The bustling neighborhood, as diverse as New York itself, includes some of the city’s most popular restaurants in a variety of price ranges and cuisines; a dynamic retail environment with a profusion of fashion, beauty, and home furnishings stores; superb educational institutions and such architectural highlights as the fabled Flatiron Building, the Metropolitan Life and New York Life buildings, and the exquisite New York State Appellate Courthouse. A burgeoning residential community is adding its own new vitality to this historic neighborhood. The district is easily accessed by a range of public transportation options and is just a short stroll from either Grand Central Terminal or Penn Station.

So look around explore, enjoy, and Discover Flatiron! 

 

Flatiron History

Discover Flatiron: A Hardware Gem Celebrates its 75th Anniversary

This year marks the 75th anniversary of J&M Hardware & Locksmiths in the Flatiron District. Currently located at 19 East 21st Street, between Broadway and Park Avenue South, the store is the oldest retail business in the area. In honor of this historic achievement, the Flatiron Partnership spoke with owner Neil Schneider who shares several memorable moments from his 34 years at the store, which range from celebrity sightings to the effects from the 2020 pandemic.

It all began in 1947 when Jessie and Mack Packard opened their hardware business on Broadway between 22nd and 23rd Streets. But when Mack died, according to Neil Schneider Leo Brukier purchased the property. Brukier then hired his son-in-law Dan Basovitch in the early 1980s and soon Brukier retired. “Dan and I became partners in 1988,” recalls Schneider. “When J&M first opened, the Flatiron District was mostly manufacturing companies. Later, artists moved in and the area became alive with restaurants and other stores that catered to residential customers. Advertising companies moved in, and then dot-com startups arrived.”

Photo Credit: J&M Hardware - Neil Schneider on left and Dan Basovitch on right in 1988

The store’s clientele is just as diverse as the neighborhood’s population and architectural designs. “Celebrities from actors, writers, photographers, dancers, and artists have all come to the store,” says Schneider. “Actress Julia Roberts, choreographer Eliot Feld, and painter Carmen Herrera, to name a few.” And the store owner fondly remembers the presence of one prominent Mets baseball player at the property. “The first time David Wright came in he was locked out of his apartment,” says Schneider. “When my locksmith, a Yankee fan, saw him, he asked David, ‘How does it feel to be the second best third basemen in New York?’ and David just laughed.”

In 1966, however, the store became the site for the acknowledgment of another kind of hero. On October 17th, 12 firefighters lost their lives battling a blaze on Broadway, between 22nd and 23rd Streets. “The fire was in the pharmacy next to the hardware store,” says Schneider about the 6 East 23rd Street location. “It was the largest loss of FDNY lives until 9/11,” the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that lead to the collapse of the World Trade Center. “[After the fire] the store relocated to 238 Park Avenue South, between 19th and 20th Streets,” says Schneider. “Then, in 2002, we moved to the current location on East 21st Street when the 238 building was torn down.

One year later, New York City was hit with a blackout on August 14, 2003. J&M Hardware & Locksmiths became the neighborhood’s light at the end of the tunnel. Schneider remembers that the store “remained open the rest of the day so our customers could get flashlights and batteries. By early morning, we had sold out of flashlights, and only had C batteries left. But customers kept coming. We brainstormed and came up with a unique solution. With C batteries, flashlight bulbs, a little wire, and the clear tubes that held packages of screws, we fashioned the J&M Blackout Flashlight. With no electricity, we used a cordless drill to make holes and a propane torch to heat the soldering iron and attach the wires.”

Nearly 18 years later, yet another unexpected incident would present itself at the store. In March 2020, the global pandemic arrived and “business plunged,” says Schneider. “We stayed open, but we did not allow customers inside. I scrambled to get PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and limited how much anyone could buy. Worried about riding on trains, I drove in each day. I also did not want my employees taking the subways, so I picked them up and took them home, going from New Jersey into Manhattan, then to Brooklyn and back into Manhattan. I had a store full of merchandise, but people only wanted PPE. Our business nosedived. When people asked me if business was bad, I told them, ‘If my sales doubled, then business would be bad.’”

Photo Credit: J&M Hardware

Thanks to his resilient relationship with the neighborhood, customers, and store staff, Schneider considers himself lucky. “Fortunately, we survived,” he says. “Our landlord worked with us. We could pay only a fraction of the rent, but he accepted that. As business grew, we were able to pay more. I am grateful to the people of the neighborhood who supported us. The PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans enabled me to keep all my employees working. Business continues to be depressed, but it is improving.”

In addition, Schneider proclaims, “many of the customers are my friends, and we strive to have products people need. More than that, we offer free delivery and have knowledgeable staff to help people with their hardware issues.” And, he also notes that “I still enjoy coming in each day, kibbitzing with customers and vendors, and helping people with their projects. I am 66 years old and am hoping to find someone to take over the business in the next few years. I have been blessed to work in the store and to serve the good people who live and work here.”

Header & Thumbnail Photo Credit: J&M Hardware.

Flatiron Faces

Flatiron Faces: George Calderaro, Director of the Tin Pan Alley American Popular Music Project

Meet George Calderaro, Director of the Tin Pan Alley American Popular Music Project. “We are building,” says Calderaro, “a dynamic community of American popular music enthusiasts and supporters to share the history of the people, events, and songs of Tin Pan Alley, as well as support music and cultural literacy, inspire current and future artists and musicians, and the public at large.”

1. Congratulations on the Tin Pan Alley/West 28th Street Co-Naming at the northwest corner of Broadway and 28th Street earlier this month. As founding director of the Tin Pan Alley American Popular Music Project, share with us your integral role in the launching of this historic event.

