour once again. The street, which once played a distinct role in Village bohemia, began as a hub for book dealers and fostered the original Whitney Museum. Eventually, the street became a district for shoe stores and edgy fashion anchored by Patricia Field. Field decamped for the Bowery about nine years ago and much of the street has since devolved into a hodgepodge of chain stores and characterless low-end retail.

The report from Appleseed notes several "soft areas" along Eighth Street.

Recently, NYU commissioned a report on the economy in the Village by the economic consultants Appleseed. The report identified the strip as one of a number of “soft areas where the development of new businesses can be encouraged,” particularly the block between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.

Of course, any development that finds its way onto the street would have to go through a pretty rigorous process. According to City Planning, the maximum height allowance for a street wall would only be 60 feet. Demolition or alteration of an existing building would also have to go through Landmarks. Nevertheless, there are a few nondescript strip mall-type buildings along the corridor that could probably fly through the process.

For some, any report commissioned by NYU must be propaganda for its expansion plans. But even NYU’s biggest detractors acknowledge there’s a problem. “It’s certainly a block that has seen better days,” said Andrew Berman, the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. “I think a lot of people are trying to see it improved, but because it’s in the historic district it’s pretty safe from demolition and destruction.” Though Berman still found the report to be a “bald faced attempt to move forward the NYU agenda.”

Strip mall store fronts with a colonial motif.

“Appleseed was examining the economy of Greenwich Village, we didn’t tell them the specifics of what to examine,” said NYU’s chief spokesperson John Beckman. “The mentions of Eighth Street should not be taken as an indication that NYU would be directly involved in the development of the street.”

Still, one former Eighth Street stalwart isn’t buying it. “This is a bitter subject for Patricia as she was forced to not only close her store on Eighth Street but also leave her home [she was residing on the top floor of the building],” wrote Patricia Field’s spokesperson Dennis Bernard in an email. “In 2002, NYU kicked her out and all the other business followed. NYU killed Eighth Street. This all she has to say about it.”

6 Responses to “The Trouble with Eighth Street”

  1. Greg says:

    Andrew Berman and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation are charlatans who do NOT speak for the majority of the people living in Greenwich Village. They are opposed to ANY change, even one that is good. Most of us want to preserve the character of our neighborhood but allow common sense development. Turning NYC into a museum will only make things worse.

  2. jj says:

    9% unemployment and $1.4 trillion deficits the last 2 years are what ails 8th Avenue and NYC and the USA

    50 years of socialist policies have brought us to within a hair of turning into Greece

    Obama – Herbert Hoover

  3. Alex says:

    Andrew Berman is a lobbyist who represents a very specific interest group of benefactors. He does not represent the Village. In fact, he’s diametrically opposed to the interests of most folks in the Village.

    He could care less about 8th Street. He’s paid to stop development and to annoy NYU; nothing more or less.

  4. RLewis says:

    8th St. no longer has any of the long-time businesses that tourists used to know to seek out when in town. The valued businesses have been forced out, and nothing worthwhile replaced them. 8th St. was a happening place back when Shakespeare’s Restaurant was on the corner and Rocky Horror played every weekend. The block has clearly been strangled off, but I can’t say by whom. Close off the street to car traffic, make it a pedistrian walkway, highlight the local history, and then business & life will return.

  5. Tom Stoelker says:

    That’s a very interesting idea RLewis. The local history of the street surely deserves renewed attention. A lot of articles alluded to it when the Whitney broke ground this past spring. Regardless, the strip deserves to be returned to its place as one of the great Village side streets.

  6. cathryn says:

    Why would NYU kick out Patricia Field – an iconic person and store on West 8th Street — particularly during the height of “Sex and The City” the series? This makes no sense. I’d like to understand why and I appreciate the honesty of her spokesperson. Please come back, Patricia!

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