StoryCorps Door-to-Door travels all over the country recording the stories of everyday Americans; however, sometimes we prefer to stay right here in New York City. After all, this is the city of a million stories. Two weeks ago, we had the pleasure of recording some native New York stories with the 300 West Block Association of Chelsea. Mrs. Eleanor Horowitz, a long-time Chelsea resident, opened her home to other residents and StoryCorps for this recording day.
Although today Chelsea is thought of as a well-off part of Manhattan, this wasn’t always the case. When Eleanor and her husband moved into the neighborhood in the 1970s, her mother was horrified that the young couple would be living in a place that had garbage cans on the street. Eleanor’s interview partner, Marina, remembered that when she was growing up during that time, Chelsea was often the place people came to for illegal activity. Marina remembers how she and her friends knew which blocks to avoid when they went out. Despite the unsavory characters of the neighborhood, Chelsea was a place where neighbors knew one another and kids played outside. However, the neighborhood is changing.
Although you will still find corner stores in the neighborhood, they no longer play the role they used to. Norma Aviles and her interview partner, Linda Reira, remember that the corner store or “bodega” was not only where you went for milk, eggs, and bread, but also the central conduit for news. If you wanted to know who was born, who died or who hit the daily lottery number, you hung out at the bodega. Because the bodega owners knew everyone in the neighborhood, you could often buy what you needed on credit if you did not have the money.
During their StoryCorps interview, Norma and Linda also remember the bitter battles fought between Chelsea residents and landlords who tried to displace current tenants in order to attract a wealthier group of tenants. Although unproven, Norma believes that her landlord set her building on fire as a last resort to boot the lower income tenants from the building; however, Norma and her family fought against displacement and continue to live in the neighborhood. Today, many long-time residents of Chelsea are still fighting the uphill battle to keep the neighborhood diverse and affordable.
We really enjoyed our time at Eleanor’s home talking with residents about the their fondest and deepest memories of the neighborhood they call home. Thank you to Eleanor and Andra for being such gracious hostesses and making us feel welcome. Moreover, we would like to extend a very special thank you to New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn who donated this recording to day to the 300 West Block Association.