What’s Really Happening to Canal Street

Canal Street “is in the midst of a high fashion makeover,” claims an article in today’s New York Times. To prove this thesis, however, the author cites five examples: Canal Street Market, Roman and Williams Guild, Foundrae jewelry boutique, Regen Projects gallery, and the Exposure PR agency’s pop-up space, 393 NYC. As I mentioned the other day, Canal Street Market doesn’t exactly appear to be thriving, and Roman and Williams Guild—with curtained-over windows all along Canal—is more of a Howard Street destination. Foundrae and Regen Projects, meanwhile, are on Lispenard (which doesn’t “run into” Canal), and Exposure is on Broadway between Walker and White. Neighboring streets have been gentrifying for years, and a few recent examples do nothing to demonstrate that Canal is changing.

What’s frustrating is that Canal is in flux. The street is clearly getting cleaned up at its far east (trendy) and far west (upscale) ends, and while the middle remains dodgy, quite a bit is happening there.

Rendering of 11 Greene.
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Consider the new buildings, conversions, and the like:
••• 272-274 Canal (at Cortlandt Alley) was recently purchased, with “plans to transform the property into a boutique office building with 89 feet of wrap-around, ground-floor retail space.”
••• A seven-story residential building is under construction at 11 Greene, much of which fronts Canal.
••• The rehabilitation of (and addition to) 308-310 Canal.
••• A seven-story building is in the works for 312-322 Canal.
••• An eight-story commercial building coming to the northwest corner of Broadway and Canal (419-421 Broadway).
••• 111-115 Lafayette, at the southeast corner of Canal, just hit the market as a 22,515-square-foot development opportunity.

Rendering of 419-421 Broadway.
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United American Land owns many buildings in the area, including 415 Broadway (the grand, forlorn bank building at the southwest corner of Canal), 53 Howard (with Roman and Williams Guild on the ground floor), 420 Broadway (northeast corner of Canal and Broadway), and 419-421 Broadway. The company has refurbished many of its holdings on Canal, such as 300 Canal and 321-323 Canal, and with such a substantial investment in the street, it could really benefit from positive change. That would certainly be why, as New York magazine just noted, UAL is drawing attention to the street this summer with an activation of 22 pop-up shops and galleries.

Renderings of 312-322 Canal.
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Because right now, most storefronts are empty or full of dreck. There are a handful of notable examples beyond Roman and Williams Guild and Canal Street Market: Vin des Amis wine store, Stadium Goods’s sneaker consignment counter, Canal Sound & Light, Canal Rubber, GNC, Bari Café, Dunkin Donuts, Paris Baguette, Caffe Bene…. Scoff all you want at the fast-food outlets, but those storefronts are in far better shape than most others on the street. And there are two big newcomers on the way: West of Sixth Avenue, on the vacant lot on the north side of Canal, Gitano Tulum is opening a seasonal outdoor restaurant that will undoubtedly be a major scene, and Tom and Anthony Martignetti of Broome Street Hospitality (East Pole, Brinkley’s, etc.) are opening a bar in the former Haus nightclub at 285 W. Broadway. They even plan on setting up sidewalk seating, which would be a first for Canal, except for possibly on the mellow part past the Manhattan Bridge.

Dunkin Donuts at 303 Canal; 285 W. Broadway
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Taking the macro view, the biggest change to the greater Canal Street corridor over the past 10 to 15 years would have to be the many hotels that have sprouted up or are on their way. Off the top of my head, I can think of a dozen within a block or so of Canal: Hotel Hugo, the Arlo, Hilton Garden Inn, the James, the Sheraton Tribeca, Soho Grand, Soho Garden (formerly Tribeca Blu), 11 Howard, and the forthcoming 456 Greenwich, Walker Street Hotel, and the Best Western on Walker. The conventional wisdom would have to be that developers believe that tourists, unlike locals, don’t know better than to avoid the area. Either way, the hotels have brought a tremendous amount of foot traffic to a street that many of us avoid.

Courtesy Walker Street Hotel.
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Moreover, much of the current focus on Canal appears to be reflected excitement about the area facetiously called Chibeca because it bridges Tribeca and Chinatown. When people talk about the artists and galleries along Canal, such as in today’s Times article, they mean not just Regen Projects (which, by the way, hasn’t moved forward at all since it was announced in September), but Postmasters, Mmuseumm, and the forthcoming Artists Space in Chibeca, along with the big-name galleries and design shops over in northeast Tribeca (Alexander and Bonin, Bortolami, Patrick Parrish, David Weeks Studio, Stillfried Wien, R & Company, Ted Muehling, and so on). Chibeca will really hit the map when the New York outpost of wildly popular Chicago restaurant Au Cheval opens on Cortlandt Alley.

