A Tribute to Richard Timperio
Richard Timperio In Remembrance
(1946 – 2018)
As the cost of living in Manhattan began to rise in 1980s, forcing out communities of artists and bohemians—be it SoHo, Tribeca, or the East Village—the first migration that crossed the East River, from Manhattan to Williamsburg were led by Robert Grosvenor, Bill Jensen, Margrit Lewczuk, Joyce Pensato, and Jim Clark, among others. They’ve in fact paved the way for the following generations of artists, including Fred Tomaselli, Joe Amrhein, Amy Sillman, Chris Martin, Tamara Gonzales, Bruce Pearson, Rick Briggs, Dan Walsh, Shari Mendelson, Don Voisine, Roxy Paine, and endless others, who soon generated and shaped a new artistic culture that has since spread wide and open in every hub in Brooklyn, from Greenpoint, Crown Heights, Red Hook, Bushwick, to Sunset Park, Midwood, even Brighton Beach, and elsewhere.
Looking back to the burgeoning days of Williamsburg, especially from the mid 1990s to the mid 2000s, certainly before gentrification and rezoning in 2005, every one of us still relishes the lively scene in the neighborhood that once was considered a weekend treat after a long workweek in Manhattan, namely first attending to openings at various galleries of our choice, for example, Pierogi, Roebling Hall, Schroeder Romero, Momenta Art, Four and 1/2 Project, Holland Tunnel, Southfirst, Sideshow Gallery, just to name a few, then convening in late hours for extended drinks at Brooklyn Ale House, Teddy’s, or Black Betty. Many of us also have observed, while each gallery has its own specific demographic of patrons and followers, partly in response to what it advocates for an identifiable aesthetic, Richard Timperio offered no specific vision nor aesthetic for Sideshow except the imminent democracy of artists who were as varied as his openness of spirit. The following is a tribute by a few of his friends and admirers.
I think I met Rich around the mid 1990’s on Bedford Avenue. At some point he came over to the studio to pick a painting for a show he curated at the giant new Planet Thailand restaurant. Rich had a big presence with his loud laugh, long hair, and cowboy hat. But he was sharp—he had a really good eye—and we right away hit it off—talking abstraction, color field painting, Bob Dylan, crazy Brooklyn stories, whatever… The man was a great storyteller. He loved life. And he had a kind of charisma that put you right at ease. I remember that I was thrilled to be in the show because all the artists were going to get free sushi for the night.
Rich started Sideshow Gallery soon after on the ground floor of the loft building on Bedford and South 2nd Street that had the studios of Rick Briggs and Dan Walsh. It quickly became a center for neighborhood artists, poets, and performers of all kinds. Williamsburg was starting to change. Artists moved in—and galleries, clubs, and coffee shops appeared in what had been sleepy and abandoned streets.
Rich made my career. He gave me two shows. In 2001 we put up two paintings inside the gallery and one twelve foot vinyl piece attached to the outside wall. We had been joking about getting a big painting “out onto the street” and Rich was the one who insisted we should do it. We both figured that it would quickly get tagged up but miraculously it never got touched—something I attributed to Rich’s growing standing in the neighborhood. In 2005 we filled two rooms (the gallery had expanded) with paintings and all kinds of stuff. Rich had become friends with the owners of the old pickle factory across the street and they let us bolt four paintings on to the decaying front siding. (I never told Rich how scared I was as we scrambled around on the insanely sketchy fire escape.) Those paintings stayed up on the street for years—and I have never felt prouder to have my work exhibited anywhere. I met a lot of people through that show.
One story: It was a crowded opening that night and someone fainted and an ambulance took her to Woodhull hospital. Later in the evening the ambulance came back and parked in front of the gallery because the driver was curious about the scene—and I’ll never forget a wonderfully drunk Rich loudly proclaiming, “You know it’s a good opening when the ambulance driver comes back to check out the show!”
Anyway Rich continued to put on many many great shows and boosted the careers and morale of hundreds of artists. He really created a whole community—a big social sculpture. His monster New Year group shows became legendary events with lines around the block. I always found the experience of perusing the floor to ceiling salon of 500 plus works of art a very moving experience.
Rich was a really good painter himself—and especially in the last few years his work grew joyous and expansive. And that was Rich—joyous and expansive. I miss him.
Honor at his passing to Rich Timperio, the artist/gallerist who made and sustained Sideshow Gallery on Bedford Street in Williamsburg.
