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City Living: SoHo is so much more than a retail district

soho street

soho street Credit: Check out more photos of SoHo in our gallery below. (Nancy Borowick)

Perhaps the most common misperception about SoHo is that it's only filled with designer boutiques, expensive restaurants and millionaire residents who have no interest in getting to know their neighbors.

But according to some long-time residents, this isn’t the truth.

Yes, the nabe is saturated with retail, restaurants and wealthy residents, but if you believe that SoHo residents are detached from each other, Sean Sweeney, director of the SoHo Alliance, begs to differ.

“There is a neighborly community here, a sense of community,” he said. “If I go to get a cup of coffee I’ll probably meet three of my neighbors.”

For him the area has a strong sense of place.

“When you’re in SoHo you know you’re in SoHo,” he explained. “You get a sense of the activism of the pioneers who created this neighborhood with blood, sweat and tears and turned it into the world-class neighborhood it is today.”

He is speaking of the artists who moved into SoHo’s abandoned factory buildings during the 1960s and ’70s, and coined the loft way of living, with massive square footage, floor-to-ceiling windows and the luxury of living and working in the same space.

In the ’80s when the landlords wanted the artists out, the creative-types fought to stay. This led to the legalization of artist residences with the Loft Law, passed in 1982.

Sweeney was part of that pioneering group and has lived in SoHo for 35 years.

“This isn’t the SoHo of the ’70s and ’80s, but a new generation is coming in and continuing this activism,” he said. For example, long-time and new residents are fighting to keep open the green space that is nearest to SoHo, the Elizabeth Street Garden at 209 Elizabeth St., and stop it from being developed into affordable housing units.

Compared to the ’60s and ’70s, “it’s clean, safe, and there’s more access to services now,” added Yukie Ohta, who was born and raised in here and is the founder of the SoHo Memory Project  blog. She recently moved back with her husband and daughter to the same apartment she grew up in on Mercer Street. “We didn’t have that while growing up nor did we have garbage pickup. Now the neighborhood is pretty well taken care of.”

The name SoHo, which stands for South of Houston Street, was coined by Chester A. Rapkin, a city planning commissioner who served from 1969 to 1977, who is known as the Father of SoHo. It started the acronym trend, leading to others like NoHo and TriBeCa.

Ritzy businesses like Tiffany & Co. called SoHo home during the 1800s but by the 1890s mostly textile factories occupied the area and remained there through World War II, according to the city Landmarks Preservation Commission.

From that time through the 1960s, the area became largely abandoned and was known as Hell’s Hundred Acres as the deteriorated buildings would often go up in flames. When the artists moved in, the neighborhood’s character shifted again.

In addition to being a shopping destination, SoHo also has distinguished architecture. It houses the largest collection of cast-iron details in the world, with about 500 buildings. This led most of the area to be designated as the SoHo Cast-Iron Historic District by the LPC in 1973.

Back in the 70s, growing up on Mercer Street, Ohta recalls only one bodega.

“There was nothing here, no restaurants, no stores. Now there’s everything,” she said. But everything has a price. Both Ohta and Sweeney cite food vendors on the sidewalks and daytime noise from tourists as drawbacks. Despite these drawbacks, they value visitors.

“I’m proud when someone will travel from China, Japan or Spain to look at my neighborhood,” Sweeney said. “This is our artwork; we created a cityscape that’s a jewel in the New York City’s crown and we will continue to fight to keep it that way.

Find it:

SoHo extends from West Houston Street in the north to Canal Street in the south. Its eastern boundary is Lafayette or Centre Street and its western boundary is West Broadway or Sixth Avenue, depending on who you talk to.

Transportation:

Buses

M5, M21

Trains

A, C, E to Canal Street

C, E to Spring Street

N, R, Q to Canal Street

N, R to Prince Street

J, Z to Canal Street

6 to Spring and Canal streets

B, D, F, M to Broadway-Lafayette Street

Library

SoHo’s closest library, the NYPL Mulberry Street Library, is just outside its eastern boundary at 10 Jersey St.

Post office

The USPS Prince Station branch closed in 2009, the closest USPS office is at 201 Varick St. in Chelsea

Crime

The SoHo neighborhood is covered by the NYPD’s 1st Precinct, at 16 Ericsson Place. Historically robberies, burglaries and grand larcenies were high at the precinct. Through Nov. 10, 2013, there were 156 burglaries and 909 grand larcenies. But compared to the 90s, crime dropped drastically. According to the NYPD’s CompStat report for the precinct, in 1990 there were 1,281 robberies; in 2012 there were 81. In 1990 there were 1,486 burglaries and in 2012 there were 187. Grand larceny complaints in 1990 were at 5,554 compared to 985 in 2012.

Celebrities from SoHo

Claire Danes (born)

Zac Posen, designer (raised)

To eat:

Olive’s, 120 Prince St.