I first learned that Tin Pan Alley was the birthplace of American popular music on West 28th Street when I moved to the area in 2015 and joined the board of the 29th Street Neighborhood Association. They were working on an expansion proposal to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for the Madison Square North Historic District, which included Tin Pan Alley. Like many people, I’d always heard of Tin Pan Alley but did not know that the first sheet music publishers and popular songwriters were on 28th Street, that the buildings were unprotected from demolition and under-recognized. When I learned of this, I went to work to help protect the buildings, and have since been compared to “a dog with a bone.” Recognition of Tin Pan Alley through co-naming of the street was always a long-term goal to increase awareness of this global cultural landmark.

Photo Credit: Flatiron Partnership - George Calderaro with Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine & Councilmember Erik Bottcher

2. Briefly tell us about the Tin Pan Alley American Popular Music Project and your role as volunteer Director. What aspect of your role excites you the most?

Following more than six years of work by me and a dedicated committee—not to mention decades of efforts by other groups—we succeeded in achieving landmark designation of 47-55 West 28th Street. At that point, there was such a moment to commemorate and continue the legacy of Tin Pan Alley that we created the Project to share the diverse history of the people, events, and songs of Tin Pan Alley. I especially prize the values of multiculturism and, frankly, the scrappiness of these young talents with various backgrounds determined to share their talents with the world in new ways. I find it incredibly rewarding to share the stories of New York City and American cultural history with people who have no idea of the vast legacy in our midst. When people first learn of it, they are rightfully awestruck.

3. In 2019, the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated five historic buildings associated with Tin Pan Alley. Why is it important for the public to remember the region’s history and the significance of its preservation for future generations?

The significance of Tin Pan Alley as a cultural landmark cannot be overstated. On these very streets and in these very buildings, American popular music and the modern music industry were created largely by innovative Jewish and Black immigrants to New York. Their unprecedented creative output changed the nation’s cultural history and legacy. Tin Pan Alley is also an important indicator of the Flatiron District’s history as the cultural and entertainment center of New York at the turn of the 20th century. The entire neighborhood brimmed with theaters, cabarets, hotels, and entertainments venues often in distinctive edifices that remain today.

4. You once said that “American popular music is recognized globally as a defining element of our culture and cultural history.” What are some of your personal favorite songs from the Tin Pan Alley era?

I have to confess that I favor the songs that reflected and changed history. Irving Berlin, the godfather of Tin Pan Alley, wrote the truly moving “God Bless America” in 1918 in appreciation of his adopted country. Liora Michelle beautifully sang the song and its stirring introduction at the street co-naming. Another unofficial national anthem is “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by J. Rosamond Johnson and his brother James Weldon Johnson who write it as a poem in 1900. The song is now under consideration by Congress to be the nation’s first National Hymn. The first song to sell a million (and eventually five million!) copies of sheet music was “After the Ball” by Charles K. Harris in 1892. It was later incorporated into “Show Boat,” the first modern American musical, to represent the music of the whole era. History abounds on Tin Pan Alley!

Photo Credit: Mary Ann Lopinto of Liora Michelle

5. In addition to your role with the Tin Pan Alley project, you’re also currently Director of Outreach Programs at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies. What inspired you to pursue a career in community relations and historic preservation?

I have been very fortunate to have spent my entire professional career in nonprofit cultural and educational institutions. In this work and active civic life, I have been able to share important work and stories that educate and hopefully inspire.

6. When you’re not in Tin Pan Alley area, how do you like to spend your time elsewhere in the neighborhood?

I love the neighborhood! Like many New Yorkers and visitors, I alway stop by Fishs Eddy, the truly distinctive emporium which, in true community spirit, is even hosting a lecture/benefit for the Tin Pan Alley Project! I also love to stop in at the shop/gallery Maison 10 to check in on proprietors Tom and Henri and the ever-changing inventory of art and objects whose sale supports 10 charities. I regularly visit Madison Square Park with my dog Romeo (we are proud sponsors of the new dog run!). And Poster House is a regular stop for inspiring exhibitions that reveal under-known artists and movements, a shared mission of the Tin Pan Alley American Popular Music Project come to think of it!

7. Finally, choose three words to describe the Flatiron & Nomad District.

Diverse. Distinctive. Irreplaceable.

Header & Thumbnail Photo Credit: Nora Fritsch.

Walking Tour

Weekly Free Walking Tour

Join our professional guides on a 90-minute journey through this vibrant neighborhood, viewing some of the City’s most notable landmarks.

Click here for more information.

What People Are Saying see

“Village meets midtown.”

When asked to describe the Flatiron District in three words

Brandon Stanton
photographer, Humans of New York

“It's a three-way tie. The architecture. The vibe. The food.”

When asked about his favorite thing about the Flatiron District

Marc Glosserman
Founder & CEO Hill Country Hospitality + local resident

“You are building a community like no other!”

Excerpt from remarks at the 8th Annual Meeting of the Flatiron 23rd Street Partnership

Gale A. Brewer
Manhattan Borough President

Quick Stats

22M+

Square feet of commercial real estate

39M+

Total 2018 MTA riders for 23rd Street (1,6,N,W,F,M) and 28th St (1,6,N,R) stations

6,500

Hotel rooms

7,563

Taxi drop offs per weekday in 2017

3.3+

Dollars invested in the Public Plazas by the BID

160K

Citi Bike trips originated or ended within Flatiron in June 2018

580

Ground floor business in the Flatiron District