The passing of Rich is not only sad in the usual way, but symbolically fraught. From the gritty graffiti sprayed and smeared on its facade, to the sweaty events, to the hegemony, in the works shown, of handmade hunks you want to bite into, as well as gaze at for a long time, Sideshow sublimely sticks out. Unlike more and more galleries, not to mention art shows, it sides with the work shown, not with the disembodied, digital world of thousands of swiftly scanned images drifting down a tiny phone screen. With Rich flying about conducting the cacophony, the gallery below his apartment, and sometimes open to it, had a way of feeling like the last one serving as a gathering place for a family of flesh and blood artists of all ages bound by loyalty to modern principles and visual criteria, and allergic to post-modern hype. Ken Butler and band floating through musical genres on his art work instruments composed of tennis racket, vinyl record, clock, flashlight, sled, and on and on consummately captured the Sideshow spirit. Lots of the greatest contemporary art around has made its way to Sideshow, and this assures me that others will tell that story; so I'll not here point to the usual suspects, nor foster my eccentric tastes (I got along with Rich because I'm weird and rebellious.) by singling out anyone else.
That's also in the spirit of the annual New Years extravaganza offering a spot on the wall to all artists great and small with the wherewithal to know Rich's name. As with Charlotte the spider—“She was not only a good writer, she was a good friend.”—it flattered our names, might have saved the lives of a few on the edge, to be written into that web, which spawned many heirs, but none equal to the original. (Not that artists are pigs, but many do like to make a gloriously muddy mess of their stalls.)
His own art best reveals the soul of the man, and so I re-present below (a tad tweaked) the artist statement that Rich published (unformatted, no time to fuss over himself versus everybody else) on his website, a catalogue essay I wrote about his painting, which he’d neglected for years to serve and celebrate others. As Leonardo says, living is dying; enlightened beings are always dying to be born again beginners, maybe that’s why this essay written at the onset of his reborn painting career keeps lapsing into what sounds like a eulogy; we always did find him only to lose him to where he showed up next, presently in the present case inside of me, barking his loud laugh like the furiously joyous pounding of the bass piano keys in “Only Angels Have Wings,” which I refer to in the essay.
(Note: Others less hermetic, those with a more stable and consistent connection to the scene can best situate the artist within it, but I think it's significant that he chose this fly by night essay to represent him; the huge tree with vast spreading roots had the soul of a tumbleweed.)
There’s a black and white, analog photograph (by Tom Warren) of Rich Timperio in cowboy hat looking dangerous and severe. He’s played pistonhead, cartoonist for the NY times, art director of Showtime at the Apollo, is presently creator and director of Sideshow gallery, superb chef, and weaving through this life worth living anyway is the reflection—drawing.. painting…—that isn’t apart from the thing it reflects, but swimming in it, like light on water.
The work winding its way to the present started out decades ago “pop-transcendental,” say, flamingos at war by a swimming pool. (Of course he managed a sojourn in California.) Absorbing influences of Francis Bacon, Larry Poons, Morris Louis, and others, he gradually shed the explicit social critique to be, he says, all about matter, color, light, shape, line, painter’s gesture. He wasn’t old then, but he’s even younger now. After a ten year hiatus, the present work takes a first step on a new path, happy with hopes and beginner’s luck, limpid as rainbows gleaming in the spray of sprinklers in a suburban front yard, those spectral colors layered with the latest in manmade, bright or calming tones for kitchens, baths, polyester sundresses, and leisure suits making yet another comeback. Most of the paint (acrylic) is so thin we don’t think on the substance at all, but then a smear here and there or some built up parts on the lighter zigzags floating on the large, soft edged rectangular spots, or on their edges, reminds us it’s a material world. If bodies were there though, they’d float a few inches off the ground like the saints of Fra Angelico.
The colors play like reflections on a window, and because of the reflections, we can’t see in. We’re not supposed to. It’s none of our business. Still, I suspect that behind what he puts up for us to see ourselves in, Rich is just the kind of guy who mourns the state of the world by celebrating—like when Cary Grant's character, a pilot, instructs Jean Arthur's to face the music and sing without a hangdog look though his buddy just went down in “Only Angels have Wings.”
During our interview, Timperio takes note of the dress I'm wearing. He says—painting's pretty much like that…you've got to balance all the hundreds of elements and factors, what to cut there and add there to get the right color, lines, the feeling, the shape. He arrived at this fifties favoring, sublime superficiality (or so it appears on the surface) for the same reason the jitterbug arrived at itself—in the elation and denial that inheres in every smile.
