Friday, June 11, 2010

Street of Dreams

One of my favorite shops in the East Village is Trash and Vaudeville on St Marks Place.  It's one of the last remaining businesses that harkens back to the neighborhood's rock 'n' roll heyday.  What I like most about it is its store manager, Jimmy Webb.  I am probably the furthest thing from a rock star, but he can sure make me feel like one.  And, no wonder.  Here is the man himself:

Photo credit:  Alex Remnick

I've bought many things from T&V over the years, but my favorite purchase has to be this dress:

A dress to go with the eye patch...priceless

It was a bright sunny day in June and I had just left the eye hospital after having surgery.  I was depressed to be wearing an eye patch, every third person on the street taunting me with "Yeeaarrg!" and not bothering to stop and wonder if maybe I was in pain.  So, feeling sorry for myself, I took a stroll down St Marks and decided to go into T&V, hoping they could give me an outfit to go with the patch.

Immediately upon walking through the door, my spirits returned.  No one looked at me like I was a freak.  In fact, I was greeted with smiles and hellos and Jimmy himself took me to the back to look at dresses.

The fitting area can be intimidating for anyone not used to being the center of attention.  There are no mirrors inside the changing stalls, so you have to come out and take the stage in the middle of the room in front of a giant floor-to-ceiling mirror.  On this day, Jimmy and several other people were standing around, watching, so I was a bit nervous.  In front of the mirror, he was all business, zipping me up, adjusting the straps, getting the fit right and offering advice.  When I saw myself, I had to laugh.  I loved it.  In fact, I loved it so much, I decided to wear the dress out of the store and walk all over town.

Homage to Al Stewart

I recently came upon this 1992 article by N.R. Kleinfield in the NY Times documenting the beginning of gentrification on St Marks.  Although the article was written almost 20 years ago, it relates some of the same concerns we hear today about the loss of neighborhood identity.

From the article:
"It is the street of dreamers and the dreamless, of people who sing of love and those who travel on the wings of drugs, of the irreverent and the irrelevant, the elusive and the elliptical . . . St. Marks Place remains a multifaceted world unto itself, with its own subcultures and its own strangeness. When you have spent some time there, you know you have been someplace to remember."
And...
"It was an odd day when, in March 1988, a Gap store opened up in space once occupied by the St. Marks Cinema. People on St. Marks Place laughed. What, they wondered, did the Gap have to say to the anarchistic spirit of St. Marks Place? What was next, Bloomingdale's?"
The Gap is now gone, but things even more generic and bland have taken its place.   You'll be hard-pressed to find anything unique and special along this stretch, which is why T&V - and Jimmy - are such treasures.  They have survived the strip-mallification of the East Village and I hope they continue to rock on...