Multiple sources tell us that the building on the Southwest corner of 81st street and Broadway that housed the variety store Essentials could be torn down to make way for a new building.

An employee at the dry cleaner in the building told a reader that they were looking for a new location because they want to “tear down the building and go higher.”

Finance Department documents show that the owner has entered into a lease agreement with a company owned by a developer named Alchemy Properties, but the developer did not respond to a request for comment. No one answered the phone at the listed number for the owner. No building or demolition permits have been issued for the site, so this is still speculative.

Photo by Sophie Schnell.

NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 48 comments | permalink
    1. Bishop says:

      This rumor has been going out for a while, at least since Essentials started curtailing its merchandise. Lest we forget this was once the home of the late, lamented Shakespeare & Co. bookstellers. Understated three story structure with its rusticated stone and handsome cornice and distinctive corner facade, probably to be replaced by some cheap, soulless hulking thing with a bank as anchor tenant.

      • cj berk says:

        Many of us found essentials Plus a destination for beauty products, SHampoos, nail polish etc Now there is only the very overpriced Ricky’s. I lament the destruction of the UWS. My immediate neighborhood -72nd &bway Will become the home of Bloomingdales off-price store -as it is-because of Trader joe’s etc- it is packed with crowds-unwalkable -Dirty-with homeless camped out harassing locals. Once yet another cheapened store gets here-it will be unbearable. Has anyone seen Marshall’s? How do they exist -always empty-with plastic junky merchandise.
        The Uws-a lesson in how to destroy a neighborhood -west village-beware!!

        • Elbo says:

          As such an expert on the neighborhood you must be aware that you can get your beauty products, shampoos and nail polish at Pricewise at 84th and Broadway a mere 3 blocks away.

        • Kenneth says:

          Most of the beauty and hair care products they sold are available through Amazon Prime at substantially lower prices and 24-48 hour delivery.

      • Ethan says:

        And in the late ’70s – years before it was Shakespeare & Co. – that site was the home of Bloomsday, a great book store with a cafe upstairs, live music on Mondays, a great scene.

    2. bill says:

      all of the 2-3 story sites along in Manh on major aves. are in danger of being torn down. for TALL “LUXURY” HOUSING

    3. James says:

      There goes the neighborhood!

      Some of you commenters ought to explore your own biases when you say things.

      We don’t know if the owner will replace the building with a drab and ugly building; I suppose it’s possible, but we don’t know it. Why don’t we wait and see? Or, if you believe this building is worth landmarking, take it up with LPC.

      — Do you really think if “you” owned a three story building along Broadway in a prime neighborhood you wouldn’t explore options to make the most of the space? I love old architecture and low-rise neighborhoods, but if I were so lucky to own that building I would probably be exploring the same thing.

      You walk a fine line to criticize a place like Trader Joe’s, which has a line out the door most of the day. Is it crowded by 72nd street, of course it is! But why does this automatically mean that it is bad? Maybe it’s not your cup of tea, but nobody is forcing you to shop there – That it’s mere presence annoys you, and that it is so popular annoys you, says more about you than about TJs (For the record, I don’t like TJ’s either)

      “I lament the destruction of my UWS.” – Seriously, it was never yours. I’m certain the UWS that you remember which is somehow worth lamenting also had things that you didn’t like about it.

      There are things about living in NYC that are a pain, and there are things that we love more than anywhere else on the world. But the one expectation we can’t have of NYC is that it will never change. If that were true, Manhattan would be a forest.

      What we can do is try to be a voice to help craft those changes in ways that compliment and honor the history, heritage, architecture, and culture of the neighborhood. There are many community organizations in NYC which take this vision on, and, if you are not already involved, I recommend that instead of “lamenting” the mere thought of construction, you explore these avenues.