It takes a tough man in times like these to eke one out, but “…the only living thing is yes.”. Not “hell yes!”. Not even “yes”. Just yes. Unless you’re e.e. cummings, the minute you say it, you’re no longer playing it. If it doesn't slip through your fingers it's not water. Easy to pass by, we’re so used to mirages, and we fail to notice what we've drawn up and drunk til our well runs dry.
“Out of the blue and into the black
You pay for this, but they give you that
An’ once you're gone you can never come back
When you're out of the blue and into the black”
Rich was a Midwest guy from Ohio when I met him in Williamsburg in the spring of ’81. He and his partner, Elspeth, were two years back from New Mexico, and he was newly a father and doing illustration. He'd been a weight lifter, was into cars, and drinking beer. Before his slew of Saabs, there was an old Benz he worked on for years out in the country.
“Long may you run
Long may you run
Although these changes have come
With your chrome heart shining
In the sun, Long may you run”
He was a regular guy who was wowed by Warhol and the downtown scene and he derived a personal philosophy from pop music.
“You, who are on the road
Must have a code
That you can live by”
Rich had just started making abstract paintings. Having already been painting abstractly myself for a while, I was able to offer feedback and encouragement on his earliest efforts. Being a jazz guy, pop music was something I only vaguely paid attention to—focusing more on melody than lyrics. One of Rich's gifts to me was his focus on the words. I still remember being shocked at his interpretation of Dylan's line “…the empty handed painter from your street, is drawing crazy patterns on your sheets.” (Hint: the artist is using neither brush nor paint.)
We also shared an interest in lefty politics and went to D.C. to protest U.S. involvement in Central American wars and protested locally at City Hall in the earliest fights for tenants rights for loft dwellers. Always, there was an identification with the outsider, the underdog, and the rebel.
“A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be”
“The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
You end up like a dog that's been beat too much
Till you spend half your life just covering up
Born in the USA, I was born in the USA”
Perhaps there was nothing that Rich enjoyed more than sitting around a table, music playing, drink in hand, shooting the shit, reminiscing nostalgically—for Rich, a nightly benediction—with his family of friends.
“Nothing feels better than blood on blood”
Rich reveled in being the MC, in throwing a good party, and, of course, in orchestrating the annual Christmas extravaganza, the exhibition that welcomed virtually all comers. This reflected Rich's greatest attribute—his generosity. The gallery was more than just a place to show art: it functioned as community clubhouse, a venue for musical events, poetry readings, and even artist memorials. And now, fittingly, its last operation will be to serve as exhibition space for his own paintings and his own memorial.
I remember a time in the early ’80s when the Beatles “The End” was playing. Rich, with a head gesture and an expression of recognition and anticipation signaled for me to pay attention as the final words came up:
“And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to the love you make”
Living in the building we jointly bought years ago, I see everyday the piles of flowers and candles left by his many friends, a testament to the love he made.
“My my, hey hey
Rock and roll is here to stay
It's better to burn out than to fade away
My my, hey hey.
Rock and roll will never die”
I first met Richard Timperio in the late 1970s when we were tenants at Tribeca’s 11-story American Thread Building. It was a quirky living arrangement. Former business offices functioned as apartments; and once-public restrooms (stalls and sinks, no showers) were used by occupants of each floor. The place was home to artists from every creative discipline—among them, painters, dancers and musicians. The landlord, who wanted our ragtag gang out (the sooner, the better), regularly threatened eviction. He eventually took us to one of Manhattan’s civil courts where, much to his disappointment, he lost. With this defeat, he became more determined than ever to get rid of us. Meanwhile, we celebrated our victory with a wild, drunken party.
The landlord’s next move was to file the case with the New York State Supreme Court. This time, we weren’t so lucky. At the Bench, the judge spent the hearing with eyes closed, head resting on folded arms, snoozing. He managed to rouse himself in order to deliver his decision, ruling in favor of eviction. Looking around the courtroom, the judge fixed his gaze on our sorry lot, and addressed us with these parting words, “You guys just don’t understand. One hand washes the other. Okay?” Richie and I never figured out what that knucklehead was getting at.
Following the forced exodus of residents from the American Thread Building, Richie and I, along with several other artists, relocated to Williamsburg. On Bedford Avenue, Rich found a building, bought it for cheap, moved in with his family and invited me to rent the ground-floor’s front room as a studio.
