A new spot began to reveal itself. Both facades of this corner storefront had been painted, full height and all bright. Inside, crisp stainless steel and spotlights called into focus whatever would soon fill glass display cases. It was all so shiny and out-of-place.

Construction here dawdled for much of the pandemic. The neighbors were uneasy. Nobody knew what it was to be, and time afforded everybody, well, time to guess.

The new spot is in the sort of old-New-York-City neighborhood they say doesn’t exist anymore.  Residents hold on to apartments and houses where they have lived in extended families for generations, still speaking the language of their great-great-grandparents. There are different social clubs for different regions of the home country. Streets have been honorifically named to reflect the heritage. About half a dozen family-owned restaurants and bakeries are virtually unchanged since their openings many decades ago. Everybody is like family.

Here the home country is very much present.

A sign soon went up, suggesting the spot would take on the cuisine of the home country. Not a restaurant, more a fresh-made market. Who did it think it was? How could this shiny place even dare? Here, in this neighborhood, the home cuisine lives in two places: home kitchens and the family-owned restaurants and bakeries virtually unchanged since their openings many decades ago. “Looking forward to being part of the neighborhood,” was handwritten on an A-frame chalkboard outside. Get out of here.

Instead, the spot sprung more spots, a giant bench around a street tree and a table for an existing bench. When the doors opened, this seating filled up, although not always with patrons but rather with neighbors. Welcome neighbors. And those who do buy, enjoy. They eat. They come back. They eat more. They get some to go. They tell their friends. Their friends come. They sit. Maybe they buy. Or maybe next time. But they tell their neighbors, too. And their neighbors come, too, and they sit, too. They sit every day. They meet their family here. They tell their family, sit sit sit, there is no rush. Nobody will bother you. Stay a while.

Here is very much present.

The uneasiness felt before the doors opened was not a hesitation about something out of place. Quite the opposite. If the spot had fit right in, then the neighbors would again be obliging marionettes in a glib scene of old-New-York.

Here notsomuch.

When the food tours now so popular in this neighborhood skip this spot, as they always do, everybody can sit sit sit. Like family.

Neena Verma is a practicing architect, teacher and writer based in New York City. She is currently the Architecture Writing Fellow at The Cooper Union, a faculty member at the School of Constructed Environments at Parsons The New School and New Jersey School of Architecture (NJIT), and principal of an eponymous practice that pursues small-scale, forward-thinking architectural works.

The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.



We’ve grown used to things being strange. And to things being very familiar. A series of short texts by architect and writer Neena Verma on the ins and outs of our whereabouts.