      • Joe Rappaport says:

        Bishop suggests that this building is “probably to be replaced by a cheap, soulless hulking thing with a bank as anchor tenant.” I agree that we don’t know that, as James points out. But given the evidence, I think Bishop’s speculation, which is all it is, has a very high likelihood of being correct. New high-raise luxury towers along Broadway and elsewhere in the city pretty much fit Bishop’s description these days, and their business plans require stable commercial tenants like banks or other large corporations. That’s good for the developers but not so good for those of us who might want something a bit more interesting.

        • James says:


          I take issue with your last comment that a business would serve a developer and not the people in the neighborhood – Unless a bank or any other large-company planned to purchase the land and to use the storefront rent-free, they are bound by the same economics as any other business. So while I understand that a bank is interesting, it would still be there to serve the people of the neighborhood and would need customers to thrive.

          A large and well known entity may choose to take on a short-term loss to establish a prime location, which a “Mom and Pop” could not, but over a long-term no company would want to exist in a place that lost money on a continuous basis. Look at Toys R Us and F A O Schwartz – These places were crowded all the time but still decided it wasn’t worth their high-rents in mid-town.

          My point is, even if a bank-branch or a “boring business” went in this location it would most likely not be the last and final business to ever operate in this spot in the future of NYC. The only way it could last over the long-term is if it made money, which, if the business thrived, contradicts the argument that was bad for the neighborhood.

          We as consumers have a say in this based on how we spend our money.

          Relating to your point about boring development within NYC – We should think about the economic incentives that lead developers to make the decision that a large luxury tower is their most profitable choice for a piece of land instead of deriding them as being greedy. Perhaps we need continued civic engagement to analyze the tax incentives and other perversions in local law that result in this situation.

          I do not know any developers, and many probably are greedy; I’m not trying to make an argument that they are good or bad, merely that it is more effective to explore the conditions that result in the motivations to build a large luxury tower and not deride a group of people doing their job just like the rest of us.


          • dannyboy says:

            The Money Shot:

            “…if it made money, which, if the business thrived, contradicts the argument that was bad for the neighborhood.”

            If any explanation of my Comment is required, I am making the point that the PEOPLE who live in a NEIGHBORHOOD are not to be defined solely by their spending.

            …The End

      • Barvin says:

        Thank you for the rational response to the curmudgeonly. The neighborhood retains much character and is very livable. The area around Broadway and 72nd is very busy so nobody should expect otherwise. Just walk in another direction if you need peace and quiet – such as 2 blocks to Riverside Park.

        And say what you will about Trader Joes but their prices are very fair, they have a lot of great stuff and the store is clean. I save so much money going there over that dirty Fairway. I deal with the crowds because the savings are just worthwhile. You can go at off hours if you need to avoid crowds.

        If you want discounted toiletries, have a walk down to the Bed Bath and Beyond (65th Street) and go to the lowest level and see the enormous selection with low prices. Many things I buy there are priced dollars less per item than a DR or even a Rite Aid sometimes.

        Feel free to venture out just a little.

      • Pedestrian says:

        With all due respect, while your suggestion is admirable but neither the City nor the developers care a wit about what residents would like to see in their neighborhoods. Developers rule. We will have no part in crafting anything until and unless we insist that those who are elected listen to the humans, those who don’t have billions.

        Developers have already told us that they are competing with Hong Kong! Why should we think they are lying.

        • James says:


          I don’t think it’s effective to make blanket statements such as “Developers Rule.” Developers are operating a business and they are trying to make money – They are acting out of self-interest but their goals are not to destroy a neighborhood simply for the fun of it.

          We as both residents and consumers have great power to craft the incentives that dictate what developers do. We can choose where to live and we can choose where we spend our money.

          As residents of NYC we already enjoy great privilege to this end over other places in the US in the form of Community Boards, Preservation Committees, and other forms of civic engagement. It is not perfect and these organizations can be political as well, but they exist and they are better than the overwhelming majority of places in the US.

          A spot on Broadway and 81st would be a prime location for development because it is a great neighborhood and people want to live here. What we need to do is ensure that the character of the neighborhood which makes it so desirable in the first place is not threatened by new development, but we shouldn’t expect that change won’t happen or that developers won’t want to develop.

