BY ZACHARY LAU | Updated May 8, 1:15 p.m.: In 1983, Joseph Sheridan moved from Los Angeles to New York City, specifically, the Lower East Side. He fell in love with the lifestyle, people and culture. In February 2021, the pandemic closures of businesses and depressed rents provided Sheridan with the opportunity of a reasonable rent at 90 E. Third St. to open Village Works bookstore, selling books uniquely curated for a connection to the community.
His business provided jobs and gave the people a voice. He hosted events in the lower level of his store to promote other local businesses and to give youths a place to go and learn. He did this all at a low cost to others. All of these things are often overlooked by corporations. These very entities, some of them international, are the ones that replace local businesses like Joey’s and build huge luxury high-rises on the Lower East Side. They have created this unnatural development and have sped up gentrification at an alarming rate. Landlords like Joey’s raise the rent to follow the trends set by corporations. They do this all for one reason. Because they can.
On March 31, Village Works bookstore, at least the Lower East Side version, ceased to exist. Sheridan was unable to renew his lease due to a 40 percent rent increase. Like many other local businesses before him (Jing Fong restaurant on Elizabeth Street, the jewelry and Army/Navy stores on Canal Street), Village Works bookstore was a victim of gentrification and greed. Not the kind where everybody makes more money and moves up naturally, but the kind where a small percentage of the population continues to raise the rent.
Raw gentrification is scary. It slowly picks apart local businesses until there is nothing left, while also renovating or building new commercial spaces. These spaces are often very expensive and are created to house tenants that can afford such high prices. Usually these new tenants will be corporate-owned or chain store franchises that strip away at the character and core of the neighborhood. These new retailers no longer give consumers a “local business experience,” in which people know each other and interact on a daily basis.
Instead what is created is a sterile, corporate environment, where people pay high prices for a product, and people do not go beyond saying the average “hello” or “have a good day.” Imagine instead of a Village Works bookstore, that you end up with an Amazon bookstore. Instead of a Jing Fong restaurant, you get a McDonald’s. Now imagine a Kay Jewelers on Canal Street or a Gap replacing Army/Navy stores! Without these local businesses, we might as well be another strip mall in corporate America.
However, all is not lost, at least in the case of Village Works. EV Grieve reported that the store is reopening at 12 St. Mark’s Place.
Lau, 14, previously wrote about a pop-up Louis Vuitton window display by Clayton Patterson.