I remember when I could walk up and down Broadway on the upper west side and not see the same store twice. Cafés, book stores, flower shops, fruit stores, 24 hr delis and clothing shops lined the streets hugging the sidewalks trying to garner attention from the many passersby. These stores of which the names I fail to recall graced this street, this main thoroughfare under which the 1,2,3, and 9 trains ran. This street showcased the best of mom and pop shops, unique, non existing anywhere besides here and catering to different niches of the eclectic shopper that roamed the upper west side looking for bargains or just picking up a nectarine from the 24 hour fruit stores that graced almost every block. In particular I remember the small, narrow fruit store next to Tasti Delight between 85th and 86th streets on the west side of the avenue. The small Asian dude taking your money, with super slick hands-that if you weren’t looking tended to overcharge every customer by 5 or 10 cents. The huge pieces of white stuff floating in bins of water- which later in lifer I learned to be tofu and bean curd. The multiple rows of fancy baked goods poised in impulse buy bundles conveniently located by the worn wooden checkout counter, no there wasn’t any bar code scanner or fancy computerized inventory trackers, just the little Asian man, his quick fingers and a noisy cash register. Further down the block on 82nd street was the Nutshop, I remember passing on my rollerblades as wafting smells of homemade licorice and slated cashews filled the sidewalk beaconing weary shoppers to come in and drop down 10 bucks on a pound of fresh baked walnut, raspberry fudge. Conrans the furniture store on 81st now unfortunately a Staples. We used to go on shabbos and try out all the cool, funky, retro, furniture on display at Conrans.
The pizza store on the corner of 78th street by the standup comedy club with their Italian ices for 50 cents. Wings, the sports store with all the latest sneakers, sports gear and roller blades.
In place of these stores came the so called convenience of walking into a store and knowing exactly what you were going to find and how much it would be. It all started with the Gap on 86th that was one of the first chain stores to bombard the UWS. Then came Starbucks on every corner so, socor moms and trust fund prep school kids could spend $4 on a cup of flavored water. Then came Victorias Secret, Staples, Filenes, Banana Republic, more Starbucks, Tower Records, Barnes and Nobles.