Warning; these stories are so compelling, you may want to eat them! Photo by Arjen Stilklik.
We’ve written so many stories in the past year, it’s hard to pick the most significant ones. From food, to real estate, to crime, to politics, to roach invasions, to sad Ferrari drivers, the Upper West Side has rarely been dull.
With that in mind, here’s what we picked for the five biggest story lines on the Upper West Side in 2013.
1. Real Estate Ba-Boom!
Yes, Upper West Side real estate prices have been rising for years, but this year prices really started climbing into the stratosphere, with large implications for the neighborhood’s future. Extell Development temporarily pulled its latest Riverside Boulevard project off the market because the apartments — asking between $1 million and $25 million — were priced too low. Articles highlighted $2.6 million apartments as part of a new trend in “affordable luxury.” Affordable for whom?
To get a sense of the trajectory of home values, check out Zillow’s chart below.
Luxury buildings are now being constructed throughout the neighborhood, some with 20% of their apartments set aside for people of much more modest means. But there aren’t any projects being constructed now or in the foreseeable future that will be affordable at market rates for someone making the neighborhood’s median income, which is about $100,000.
Inventory is very tight for anything even close to being considered affordable. Just search for a two-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side for under $700,000 on Streeteasy.com. Last we checked, there were six available apartments between 59th and 110th. And most of them looked like they were about 700 square feet.
(Of course, if you own your place, the price jumps look a lot better.)
2. Chinese Food Resurgence
The Upper West Side and Chinese food go together likes General Tso and chicken. But for more than a decade, the pickings have been slim in the neighborhood. That changed this year. Two locations of Chelsea hotspot Legend opened (though they had some health department issues), RedFarm opened on 77th and Broadway, and Xi’an Famous Foods opened on 102nd. Red Farm in particular inspired a kind of frenzy, with food reviewers vaulting over each other to heap praise on its innovative cuisine. Yes, the lines can be a little nuts. But oh those soup dumplings!
Do we want even more Chinese food? Of course. That’s why we’re excited for hotpot restaurant Uncle Luoyang to open.
3. Disturbing Crimes
The Upper West Side remains one of the safest neighborhoods in the city, although crimes like larcenies have been on the upswing in the past couple of years. Each year, there are a few horrific crimes that give us pause. This year four in particular come to mind.
Ariel Russo, a 4 -year-old girl, was walking to Holy Name of Jesus school on 97th street with her grandmother on June 4 when she was hit and killed by an SUV driven by Franklin Reyes. Reyes, 17, has been charged with manslaughter.
A group of motorcyclists surrounded an SUV on the West Side Highway on Sept. 29. Attempting to flee, the driver ran over one of the bikers. When the group caught up with him a few miles later, they beat him in front of his wife and daughter. It turned out that several of the bikers were cops.
A homeless man stabbed five people with scissors in a shocking attack in Riverside Park on October 1. Some of the people were casually walking their dogs or running; one man was strolling his son around the park. Julius Graham has been charged with attempted murder for the stabbings. As DA Cy Vance said: “He not only injured five people, including an 18-month-old child, but destroyed the sense of safety and respite that all New Yorkers have a right to feel in their city parks.”
In November, a woman reported a rape in Central Park around 100th street near the East side. Homeless man Omar Hoist was arrested for the crime.
4. A Religious Revival
Several synagogues and churches on the Upper West Side had a very good 2013. To be sure, we don’t know how many souls they saved, but they did find ways to stabilize their finances and secure their futures. Lincoln Square Synagogue moved into its new synagogue on 68th and Amsterdam (at right), West End Collegiate Church completed a 14-month renovation project, and the West Side Institutional Synagogue saw a jump in membership.
Even West-Park Presbyterian on 86th and Amsterdam got a new lease on life after the New York Presbytery approved its plans to rent out part of its space. Rev. Robert Brashear says the church does want to fix up its facade and eventually take down the ugly scaffolding. With some help from the community, the church will hopefully get there.
5. Longtime Businesses Close
It was a tough year for stalwart Upper West Side businesses, from restaurants to retail. Many of the spots that closed had been around for more than 25 years, meaning the owners had taken a chance on the neighborhood during grittier times but often couldn’t keep up with the rent as the area grew richer.
Most depressingly, Big Nick’s Burgers & Pizza Joint shut its doors at 4 a.m. on July 29, leaving behind 51 years of memories (and grease).
Other prominent closures included Granny-Made, Indian Cafe, and Popover Cafe (which is set to close January 5). Emerald Inn, which had made it 70 years at Columbus and 69th, was forced to close in May but opened its new spot on 72nd near West End Avenue a few weeks later. Two supermarkets also shut down: the Food Emporium on 68th street closed in the spring, as did Food City on 94th. Sambuca, which had been around for 28 years, closed just before the New Year, but the owner plans to open a new restaurant in its place sometime this year.
Here are five of our most popular stories from 2013:
Exclusive: The City is Considering Plans to Demolish PS 199 and PS 191 (fyi, the city eventually scrapped those plans under community pressure)
Thanks to everyone who read the West Side Rag and contributed during 2013! We have lots of plans for 2014 and will keep you updated. Please keep sending in tips.