In a neighborhood that has been completely transformed by gentrification, they are The Holdouts of Chelsea.
Places like Kamco Supply, which sits under the High Line on W. 21st Street and 10th Avenue and sells drywall and ceiling tile across the street from the American flagship of Bisazza, an Italian luxury home furnishings company.
Or the Manhattan Car Wash, three blocks up on 10th AVe. and W. 24th Street, with its bright neon pink sign, and yellow and white lettering declaring “OPEN 24 HRS.” The car wash shrinks in comparison to The Getty condo building that sits adjacent -- floors of glass high above the roof of the car wash.
Then there’s Prince Lumber, an old-school lumber yard, which may have the swankiest spot of all -- sandwiched on 15th Street and Ninth Avenue between the Apple Store on one side and the upscale Chelsea Market on the other. Google’s New York headquarters sits across the street.
“What happened to Chelsea, has already happened,” shrugs Prince’s Neil Eisenstat, who has watched the neighborhood flat-line, then soar, around him. In recent years, the gentrification has hit warp speed, with the popularity of the High Line and the addition of the new Whitney Museum a few blocks south.
Yet work at Prince continues as if oblivious, a buzz of forklifts and construction trucks.
According to Eisenstat, Prince Lumber has been around in the same location for the last 45 years; he’s been around for about half of that.
One benefit to the new Chelsea, he says, is that all of his competitors have been priced out.
Cesar Chavez, manager of the Kamco on W. 21st Street, also seems resigned to the transformation of the neighborhood. “I was born and raised in this city, I’ve seen it change,” he said.
Chavez said he still can catch glimpses of pre-gentrified Chelsea, around 5:30 a.m. most mornings, when his supply yard springs to life, but well before most of his High Line neighbors wake up. For years, two students, around the age of 8 or 9, often walked past Kamco on their way to school. Because mornings in Chelsea can still be a bit deserted, Chavez says, it became an unspoken step in the morning routine to roll the forklift to the end of the street to make sure the kids make it to school safely.
“The only identity that this neighborhood has right now is the High Line,” said Chavez in the bustling sales office, amid a steady flow of customers and employees. “Since the High Line came in, the neighborhood has gone bonkers.”
At Prince Lumber, the alure of Chelsea real estate has won out.
Eisenstat said that in December, the lumber yard will be picking up from its current location and relocating to a new building on 47th Street and 11th Ave. There’s more revenue in renting out their land, he said, than there is in staying put.
And with that, one of Chelsea’s few remaining holdouts will be no more.