It was a typical weekend in May, only with a lot more looters in the street. Manhattan was filled with people who would sooner rob a bank than leave the Upper West Side.
There was no Michael Bloomberg or Mike Bloomberg running around. It wasn’t 2001 or 2014, even though the unusual weekend earlier this month is striking in its own way. By 9 a.m., the Red Hook Avenue Walgreens alone had surpassed its previous total sales of the previous year, according to a co-owner, Carmine E. Spinelli.
At that moment, Spinelli, 64, was among scores of nameless Red Hook residents who filled the fountains and security guards in Times Square. The crowds on that sunny Saturday were unlike anything Spinelli, who doesn’t yet have a day job, had seen since he opened Spinelli’s Grocery in 1975.
Spinelli might be the only man in the entire city who doesn’t even recall this particular weekend. Instead, the off-duty delivery driver has been trying to find his customers ever since — around 5 p.m. on May 25, a homicide here sparked riots in Chinatown that spread to North End Avenue.
Thousands of city residents who live in a neighborhood whose population had already plummeted nearly 40 percent by 2001 — and whose 75 stores closed during Bloomberg’s last eight years — are now mostly immigrants. Those also include many who grew up around Red Hook but bought homes elsewhere.
Their real estate fortunes reflected a shift as Manhattan became a more desirable place to live, and Times Square became a nighttime destination for the tourist. When the path of Hurricane Sandy took one of the last holdouts by the throat, with the rest of Red Hook being emptied out in the next few days, all of Red Hook was exposed to the full force of that shift.
Except for Spinelli.
“There were nine people in the store, and I was running around,” he said. “It was a city.”
Spinelli gets more than food deliveries — not too many at any given time, and mostly from grocery stores around the city. He doesn’t go to Starbucks, and actually hasn’t been on the streets in about a year. Most of the residents are coming for delivery.
He needs it to survive: His business can depend on it, and he is not the only Red Hook shop owner in financial jeopardy.
“This era of inconvenience, pain and suffering is really long over,” Eron Weiner, the founder of Binkology, an academic blog about the hotbed of art in the section of Brooklyn, Brooklyn, told The New York Times. “Every once in a while, people have to go back in time to the 80s, 90s and early 2000s.”
It’s hard to make sense of it, and also hard to take it in, given how fast it’s happened and how extreme.
Some of these former residents are already gone, and most of the businesses have departed as well.
“The neighborhood has changed dramatically,” said Anthony Argir, the owner of Bedama and Red Hook Spirits distilleries, who said he moved to Manhattan about a year ago.
He wasn’t around during the hardships. “It was a sad time, but I think the community responded very quickly,” he said.