Monday, August 27, 2012

Traditions and Institutions Gone Forever

The Automat

When my parents reflect upon trips to New York City the regale me with stories of trips to the old Yankee Stadium, the wooden escalators at Macy's and eating at the Automat.  "Nothing like seeing the greatest Yankees to ever play the game play it there!" my father will gush.  "Those steps were so worn and indented by the feet of passengers, you could tell just where to stand on that escalator!" Mom would laugh.  And, inevitably, they'd say in unison, "The Automat had the best mashed potatoes and apple pie!  And only 10 cents each!"  Then the smiles would fade slightly, and they's shake their heads slowly.  "New York City was never the same after they closed those Automats."

The Menu from the original Mamma Leone's

For me, the nostalgia hits every time I walk down 48th Street, to this day.  That's where the legendary Mamma Leone's Ristorante was before they closed  the original location and attempted a remount at the Milford Plaza, adjacent to The Phantom of the Opera.  I suppose real New Yorkers would scoff and say it was a tourist trap.  I'd agree with them about the hotel location. I tried it just once.  It was all I needed - it was a pale imitation at best. In theater parlance, I'd say it was a bus-and-truck revival compared to the original.  Apparently, I was not alone in feeling that way.  It closed and did not reopen in 1994.

Mamma Leone's on 48th Street, circa 1980

Ah, but the original!  To this day, I can taste the AMAZING meat sauce, see the tuxedo-ed maitre d, hear the strolling musicians, and marvel at the catacomb-like floor plan.  You went up and down stairs though what felt like a maze, past room after room of tables, some so small there were only two tables.  It was crowded, noisy, and smelled like an Italian kitchen, garlic and sausage heavy in the air.  After it closed on 48th Street, they tore down most of the block, a gaping hole left for months.  I visited the space once, and shook my head.  "New York City will never be the same." (It was particularly memorable because that was the day I realized that as an adult, I'd frequently sound just like my parents!)

The corner of Broadway and West 49th Street

I suspect that the first time I walk past the Brill Building and see that Colony Records is no longer there, I will feel that same twinge of happy memories and sad nostalgia.  It is just a staple of visiting Times Square.  It is the place where I bought the Original Cast Recording of Anyone Can Whistle ON VINYL!  God knows you couldn't get such a rarity at Sam Goody's or Waxy Maxie's at the local mall.  For years, I'd go in there and marvel at the selection of Broadway records, then cassettes, then CDs.  (I also bought Anyone Can Whistle on CD there, for the same reasons!)  And I loved the smell of all that sheet music - musty, but newer than a public library smell.  And I'd marvel at the the vocal scores - row after row - and even more at the individual songs, each with the Broadway logo and only the song title to help tell the difference.  "Who would ever buy just one song?" I'd wonder naively, until the day I saw Karen Ziemba in the store mulling over the single songs and talking to her friend about an upcoming audition.

The aisles of sheet music at Colony Records

We all know and understand the reason why Colony Records is closing.  Everything they sell is easier to get and so much cheaper on the Internet.  I know that is the reason why I pretty much stopped going in there, unless it was to warm up during a freezing day in the city.  I haven't purchased a thing from the store in years.  And despite understanding why, I can't help but feel a little guilty, I guess.  But even more than that, I feel sad, and very nostalgic.  Where I live, there is literally no store left to go buy a CD at - even Best Buy has less shelf space for such antiquities these days.  I miss going to a record store and browsing through the bins, discovering new releases and remembering past shows with the regular stock.  As gratifying as it is to get a package from and loving the price, nothing matches going to the store and picking it out for yourself.  And I know that the CD's days are numbered, too.

But for now, I need some time to get over another step in progress, and the end of an institution and tradition.  The day the reddish-pink and blue neon goes out on the corner of Broadway and West 49th Street for the last time, no one will ever be able to say, "I found it at Colony!" again.

New York City will never be the same again.


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  1. Nice post. I've got to admit, I went into Colony a couple of times and didn't buy anything. But I liked to look around. And you can still go on the wooden escalators at Macy's! At least you could a few years ago.

  2. I loved Mamma Leone's. Wonderful memories...


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