Pottery shop can’t survive the real-estate spin

Helaine Sorgen, above, says her landlord has refused to renew the lease for her Clayworks store on E. Ninth St. Photo by Clayton Patterson

BY HELAINE SORGEN | Forty-four years.

Well, it’s been quite a ride.

When Clayworks opened in the East Village in January 1974, it was like an outpost of civilization. Empty stores were everywhere. Clayworks, at 322 E. Ninth St. (between First and Second Aves.), was the kind of unique, individual store that helped build this neighborhood into the desirable commodity it is today. Through four decades, I have been able to watch the East Village grow and change from my window. It has been the finest front-row seat I could ask for.

Clayworks survived everything the mad universe pitched at it — Hurricane Sandy, blizzards, the Great Recession, swastikas painted across the storefront, the front window being intentionally blown out, water-main breaks, ceiling cave-ins, the crack epidemic and, of course, 9/11, all come to mind, plus the usual personal real-life challenges. Clayworks has always held its own.

That is, until the recent and well-documented invasion of the East Village by predatory landlords and perfidious financiers. The new building owner — along with the plethora of shell companies he hides behind — wants me out, and this is a war that I cannot win.

I have spent the past two years fighting. I am tired and my time is up. Let me be clear — this is not the story of an unsuccessful store hanging on for dear life. This is the intentional stomping-out of yet another mom-and-pop store by predatory real-estate weasels. Every store whose light goes out is a small death among us.

I live here. My heart lives here. I want to see the East Village thrive. I know there are currently two camps of thought. There are those who want to keep the wild, fierce, gritty, creative, independent East Village spirit. Others want less edge and attitude and more sameness — tamer, user-friendly stores, plus bars and restaurants that are trendy and cater more to a new generation’s on-demand desires. Can’t we have a balanced mix?

But the Small Business Jobs Survival Act languishes in the City Council purgatory. Some form of this legislation, which supports small businesses the way other more-enlightened cities do, has been moldering since former City Councilmember Miriam Friedlander’s time. Politicians wave it around to get votes, but as soon as they are elected, it goes back into the junk drawer. Now, we hear there is a movement to form a small-business-only district and a protective registry for legacy businesses that have been around for 35 years or more. Ironically, it’s too late for Clayworks and me.

I am not opposed to change — but, frankly, what is going on here is full-scale rape and pillage. So, folks, it’s up to you. You vote with your ballot and you vote with your dollar. The kind of neighborhood and community you want to see is in your hands. Exercise your right to vote.

It has been an incredible privilege to have been a working potter in the East Village. I’ve always hoped that, in a small way, Clayworks helped to make the world a better place, one mug at a time. I want to thank every person who laid down his or her hard-earned bucks to buy my work and support me — everyone who came into this store, who shared their stories and lives, weaving a tapestry of community and friendship. We made magic happen here.

My last day will be around Sept. 15. Whatever work I have left is all there’s gonna be, so if you’ve been looking at something and can’t make up your mind, don’t wait too long! I will pack and store the rest with the intention of starting an online store. (Anyone out there who can help me set it up?) Or call me — I’ll meet you at Veselka and I’ll bring the goods!

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