During that period in Brooklyn’s history, Williamsburg was down on its luck, notorious for properties owned by absentee landlords, urban neglect, and crime. Rumors circulated about New York and Brooklyn cabbies—the toughest of the tough—who deposited Williamsburg-bound passengers at a safe distance, collected their fare, then gunned the gas pedal, zooming off into the night. Rich, on the other hand, seemed a stranger to such panic and fear. When describing those early days, he reminisced about the sound of gunshots that filled the air, his run-ins with cops, and his fondness for the locals.
Years passed. My Bedford Avenue studio days came to an end when, in 1999, Rich announced plans to create a gallery space—“Sideshow”—on the first floor. He was ready. His stature as a formidable presence in the neighborhood was now indisputable. An accomplished painter whose abstracts shimmered with a vibrancy of color and shape, Richie also commanded respect as a maverick curator. Since his arrival, he had forged new friendships and established social connections with members of Williamsburg’s proliferating community of visual artists. He was everywhere. Several of his happiest haunts included The Right Bank gallery where his work was frequently exhibited and the now-defunct restaurant/bar Planet Thailand where he served as a curator for its shows. Drawn to the ambience of Planet Thailand, Richie would become a devoted patron in his leisure time. Long were the evenings we all enjoyed together: drinking, eating, trading stories, and heatedly arguing on wildly divergent topics.
Genuine, straightforward, uncompromising, Rich was the real deal or—as he was so fond of describing others he admired—a “bad go-getter.” The son of a Cleveland, Ohio used-car salesman, Richie was proud of his working-class upbringing. He reserved his highest disdain for the muckety-mucks who presided over New York’s contemporary art establishment. In his opinion, these purveyors of aesthetic real estate played it safe. Blinded by the profit motive, they intentionally overlooked unrecognized artists. While Richie counted among his close friends and mentors Larry Poons, Paul Resika, and Dan Christensen, he would often mount shows that featured lesser-known artists.
Richard Timperio was responsible for one of the most significant, mind-altering contributions to the curatorial world of contemporary art. His annual Sideshow exhibit, which opened in late December or early January, was an event of epic and democratic proportions. Any artist who could afford the small fee required ($20 in 2018) was guaranteed a place on the wall. Working in collaboration with his capable assistants, Rich often hung (or positioned, if the work was a standing sculpture) as many as 600 pieces.
As a participating artist, I vividly remember the days leading up to the exhibit. Having looked over the pieces in my studio, I selected the best I had to offer and rode the L train to Bedford Avenue. At Sideshow, where the doors were almost always open, I was greeted with a flurry of activity. Far from slapdash, the flurry was a display of focused attention given to the multiple tasks at hand. Assistants, volunteers, and friends worked furiously, if painstakingly, against the always tight deadline. In the midst of all this, I usually discovered Richie, standing still and pointing at a wall where someone, following his directives, carefully shifted a work.
“Bring it up two inches. Okay. Now over to the left about three more inches. Yeah. That’s good.” Rich then pointed to a piece on the floor. “Put that one next to the painting by Seren Morey. Yep. It’s gonna work because there’s a lot going on in Seren’s painting.” Each work submitted was given studied treatment. The show represented not only a public opportunity for those who labored, unnoticed and alone, at their craft but also worked its magic as an inspiring affirmation of their efforts. During the decades that spanned our friendship, Richard often assured me that he would one day exhibit my work in at Sideshow. Because he never specified a date or year, I eventually forgot the possibility altogether. Several months before he died, Richie transformed that forgotten possibility into a reality. My one-person show opened on June 23, 2018. Once again, Richard’s curatorial prowess was radiantly evident.
A legend in his own time, Richard Timperio lives on. In the minds, hearts, and souls of the people who were privileged to know and love him.
—Art Guerra (a.k.a. Rebecca Yarowsky)
Paula De Luccia
Our friend Rich Timperio, the perennial inside outsider has moved on, he went too far this time, and he’s out of reach and out of bounds.
Rich filled a niche that was singular, one of inclusiveness, not exclusiveness. Not many people would be willing to do or could do what Rich did. He had a belief in something greater than money. Perhaps he was driven by an unrealistic ideal, one of love of friends and connectedness to community. Did you ever attend one of his soirées? Whatever it was that generated his magic, we may never know exactly, but it was different and palpable and he had no qualm standing front and center to vociferously drive home his point. He had a singular vision and did not waver from the path where it led him. He was a can do and did do kind of guy. His diversified talents were not limited to that of gallerist, curator, artist, chef or impresario. Did you ever notice the design of the lights in Sideshow Gallery? Or the design of his painting/living loft? His super industrial “restaurant style kitchen”? The beautiful long wooden table where he fed many? The Mondrian-like tile design in the upstairs lofts’ bathroom at 319 Bedford Ave? He not only designed them, he executed them.
