Tagged: Vernon Boulevard

There Goes the Neighborhood Haircutter

Eight years ago this month, I moved to Long Island City with my girlfriend-at-the-time, Sarah. Having lived only in Manhattan since I left Santa Barbara six-and-a half years earlier, I dreaded the thought of ever moving to Queens as it signaled reverting to a sub-urban existence, except that the weather was a lot better in Santa Barbara than in Queens. However, as we deliberated over neighborhoods to live, we chose Long Island City as an ideal locale. It was very convenient to our jobs—and my softball games, and it had thus-far escaped the attention of Annoying People that were overrunning trendier neighborhoods in Brooklyn and in Manhattan. We also knew a tight-knit community of artists that were scattered throughout the neighborhood.

Although there were no full-service grocery stores, drug stores, or hardware stores, it felt more like home than any other New York neighborhood I had lived. There was a cheap Chinese place, a great local bar that would let us store our apartment keys for the inevitable lockout, and, crucially, a place to cut my hair. A Colombian native, David the Haircutter owned the shop below our apartment. When I visited every four-to-six weeks, he chatted with me in Spanish and asked about my family. He also accepted and held my mail from Sarah that went to my old apartment after we split up. Over the years, I also configured his Wi-Fi router and helped him sell a shampoo bowl on Craig’s List. Perhaps, most flatteringly, he honored the 2008-era price of $20, years after he raised his base men’s cut to $25. Even after I moved across the Pulaski Bridge, I still returned to David’s Haircutters on Vernon Boulevard.

The financial crisis of 2008 only postponed the inevitable, and, eventually, those Annoying People found Long Island City to be an ideal place, too. Renters were priced out, property owners cashed out, and another cycle of gentrification pushed out the earlier wave that I had ridden. Overwhelmingly, talk of real estate replaced impassioned discussions of art.1


On Saturday, though, I went there for the last time. He told me that he had sold the remaining ten years of his twenty-year lease, called it quits, and packed up for Florida. He leaves tomorrow, and a nail salon will take over the space in the coming months.

While I’m happy for David—and a tiny-bit annoyed that I have to find a new haircutter, I’m sad for Vernon Boulevard and Long Island City. It has finally arrived as a true neighborhood in the Manicure Capital of the United States.

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  1. To be fair, almost every blog about Long Island City has ever really been about real estate, and the artists were usually solitarily too holed up in their structurally deficient studio spaces to actually debate aesthetics. 

There Goes the Neighborhood Chinese Place

You could see New City from our bedroom window, as in this February 2010 photo.

You could see New City from our bedroom window, as in this February 2010 photo.

As if I weren’t sad enough these days, I learned that New City Kitchen Express, on Vernon Boulevard, will likely close within the next two weeks after seven years serving the neighborhood. Every New York City neighborhood needs a “cheap Chinese” place, and that’s what New City was for our corner of Long Island City.

LIC Post reports:

The restaurant’s lease expired and the business owners did not want to pay the much higher rent. The landlord is seeking $10,500 a month in rent as well as $3,300 per month to cover the real estate taxes.

This is sad because I’ve come to recognize the family that runs the shop and even watched the son and daughter, who work the register, cook the food, and make the occasional delivery, grow up over the years. I remember how they were temporarily forced outside of their space when the upper floors of the building caught fire. But the store closing is even more sad to me because this was where Sarah and I had one of our first meals in Long Island City.

Our first meal in the neighborhood was at Manducati’s, as were looking to take shelter on a bitterly cold night after looking at an apartment. We also ate at Dominie’s Hoek after John Casella at Crest Haven Realty showed us two apartments, one of which we took. After signing the lease, we dined in at Tuk Tuk to power us as we prepared the apartment for our move-in a few weeks later.

We were lucky enough to be allowed to move in early to do things that are much easier to do when you’re not surrounded by boxes containing all your worldly possessions, such as line kitchen shelves and to paint the walls. Each night, Sarah and I would do some work and then head to either my place or hers for the night. It was on one of those preparation nights, a Friday if memory serves, that Sarah and I got hungry and sought some quick food options. I hadn’t brought my computer, and this was before we had smartphones, so we couldn’t look up a place and its menu on the Internet. However, from our bedroom window, which faces Vernon Boulevard, we could see the New City’s sign from our window and copied down the phone number.1 We phoned in a take-out order but since we didn’t have a menu, we just ordered whatever you expect to find at every Chinese take-out place in New York: General Tso tofu for Sarah, the chicken version for me, and peanut noodles for the both of us.

One thing I did not know about New City was that it had recently opened when we moved in. It seemed like they were there forever.

  1. It’s also possible that I used Google’s SMS search. Back then you could send a text with a business name and the zip code, such as New City 11101 to GOOGL and you’d get a response with an address and phone number. Crazy, huh?