          Let me give you some examples – The Larstrand at 76th Street could exist in any place – It is uninspired design which is removed from the neighborhood. However, The Laureate just a block down is a new building that looks distinctly “of the UWS”. There is a lot we can do to encourage more Laureate’s and less Larstrands being built.

          I think it’s unreasonable to expect that we can maintain two or three story buildings along that stretch of Broadway given the current housing shortage in NY.

          • Pedestrian says:

            The fact that a developer put up a stylish building doesn’t negate the fact that developers do rule the City. Sorry if the facts bother you.

      • Harriet says:

        Thank you for your rational analysis. These people who criticize the loss of “their UWS” don’t seem to have any sense of history. “Their UWS” replaced something else whose loss was lamented by people who knew it from an even earlier time.

    4. RF says:

      Question for WSR, or for anyone else who might happen to know the answer: Are there any rules or regulations to limit the amount of construction that can happen in an area at any one time? I live near this building. There is already a major construction site on the corner of 80th/Broadway (former Sym’s) and another around the corner on 79th, near the Lucerne Hotel. Even more construction is taking place on 77th between Broadway and Amsterdam. If the demolition of the Essentials building moves forward, that would mean YET ANOTHER construction site, and all of the noise, dirt, scaffolding, pollution, sidewalk cracks, cranes, rats, and various other things that come with it. Even though I love some of the old buildings that are being demolished, I understand the need/want to build taller buildings. However, it seems that there is little regard for the quality of life for those of us who currently live here.

      • AC says:

        Your reference to 77 street is your answer. Two construction projects across from each other, adjacent to a Fire House, and a Hotel. In short, as long as the Developer/Builder meet guidelines established by the Dept. of Buildings (DOB) and attain the required permits, they have the green light. While I am in agreement with progress, I am totally against overcrowding. Our city’s infrastructure (subways, waterlines, utilities, etc.), are not keeping up with the pace of these recent additions to the UWS.

        • RF says:

          Agreed re: overcrowding. The 79th Street subway station is already difficult to navigate; the narrow stairwells are just not made to accommodate the crowds that pass through there on a daily basis, and the influx of new buildings/residents won’t help. It’s just frustrating to live in the middle of all of this construction, with no end in sight. I wish the city would consider those of us who already live here–I realize that they can’t stop developers altogether, but perhaps limiting the number of active construction projects at one time might be a good solution.

          • anon says:

            The 79th street station is my “home” station that I use multiple times a day. I’d agree with you that it could really use a second set of stairs/another entrance as there is often a line to get out when I come home in the evening from my midtown office. Apart from the stair crowding in peak hours, however, I do not consider this a crowded station. There is always enough room to stand/move on the platform (even in rush hour) and it is nothing like the horror that is the 6 line or the L. We are lucky!

    5. Richard says:

      Most of the two- and three-story buildings along Broadway (and other commercial stretches of the UWS) are what is known as “taxpayers,” structures that were erected during the Depression, when developers could not afford large-scale projects. The intention was to generate enough income to pay the taxes on the property. These buildings were never intended to be permanent, however much we have come to value their impact on a livable cityscape.

      Change is not inherently bad. Everybody’s UWS is always built on the destruction and desecration of someone else’s neighborhood remembered.

    6. robert says:

      Did a bit of diging and came up with some imfo which make sme think that there will most certinaly be an “as of right” building going up on the site. That means no amount of UWS NIMBYism will stop it.
      This means that the air rights for the part of the building that would be right up against the already existing building on WEA with windows on the B’way side can be tfr.
      They would not have done that without a plan already in place. No developer planning work on the UWS is going to cfm anything until they have there permits, and they are perfectly within their rights to do so.

    7. Christina says:

      I’m so sick and tired of all these tall buildings being built. It would be nice if there were smaller building being built. Leave all the tall ones for midtown. Or just renovate the inside of smaller buildings! It’s disgusting!