In the 1970s there was a different social scene: The hangouts included Max’s Kansas City, The Locale Formerly the Local, The Lower Manhattan Ocean Club and Chinese Chance. When the era of nights hanging out in Manhattan ended, that aspect of the art social world, as some knew it, broke apart. People went their separate ways. But there was Rich, an early Williamsburg pioneer, hanging out in what would one day become one of the most chic neighborhoods in Brooklyn. It was as if Rich sensed there was a gap that needed to be filled and slowly, at first, he began to fill it. As years passed it grew and gained momentum. From modest beginnings with the exhibitions he mounted at Planet Thailand to the penultimate spectacle of the annual Sideshow Nation extravaganza, Rich was a force to be recognized. Sideshow Gallery openings became so popular that they required crowd control.
You couldn’t help but admire his devotion to his children, Cheyenne and Willy. He went above and beyond when it came to showing them his love, devotion, and support.
Then of course there was Bob Dylan. Rich LOVED Bob Dylan. It was like Dylan had a message he was personally delivering to Rich. So now perhaps Rich is “knockin’ on heavens door”? Hopefully he won’t have to wait too long. He might be telling us, “don’t think twice, it’s alright”... then again he just might be “tangled up in blue.”
What would Rich want from us? How would he want his legacy to be remembered? Maybe that is something unattainable. Remember his laugh or his greeting of, “hey, look who’s here.” Maybe that goal could only be sustained as long as he was here to guide it along. We can only hope it’s not “all over now baby blue.” But for certain he’s gone “away from our windows” never to peer in again.
We build our lives like chains—people and places are valuable nuggets we acquire over the years. Day by day, with our tiny hammers, we forge these lumps into links, the links into lines, and the lines into loops. These loops might constrain us, but they also give us stability, comfort, and, like a bike chain, they keep us in gear with the world, their strength allowing us to pedal on.
Richard Timperio, or as I knew him, Rich, died on Sunday, September 9th, at the age of 71. He was a nugget I happened to serendipitously stumble upon in the late 1990s in Williamsburg. I was coming out of a self-imposed exile from the New York art world, looking to reengage after spending a decade raising babies and being a soccer dad. I’d had several one-man shows in Soho and had dabbled in the East Village but never thought Brooklyn would have a scene that the New York art establishment would take “seriously.” Part of my agenda for reengagement was to begin by trying to write something like art criticism. One of my first assignments was to do a piece on a show in Williamsburg.
While investigating this show, I was introduced to what turned out to be the beginnings of a real art community—one that’d been formulating in the ‘burg since the art market crash of the late 1980s. In my time in New York I’d seen the rise and fall of Soho, the East Village, and the coming of Chelsea. But what I realized was happening in Williamsburg was something a little different. Living in Brooklyn, I decided to make this neighborhood my beat, to use this micro-environment as a case study in New York art history. Spaces were scrappy—many in artist’s studios or storefronts—and their hours were irregular on weekends. Popping up from the Bedford and 6th Avenue subway stop, one could visit four or five “galleries,” catch a band playing at a club, have dinner and a drink, all within a four or five block radius. It was chic, yet still had the romance of Brooklyn menace.
As a bike rider, my route through the ‘burg was a cruise up Bedford Avenue past Grand and Metropolitan avenues, then drift left or right, depending on my mood. In 1999, Rich opened Sideshow Gallery, and—being at the base of my route—I’ve pedaled past this space for nearly twenty years now.
I met Rich just after he’d opened. He explained that he’d started curating group shows at Planet Thailand but once the bug bit, he decided to avoid the conflicts of working for someone else and start his own venue in a building he’d acquired.
The name “Sideshow” says something about his vision. First, most shows were two-person affairs (side by side, all the better to contrast or show points of mutual interest); and, second, here you’d get a chance to see things that had been marginalized or pushed out the spotlight by the “establishment mainstream.”
