Photos &repeated posts 28 Jun 2009 08:31 am

Recap – PhotoSunday Gypsies

Last year, I offered a showcase of some of the local color, the Fortune Tellers, Crystal Readers and “Gypsies” in the area. I’m planning to have a follow-up post to this (so many more have opened in town), so I thought it’d be enterprising to recap the original. Here that post from April 2008:

- The thing about New York is that there are an awfully large number of Gypsy fortune tellers. They seem to be nicely hidden, part of the fabric of their street front locations. Oftentimes, they occupy store front locations, but sometimes they take up space on the second floor of buildings.

It’s hard to tell how they make enough cash to pay the somewhat high rents they have to cover. I’d always assumed that it had something to do with illegitimate betting or drugs or something. Then I read a New Yorker article several years ago which revealed the answer – crystals.

I decided to photograph all that I saw on my walk from home to the studio. The first thing I came upon, on Park Avenue and 29th Street, was this posterboard for an out-of-sight store. I looked, somewhat cursorily but couldn’t immediately locate it.
_______(Click any image to enlarge.)
_____________________________.__________They turned out to be hidden behind
some construction. The shop was on the second floor of a small building undergoing a face lift. No wonder they felt the need for a _street placard, half a block away.

_They were forced to use the construction work to advertise their business. This has to be _hard for them.
_This space is located between Lexington & Third Avenues on 29th Street. It sits adjacent _to an excellent Thai restaurant.
_Farther west, on the corner of 29th Street and Sixth Avenue, there’s one on the third floor.
_A business with plenty of neon advertising; you could mistake it for a nail salon if you
_weren’t looking for it.
_This space was on 21st Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. The pharoah head seems
_to be a familiar that appears in seveal of the windows. It obviously means something I _don’t understand. “Mummies welcome.”
On Sixth Avenue just off 14th Street there’s this second floor shop. They’re closed this morning, consequently it’s hard to tell if they have neon lighting as well. The windows, this morning seem to be closed off; they’re probably still asleep. (Of course, the “fortune tellers” usually live in these spaces.)
_A block away from the studio, on Houston and Bedford Streets, there’s this
_space just above the “Quick Deli.” The awnings are the only announcement of their _location. It’s a one-floor walkup.
____This storefront sits just above my studio. It helps me identify where the studio is.
____I just tell people to walk down the stairs just beneath the “Psychic.”
_These are the artifacts to be found in the window of the “Psychic” storefront above me.
_As I said, the New Yorker article suggested that they sold crstals. If they found two or
_three customers a year who would come back regularly for new and more helpful crystals,
_it would cover the year’s rent. It’s an alien world to me. I can’t imagine even walking
_into the stores.
_I’ve also noticed three or four used cars irregularly parked on the street. They all have the
_“For Sale” signed painted on the rear windows. The seller is this store’s operator.
_When I moved in, four years ago, my landlord told me that he was paid every month, on
_time, in cash. Those crystals must be selling.
_____This, of course, is the entrance to the walkway to my studio. Très discrete.
_____I’m supposed to have exclusive use of the wrought iron fence for signage, but
_____as soon as I put something up, their placard arrived. Why argue? For some
_____reason everyone notices my sign, and some curious visitors have turned into
_____clients. Usually it’s someone wanting to know what an animation studio does
_____ or they’re looking to buy a cel. (Maybe I should sell them.)

These were the shops most obvious to me. I’m sure I walked past others without noticing. There are many, many more of these store front places. I don’t think they wander much beyond the second floor, since they have to be there for the curious person looking to have their fortune told, tarot done, or buy those crystals.

2 Responses to “Recap – PhotoSunday Gypsies”

  1. on 28 Jun 2009 at 12:17 pm 1.Eddie Fitzgerald said …

    Nice post! I frequently wonder how small storefront or second floor businesses manage to scrape together the rent every month. I know of lots of shops that always seem to be empty yet manage to stay open. How do they do it? Do they all have some equivalent of crystals to sell?

    Nowadays you assume the proprieter has an internet business on the side, but customerless stores pre-date the internet. Maybe they used to do mail-order.

    Like you I used to wonder if empty shops were fronts for crime or spies or secret government agencies. The puzzling thing is that there’s so many shops like this. If they all have cavernous, high tech operations in the basement then the city must be riddled with underground holes, like Swiss Cheese.

    Maybe the stores are a front for families that live there in defiance of zoning restrictions.

  2. on 29 Jun 2009 at 9:50 pm 2.Todd McHatton said …

    Yes, I just happened to be one of those curious visitors last week. It was such a pleasant surprise to be walking down the street having just a lovely vacation and seeing your splendid little sign there. I immediately raced down that little tunnel, peered through the windows, and there you were. Thank you very much for humoring me and allowing the brief opportunity to gush and offer you a book and cd. Hopefully all I need to say is that we’d just come from McSorley’s. And yes, we’d noticed many, many of these businesses as well and wondered the same thing. Thank you also for including something from Murakami-Wolf. I have been obsessed with Nilsson’s “The Point” for a very long time (I even own a couple of cells) and it would seem you would be the place to find out even more about this beautiful film.
    And thank you again!

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