For all that, one does wonder exactly how far Canal Street can go without enforcement of counterfeit vendors and—far more important—alleviating the Holland Tunnel traffic situation and tolling the Verrazano Bridge. From the New York Times one month ago: “The tolls also lead to spillover congestion from ‘bridge-shopping.’ Canal Street in Lower Manhattan has become jammed with drivers”—many of whom are driving huge trucks—”from Brooklyn bound for New Jersey who go out of their way to avoid the Verrazano toll. Many cross over on the Manhattan Bridge, travel along Canal Street and then onto the Holland Tunnel to New Jersey.” Because until those two factors are addressed, Canal Street will still be an unpleasant slog, refreshing only in that it reminds many of us what more of the city used to be like.

 

16 Comments

  1. well done Erik!

  2. great reporting.
    what an interesting street.

  3. Really good post

  4. Excellent article!
    I am hopeful about all these changes as improvements to the current wasteland of Canal Street.
    Agreed, first priority should be to get rid of the shady vendors, and alleviate the traffic problems. Presumably commercial tenants would be far more interested in the area if those issues were dealt with. For example, the “forlorn” beauty of the bank building at 415 Broadway might actually find a tenant!

  5. I likely have a more acute perspective on this than most – I lived on Canal for 5 years (in a UAL building that had *not* been renovated!) and lived on Broome for a number of years before that.

    I’ll tell you that in my opinion the foot traffic and street vendor issues are by far larger than the car traffic problem in terms of local business. Broome has almost as much tunnel traffic, actually, and is almost as wide – the problem with Canal is that the sidewalks are routinely unwalkable between the street vendors and, particularly on the east side, the Chinatown crowds. Broome has wider less crowded sidewalks and the SoHo portion of it is lined on both sides with high end stores.

    The northern part of Hudson in Tribeca is I think also unambiguously much more “upscale” than Canal (though it does have fewer restaurants / less retail than Broome), despite its own tunnel traffic issue.

    • I was walking down Canal just last weekend and the sidewalks were unpassable because of the vendors hawking fake bags and the tourists buying them. I was compelled to call 311, which will have zero effect but did make my rage subside just a little.

      • You know what other streets that are unpassable because of the vendors hawking fake bags and the tourists buying them? Broadway in Soho, 6th Avenue and other surrounding side streets by midtown and Times Sq. But is anyone making a noise about it as much as the ones about Canal St., or is anyone making an excuse about how they need to be cleaned-up?

        This “cleaning-up” of Canal St. is just yet another ruse to push out the immigrants and turn that area for only the riches can enjoy.

        NYTimes and the real estate developers just want NYC to be a white Dubai. Enjoy the homogeneous city you guys want.

  6. If the city would only enforce laws against gratuitous horn-honking, I bet that average longevity of New Yorkers would increase.

  7. Must all of NYC be upscale and “luxurious”?

    Canal Street is already a vibrant place for everyone — tourists, riches,and esp to the middle -and working class, riffraffs, and the immigrants (esp. Chinese).

    Does NYC need to be blandified and whitiefied so that it would be like another Midwestern town or suburbs. Why move to NYC only to turn the city into one’s image of whiteness, conformity and sterilization.

    Just another excuse for the Real Estate developers claiming Canal St. to be downtrodden and needs improvement so that they can turn it to please the riches and others where they can hide and launder their dirty money.

    Improvement for whom exactly: — Improvement for Bloomberg’s godsend billionaires..

    • Not necessary to equate cleaning up certain problems of the street (noise, traffic, litter, graffiti, counterfeit vendors) with going “upscale” and “luxurious”. Those can be desirable improvements for a neighborhood anywhere along the economic spectrum.

      • Again, certain problems for whom? Problems to those who want Canal St to be upscale and luxurious , who want s to turn Canal St. into Short Hills, much like what Amanda Burden had done to other “problematic” neighborhoods. How much more J Crew or Brooks Brothers or Frenchettete type of restaurants or more luxury condos from Bloomberg;s godsend [dirty] [Russian] billionaires do you folks want?

        • Problems for me, for example, and I am somewhere between lower and middle class economically, not one who can afford to shop at high-end stores and such. I just want our city streets to be clean, safe, beautiful, and advertising kept small and unobtrusive, sidewalks to be passable, noise, litter, vehicle pollution levels to be reduced, priority given to good public transit, etc. Perhaps that’s too much to ask. Other cities (often in other countries) manage the task somehow, though.

  8. I think it’s fun, exciting! Art, events, activations, experience and more. Join the party, don’t be late to it!!!!!!!

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