BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Updated Nov. 9, 12:40 p.m.: Could a large, new Korean restaurant reportedly coming in on Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village help the down-and-out strip finally make a turnaround?
Brown butcher-block paper — complete with construction permits posted — currently covers the windows of the space, on the east side of the avenue between Eighth Street and Waverly Place.
According to longtime local merchant Terrence Bae, who owns the next-door Waverly Wines & Spirits store, the restaurant group behind the Korean eatery is a “national brand” based out of Los Angeles. The space, which runs from the former 99 Cent Fresh Pizza to the former Grab and Go store — in the process, wrapping around an entrance/exit to the W. Fourth Street subway station — includes the first and second floors and is probably around 10,000 square feet.
As for the building’s long-vacant third and floors, the restaurant apparently is not taking them. The building long ago housed a record store owned by the Sam Goody chain, which filed for bankruptcy in 2006. The property’s exterior is landmarked since it’s within the Greenwich Village Historic District.
It wasn’t immediately clear when the Korean restaurant plans to open. But Bae said it would be a welcome presence on the block, which has long harbored a druggie street scene.
Bit by bit, the block has slowly — very slowly — been making a comeback. It took 10 years for TD Bank, which held the lease for the former Barnes & Noble bookstore space at the corner of Eighth Street, to fill the space with a tenant — a phone store. Bae noted that the community had opposed a plan for a swanky new music club by the Blue Note at the corner spot, feeling it would bring too much nightlife hubbub, a sentiment he shared.
Meanwhile, the down-on-its-heels street needs all the help it can get, he said. Bae is a survivor on the struggling strip.
“We’ve been here since 1989,” he said. “We’ve seen the changes. It’s worse than the Dinkins years. We get crackheads here. I can’t get angry at them. They’re sick. They need help for addiction.”
The block is part of the hard-drug scene that has taken root in the Village, out in the open, in recent years and includes the northwest corner of Washington Square Park and the surrounding streets.
Bae noted incredulously that even a Starbucks down the block had closed.
“Starbucks never close,” he said. “They closed because their staff could not deal with the drug users shooting up in the bathroom.”
Super-potent fentanyl, brought in over the border from Mexico, has now completely replaced heroin as the main opioid street drug in New York City, according to Bridget Brennan, the city’s special narcotics prosecutor. Brennan recently spoke about the street-drug situation in City Council District 3 at a Zoom meeting organized by Councilmember Erik Bottcher.
The drug traffic out on Sixth Avenue is not good for his business, either, Bae said, noting, “There’s catcalling. Eighty percent of my customers are ladies. They’ll circle around and go somewhere else.”
The block was formerly home to entrenched vendors selling used books — and possibly more — but efforts by the Sixth Precinct over the years, working with Terri Howell, former operations manager of the Village Alliance business improvement district, mostly cleared the block.
Scott Hobbs, the executive director for the Village Alliance BID, confirmed that the restaurant is on track to open at the spot, adding that its presence would help “cut down on negative uses” on the street.
“The Village Alliance maintains that an active storefront, as opposed to a vacant one, has numerous positive benefits for a neighborhood,” he said. “A vibrant and thriving business contributes to the overall vitality and sense of community in the area, offering economic, social and cultural advantages. It generates foot traffic, supports local employment, and enhances the quality of life for residents and visitors alike.
“An open storefront is not just about economic prosperity but also public safety. It significantly cuts down on negative uses of the street, fostering a more secure environment for our community.”
As for another key anchor spot on the high-profile stretch, Tashkent, the Brooklyn-based Uzbek supermarket, still has not opened in the former Duane Reade space at the strip’s southern end. Wine store owner Bae said he heard that Tashkent is having a dispute with someone over the space.
“They’re fighting,” he said.
Hobbs said his understanding is that it’s an issue with the required permits from the city.
“We spoke to Tashkent last month,” he said. “They informed us that they are still planning to open but are working through some permitting with the city. That’s as detailed information as they would share with us. We are very enthusiastic about their opening.”