This tiny eatery is known for its breakfast sandwiches as well as their soup and salad.
212-941-0111

Taka Taka, 330 W. Broadway

For Mexican sushi and Japanese tacos Taka Taka mixes it up. Rolls include the shrimp masago and Oaxaca cheese roll with chipotle dressing and sweet potato tempura.
212-966-8252

Spring Street Natural Restaurant and Bar, 62 Spring St.

Grab brunch, lunch or dinner at this hot spot. Dishes include scrambled tofu and organic edamame. 212-966-0290

To party:

Fanelli Café, 94 Prince St.

This historic spot has been around since before SoHo was SoHo. It offers affordable beer on tap and bar grub matched with an ambiance that harkens back to the old days. 212-226-9412

Milady’s, 160 Prince St.

This is the quintessential dive bar, offering cheap drinks and a laid-back hometown atmosphere. 212-226-9340

Grand Bar and Lounge, 310 W. Broadway

This upscale, glamorous spot is part of the SoHo Grand Hotel. In addition to a DJ spinning the latest tracks, an array of cocktail choices and bar snacks awaits. 212-965-6642

To shop:

SoHo is a retail haven with many shops and boutiques, many of which are high fashion brands like Chanel and Burberry, which thrive alongside local smaller businesses.

Calypso St. Barth, 426 Broome St.

This store carries the latest trends in clothing, shoes and accessories for the style-conscious woman. 212-941-9700

Odin New York, Lafayette St.

This stylish and trendy men’s flagship boutique carries one-of-a-kind clothing from designers like Engineered Garments, Todd Snyder and Rxmance. 212-966-0026

Pearl River Mart, 477 Broadway

This spot carries a vast array of Chinese goods that make for perfect gifts from tea sets and charming umbrellas to herbal remedies and clothing. 212-431-4770

To do:

LUMAS Gallery, 362 W. Broadway

LUMAS Gallery offers a feast of photography, paintings and movie stills from contemporary artists. 212-219-9497

The New York Earth Room, 141 Wooster St.

This space features artist Walter De Maria’s installation of 280,000 pounds of sculpted soil, filling up over 3,000-square-foot second floor gallery. Earthroom.org

Housing Works Bookstore Café, 126 Crosby St.

Visit this community gem to check out their book collection, hear a book reading, see a panel discussion or to shop their thrift store next door. 212-334-3324

The buzz:

SoHo residents are carrying on their activist roots as some fight to save the Elizabeth Street Garden from being transformed into a residential building.

According to Sean Sweeney, director of the SoHo Alliance and Yukie Ohta, creator of the SoHo Memory Project blog, though the garden is just outside of SoHo’s boundaries at 209 Elizabeth St. in Little Italy, many SoHo residents frequent the space, which hosts a number of public events.

According to Sweeney, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development see the site as a potential location to build an affordable-housing building. Residents say if built, it would take away their only green space.

“We don’t have a lot of green space in SoHo and in community board 2 in general,” Sweeney said.

According to HPD the plan is still in the very early stages. The agency said it will be consulting with local council member Margaret Chin and Community Board 2 to better understand the community's needs.

Ohta said the residents aren’t against an affordable housing building, “but perhaps it could be built elsewhere in the neighborhood,” she added. A petition has been created on Change.org.

Real estate:

To rent

255 Hudson St. One-bedroom, one-bathroom condo with rooftop garden. 776 square feet: $4,500 per month.

365 Canal St. Two-bedroom, two-bathroom, newly renovated apartment. 1,550 square feet: $6,850 per month.

To buy

113 Prince St., #4ER One-bedroom, two-bathroom co-op. 1,350 square feet: $1,800,000.

477 Broome St., #22 Two-bedroom, two-bathroom and one half-bath co-op. 1,500 square feet: $2,450,000.

Looking for a home in SoHo?

Soho Real Estate, sohorealestate.com

Mark David & Co. Real Estate LLC, markdavidny.com

Q&A with Steven Sadoff: Owner of Ground Support Café

Ground Support Café, at 399 W. Broadway, opened its doors in August 2009. Owner Steve Sadoff wanted a hands-on, community-oriented approach to coffee and decided SoHo was where he'd venture. The café has many loyal customers ranging from residents to those who frequent the neighborhood, and tourists.

Why did you open your business in SoHo?

I spent a lot of time here as a kid growing up so I’ve always liked the neighborhood. There’s an incredible community here, the neighbors who live here are wonderful and fantastically close-knit.

What is a common misperception about SoHo?

Some people think it’s all big-box and that everyone is so detached, but it’s not. In our shop you’ll find customers who become friends because they see each other on the line everyday or because their dogs are tied up next to each other. It has a small-town, big-city feel.

How is Ground Support unique?

We’re into the idea of community. Hundreds of people come through our doors in the morning and we have a staff that remembers most people’s names, what drinks they like, et cetera. In fact we’re one of the few remaining mom-and-pop businesses in the neighborhood. I’m the owner and operator and I’m always here.

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