Is NYC's Chelsea Still a Gayborhood?

2.7.2014

By Neal Broverman

Closings of men's clothing stores, clubs, and gay merchandise marts are diluting some of the gay flavor of the neighborhood.

First it was Splash, then clothing store Camouflage, and now 20-year-old LGBT shop Rainbows & Triangles is closing, and some are worried Chelsea is shedding its gay reputation.

Rainbows & Triangles co-owner Steven Spiro is planning on soon shuttering his store, which stocks rainbow mugs, gay-themed coffee table books, greeting cards, Pride merchandise, and music. Spiro says the August closure of Chelsea's gay super-club, Splash, reduced some of the foot traffic that would bleed into his shop. But the main reason for the closure is  the new building's owner refused to offer a new lease. As reported in Chelsea Now, one-third of all businesses on Chelsea's main drag of Eighth Avenue are now chain stores, franchises, or banks.

Camouflage, opened by a gay man and his straight friend in 1976, recently closed thanks to rent increases. Co-owner Norm Usiak, who's straight, says many of the current residents of Chelsea buy their clothes online, which certainly didn't help them offset their rent bumps. Usiak is leaving the retail world, hoping to move into consulting. He just hopes a banal establishment doesn't take Camouflage's place, fearing that owners of area buildings are now catering to tourists walking to the nearby High Line.

“Camouflage will be pretty well forgotten, and there will be something else on this corner," Usiak says. "But do we really need another fast food store or bank? This is an incredible neighborhood that’s under a major change, and I’m hoping it still can keep a little bit of what makes it unique.”

It's not all bad news, though: the Nasty Pig clothing company is opening a flagship location on 19th Street. And some would argue that many gays have already decamped from Chelsea and headed to Hell's Kitchen, just as many left Greenwich Village in the '80s and '90s and moved to Chelsea.

Photo by Scott Stiffler/Chelsea Now

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