Being a Westerner and former hippy myself, I felt an instant kinship with this longhair. We also shared a teenage romance with California Hot Rod culture and rock ‘n’ roll (he was a hardcore Bob Dylan fan). Critiquing a painting for Rich wasn’t an academic exercise in jargon or Frankfurt School “critical theory,” but more like hanging out at your buddy’s garage, commenting on the tune-up of a ’69 Camaro SS, or rebuilding a four-barrel carburetor. This means really getting into the nuts and bolts of painting, its philosophy and history, while sipping a beer. Don’t get me wrong, Rich had a great eye, and a very sensitive, intuitive understanding of art, but there was a hands-on Midwestern unpretentiousness in his attitude (he grew up in Ohio), and an ability to speak a common language that was disarming.
As the millennium turns, Williamsburg feels growing pains. At one point during its “golden age” there were approximately 60 galleries open in and around the neighborhood. Some artists and gallerists (including Rich) were getting recognition from the likes of the New York Times, Art in America, ARTFORUM, and local museums. The area was featured in many lifestyle and fashion magazines, and as a backdrop for movies and TV shows. With this influx of interest, there was also a flight to Chelsea. Some dealers who’d been using the ‘burg as a steppingstone decided it was time to cash in their “cultural capital” and decamp to greener pastures before the Williamsburg bubble burst. Not Rich.
By this point, Rich and Sideshow became one of the standard bearers of the Brooklyn scene. He’d earned a reputation as a serious supporter of local and international artists, with a commitment to mature painters whose careers might have been sidetracked, and younger artists who couldn’t seem to leverage their way into the ultra-competitive, ultra-commercial network of Chelsea. The gallery has hosted poetry readings, musical performances, University MFA Theses exhibitions, panel discussions, and artists’ memorial ceremonies. Many well-appreciated artists who’ve recently moved into “big-time” galleries like Chris Martin, Kathy Bradford, Thornton Willis, Margrit Lewczuk, and James Little got important boosts, at critical times, from Rich.
If there’s one thing that’s touched literally hundreds of artists, and exemplifies Richard Timperio and his Sideshow vision, it would be his Christmas/New Year exhibitions. This affair started in the early oughts as a simple holiday group show, a chance for a couple dozen friends to present new work. The first was such a success that Rich repeated it the next year with a slightly expanded roster. Word spread, and by year three this project took on a life of its own, with over 100 contributors. As this event morphed over the next decade and a half, it became a yearly example of Rich’s generosity. Its titles highlight Rich’s poetic, hippy humor: Sideshow Nation, It’s All Good: Apocalypse Now, Peace, War Is Over, and War is Over Again. Though the show was supposedly tightly curated, Rich always had a soft spot for artists, especially ones who’d been shut out, so the list of artists kept getting longer and longer. I gasp to think that when I asked Rich about the number for the 2018 version he giggled and said, “about 580.” Of course, Rich couldn’t do this alone; I’d pop in and marvel at the team he’d put together, their system and protocols. He cherished his role as impresario, Trail Boss, and Papa Bear. The installation itself was a marathon performance lasting weeks.
Although Rich sacrificed his time and efforts in promoting other artists, he was a committed and accomplished painter in his own right. His recent works were near Color Field pieces, depicting bars and wedges of brilliant, stained pigment with overlaid circles and warped ovals. Their direct, “one-shot” approach to application and materials, and the employment of natural forces like gravity and absorption reflect his own unmediated response to the world. The Janet Kurnatowski Gallery presented a solo show of his work poignantly titled Color Me Gone in 2013.
Finally, an anecdote that highlights Rich’s almost crazy love, passion, and sacrifice for our community. One Sunday afternoon, a couple of years ago, I stopped in for a chat. The conversation turned (as it often does) to gentrification and rising rents in the ‘burg. Rich grabbed me by the arm and led me outside. Pointing across Bedford Avenue to a new bodega he said, “They’re paying $24,000.” Naively, I thought that was a year’s rent. “No, that’s just one month, and they have about half the space I’ve got.” I did a quick calculation in my head and said, “Jesus Rich, in four years you’d make something like 1.2 million bucks, and you wouldn’t have to deal with all these crazy artists!” He looked at me, with impish eyes, and let out his great laugh and just nodded.
He never rented out to a boutique, never left looking for a more commercially viable location, never closed his door to a curious passerby, never forgot his roots deep in our community, and never lost his love and care for the artists. He was a last heroic holdout in a ‘burg that doesn’t exist any longer.
A link in my chain has broken. Painfully, I’ll make repairs and attempt to pedal through my city with a smaller looped chain. And, as I head up Bedford Avenue, I’ll still be hoping to hear that laugh.
James Kalm’s tribute was originally published September 12, 2018, at hyperallergic.com.