      • dannyboy says:

        Me too.

        • Mark says:

          Me three.

          • Riverside Boulevarder says:

            1-2-3 Christiana and others… Perhaps a suburban subdivision with height restrictions would be better suited for you?

            • Christina says:

              No! Riverside boulevarder. I grew up here on the upper west side and this area should be kept somewhat neighborhood like considering everything else has disappeared from the area, which to me, means enough of the mega high rises! The village… Greenwich and East doesn’t have as many high rises as we do. Midtown is more conducive for that! In my humble opinion. And I don’t think I need to live in the suburbs for that!

            • dannyboy says:

              Riverside Boulevarder,

              Why make it personal?

              3 people feel they like to maintain the character of the neighborhood and you suggest they leave nyc. Why?

    8. When considering a new structure it would be amazing to keep the base of this building and build up from there- much like The Hearst Building on West 57th St. and Eighth Ave. The Best of the old and the new!

      • Jeremy says:

        Funny – I was thinking that the Essentials building looks like a base that someone forgot to build on top of.

        • Christina says:

          There were a number of buildings with that height on the UWS. That’s until they tore them all down.

    9. S. Louie says:

      I think I will lose my mind if we lose anymore sky / sun space on the UWS!!!!!

    10. AC says:

      Whenever a developer seeks permission to re-build, our local reps should be putting pressure on them to incorporate some UWS improvement (new park space, parking, or adding a subway entrance/exit, etc.) For instance, for the new high rise to be constructed on the SE corner of 80th and B’way, the developer should be directed to incorporate a subway entrance/exit in their design. Anyone who has exited on 79 street knows that an additional egress is warranted. Similar to what was done between 86/87 street on B’way.

      To our local reps, this would be a quality of life improvement the MTA would support, along with your UWS constituents!

      • The process of proposing an improvement can be started in the Community Board or in a Participatory Budget meeting.

        • robert says:

          CB are advisory, pb has not bearing on this at all.
          These are mostly “as of right” buildings and there is no way to stop them.
          Developers have long ago figured out that you buy the building on mon and get your permits approve tues. (Just an example) so there are no useless UWS nimby lawsuits, that although cost time and money get tossed out by Judges do to the building being as of right.
          Also take a look at the NYC Campaign Finance Boards website to see were elcteds get their $$$. Considering how much NYC politicians like to yelp about developers when they are on the UWS, they sure like their $$$ in their campaign accts. Keep in mind that the construction industry in NYC employs tens of thousands of lower and middle class UNION workers.

      • D.R. says:

        The subway egress is a great idea.
        In your list of amenities, I would add atrium space and bathrooms.

      • robert says:

        You can ask, direct, beg, plead etc. But most of the buildings going up in NYC are “as of right”. That means the odds on getting a builder to spend addition tens of million’s of $$$ is next to impossible, unless…. you do things like allow them to build another couple of stories on the building in exchange for the subway entrance and/or some other neighborhood amenity.

    11. Nelson says:

      So many curmudgeons! I’m sure the Indians miss their Reservations. I’m sure the displaced populace of Seneca Village wasn’t thrilled with Central Park. Count your blessings: NYC and the UWS is a vital, thriving, exciting and sought after place to be. So rather than live in the past (Yes, I miss Shakespeare & Co, too) and grumble about inevitable change, why not try to find a way to embrace the future. Maybe your property value will go up…you’ll make a new friend…or find a new restaurant or shop to love.

      And if you’re still miserable, call up CityMeals on Wheels and go volunteer once in a while. That should help you keep things in perspective.

      • Christina says:

        Change is not always for the better. Some of it is but certainly not all.

        • ScooterStan says:

          Re: “Change is not always for the better.”

