On the 2007 Winners of the Washington Heights Most Improved Corner of the Year


More than any other neighborhood in Manhattan, Washington Heights — except for a few enclaves north of the George Washington Bridge — has existed in a state of commercial paralysis, so that as we stroll up and down Broadway, we are tempted to say (and with the expected derision) that nothing has changed for at least 30 years, and anyone who thinks otherwise needs to check out Gloria, the 1980 John Cassavetes film in which we find an eerily familiar (and in some cases identical) version of Broadway. If anything, this strip of Broadway (and we are specifically talking about 155th up to 168th) has gotten worse over time as the neighborhood lost — to give a few examples — a kosher butcher, a German deli and a Gristedes, any of which would be most welcome today among the predominating theme of cheap pharmacies, understocked bodegas and “phone-booth” storefronts that open and close with alarming (which is to say, drug-money laundering) regularity.

Yet, as we reconsider this now, during a traditional time of reflection and anticipation of the new year, we must acknowledge that this section of Broadway (the one we know best) was in 2007 marked by some fairly significant — relatively speaking, of course — improvements. (For those wanting an assessment of areas to the north, we offer our sincere apologies, along with the expectation that this will be covered as our staff expands.)

So without further apology, explanation or ado, we present our Gay Recluse Washington Heights Award for the Most Improved Corner of the Year.

Fifth Place: Southwest Corner of 161st and Broadway (Vantage Property Leasing and Management Center).


What was replaced: A “furniture” store specializing in plastic-coated Empire reproductions.

What we like about Vantage: The dignified blue tone and white stripe of the awning (cloth, not plastic) and confident, unpretentious font; the clean and uncluttered window front, with simple photographs of properties for rent.

What this means going forward: Finally, the chance to talk to a broker who actually lives and works here (note to Corcoran and Douglas Elliman: we’re not impressed by your brokers who try to tell us how “great” the neighborhood is after spending all of 15 minutes here.)

Fourth Place: Southeast corner of 164th and Broadway (Washington Mutual and Joa)

What was replaced: A decent fish store (*tears*) and a hardware store (which can now be found at the northwest corner of 160th and Broadway).

What we like about Wamu/Joa: If we were living in almost any other neighborhood, it would be difficult to get excited about a bank, but we appreciate the unprecedented uniformity of this block, the lack of any awning at all and the clean window treatments. And while it doesn’t really have anything to do with the corner, we also welcome Joa, a Korean BBQ and teriyaki take-out joint new to the strip.

What this means going forward: Proof that Washington Heights can be just as blandly corporate as (and eventually, just slightly less expensive in comparison to) our soul-stripped neighbors on the Upper West Side. The transition will be (thankfully) slow but like Harlem is now imminent.

Bronze: Northwest corner of 160th and Broadway (the closing of Super Extra)

What was replaced: N/A.

What we like about the closing: Super Extra will always have a place in the Washington Heights Architectural Hall of Shame for simply existing as a horribly dirty and understocked bodega of epic proportions in what was once a grand movie palace.

What this means going forward: It’s too early to tell, but rumors abound with regard to the future of this block. At one point a sign went up saying that a certain Madison-Avenue based “chemist” (i.e., high-end haircare and cosmetic products) was moving in, but that seems to have disappeared; others claim that like so many buildings in the area Columbia has scooped this one up, and point out that every single storefront (except two) on the entire block is vacant, which may be indicative of a larger deal. In short, nothing would surprise us, but we cannot pass the shuttered doors of Super Extra without breathing a huge sigh of relief.

Silver: The Northwest Corner of 168th and Broadway (Starbucks)

What it relaced: A ladies bra and undergarment store (we think).

What we like about (this) Starbucks: The lack of an awning, most obviously, and the bourgeois aesthetic, which (as tired as it might be elsewhere) is actually quite a pleasure to behold in this context. The place is continually packed, and not just with medical students and doctors; almost as much as Dallas BBQ on 165th, it is where you can find a true cross-section of the neighborhood.

What this means going forward: Pick your cliche about Starbucks and gentrification, with the understanding that all change proceeds glacially in Washington Heights for reasons too complicated to address in this awards ceremony.

Gold: The southeast corner of Broadway and 161st Street (Los Amigos flower stand).

Los Amigos

What this replaced: a graffiti-covered wall.

What we like about Los Amigos: The site underwent a renovation over the summer, and while they unfortunately did not consult us on the design of their new awning, we have been pleased with the upgrade in terms of last-minute grocery items (i.e., what we forget to order from Fresh Direct). Best of all, however (and the reason for this award), is the flower stand (open 24 hours), which immediately transformed a dark and scary drug-dealer infested corner into one that is now well, flowery.

What this means going forward: Finally, we don’t have to remember to buy flowers before getting on the subway train downtown. Los Amigos, thank you for making us feel that much more civilized, as if we really do live in Manhattan. We hope you will wear your “Gay Recluse Gold” proudly!

add to del.icio.usDigg itStumble It!Add to Blinkslistadd to furladd to ma.gnoliaadd to simpyseed the vineTailRank

%d bloggers like this: