City Loses More of Its Soul

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And on Easter Sunday yet - how, long, dear Lord, how long?

Yes, the city lost more of its soul on Easter Sunday and it happened almost next door to St. Monica's Church on East 79th Street. And if not for a call from neighborhood preservationist, Ellie Sanky, I'd not have known the East River Diner on 79th and York was closing for good that evening. Correction: "closing for bad!" Reportedly, the diner's entrepreneurs took a generous buy-out offer, and a bank will take over the premises, which for nearly 30 years housed an invaluable part of the city's soul ? a congenial and affordable place to break bread.

Although the greatest loss was felt after its original owners, John and Peter, most reluctantly closed what was then called the East 79th Street Café/Restaurant, after 22 years. Word had it that a satisfactory lease could not be negotiated because, the landlord wanted them out. It was the last thing the community wanted ? to lose this most compatible place with all-booth seating and a staff who were really like, well, good neighbors. Oh, yes - the food was right fine, and so was the lighting.

Naturally, the community rejoiced when another restaurant came in, even though much of its all-booth seating was replaced with tables and chairs which you can't slide in and out of. To quote Russell Baker, "Progress strikes again!" But, of course, the community-at-large, including the St. Monica's church congregation and the A.A. group housed in its lower level, were grateful to have this place next door to share a meal together after services and meetings. Its 24 hour service also made it a reassuring safe haven zone.

But, as you know all too well, these losses are the rule, not the exception, and not only in Manhattan. When I called the papers and NY1 to ask for coverage, the Times news desk reporter ruefully recounted numerous recently lost places in all five boroughs. So then a closing is not news? But where are the editorials and columns protesting this loss of everyday places which make ours a city of neighborhoods that meet everyday needs? Above all, where are the elected officials and wannabees?

Of course, losing small businesses, in general, is an incalculable loss, and the ongoing installation of protected bike lanes limits delivery access, which, incidentally, is also a concern of San Francisco merchants. (Los Angeles Times 3/26/13)

Luxury high-rise apartment houses keep replacing all manner of other "people places," including those for worship, learning, healing, civic discussion, amusements and recreations like movie houses and bowling alleys and on and on.

And doesn't all that relate to the Biblical warning, "What does it profit a man (a city) if he (it) gains the whole world (bottom-line dollars) if he (it) loses its soul (self sustaining neighborhoods)?

Related as well is the solemn reminder Senator Liz Krueger's chief aide, Alice Fisher, gave at the end of this years' forums on Boomer and Senior concerns. "The greatest threats to older people are falling and isolation!" How true, but to stay with the isolation, losing these neighborhood places breeds a climate for isolation, and not only for older age people. How long, dear Lord, how long?

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