          YUP! A truth recognized by those of us feeling lots of Buyer’s Remorse over our ‘Hope and Change’ President, especially because:

          1) The Iran Nuke deal which turns out to be an eventual threat to the very existence of Israel (read last week’s New York Observer editorial on this!);

          2)AND the fact that his “legacy” Iran Nuke treaty did NOTHING to rescue four Americans still held by that country. Another president would have said “release our people and then we lift the sanctions!’;

          3)The Trans-Pacific Partnership, another anti-worker sell-out to corporations;

          4) NOT appointing Elizabeth Warren to head up the Consumer Protection Board, HER brainchild!;

          5) Deporting more immigrants than W ever did, and destroying families by depriving children of their parents;

          and more…much more

          –a former Obama supporter

      • Christina says:

        We used to help my mom volunteer at different soup kitchens and help make Thanksgiving turkeys for the homeless shelters. On occasion didn’t eat ours til late in the evening because of volunteering. So, I’ve had and still have perspective and still stand by what I said in above comment.

    12. lisa says:

      Very sad at the prospect of a high-rise (no doubt luxury) replacing this low-rise building.

      Regarding comments that “change is inevitable”…yes change is inevitable but change is not necessarily neutral – the nature, magnitude and speed of change do count. For this building, “natural” change would mean a different store. But in this case, the change will no doubt be based on big money, the wishes of luxury real estate developers. IMO the magnitude of luxury real estate in the UWS is rapidly transforming what was a real and special urban neighborhood into the urban version of gated Florida luxury developments along with the mall.
      And as for “change is good” comments – would change still be perceived as good if the “change” was to build a garbage facility or some other unpopular entity?

      And per other comments, a bigger building means more people in an area where there has been no concomitant increase in infrastructure (transportation, garbage etc)

      And for the inevitable suggestion to volunteer…I do, and it is appalling to see so many families (working people) who have lost housing due to luxury real estate forces throughout NYC.

      • T50R says:

        We UWSers need to also think about another probable knock-on impact of all of this new building in our neighborhood. If I understand the formula correctly, property tax for buildings (co-op / condo) is based on neighborhood apartment RENTAL rates. This means that the new buildings may have a very real impact on the affordability of your current home – to be reflected in your maintenance or tax bill. For many long-time UWS residents in my building, this may price them out of homes that they have owned for decades. This would be a sad unintended consequence of progress.

        • dannyboy says:

          I am unable to offer any knowledge on your property tax question, but have a coupla’ editorial opinions on your Comment:

          “This would be a sad unintended consequence of progress.”

          1. ‘Sad’ – yes
          2. ‘unintended consequence’ – I don’t think so. Once you think through the motivators of tear down/ build up, you soon realize that there are defined winners and lots of loss spread to the rest.
          3. ‘progress’ – Not every change is progress. If the goal were Progress, this project is not what it would look like.

          • T50R says:

            Unintended consequence: I do not believe the city had “through taxation, price existing residents out of their neighborhoods” as their intention with the tax code.

            Progress: tongue-in-cheek

            • dannyboy says:

              uh huh.

              also, what do you mean when you use the word “city”?

              is that NYC Government?

              or NYC people (widely divergent from above)

              or city power brokers (widely divergent from just above, but more likely to influence and work with NYC Governemt

        • Christina says:

          I wouldn’t know! I’m one of those middle classers that can’t afford to buy.

      • Many needed infrastructure projects have been rejected over the years on the UWS. Westway could have reduced the large truck traffic in the streets and provided additional park land.

        In recent years, the construction of new school buildings was rejected due to a anti luxury development bias. The East Side was able to get two new schools built on Second Avenue and 56th streets with developer money.

        The Upper East Side has to endure the construction of the Second Avenue Subway. The UWS could use a new modern high capacity subway line.

        A lot of energy is used to stop development and maintain aesthetic context, but little is used to improve the infrastructure. The UWS seems to be unwilling to deal with the discomfort of any change.

        Change is inevitable and nothing is forever. Old fashioned misconceptions of what is a mall and neighborhood character need to be discarded. The UWS needs to set its priorities. Compromises have to be made to get needed things built. The developers are constantly adjusting to the changes of the UWS ecosystem, are we going to do the same?