When Central Park was constructed in 1853, the displaced squatters moved to what is now the Upper West Side. It was not until early in the 20th century when large and luxurious apartment buildings like the Belnord and the Apthorp were built that development in the area began. The Upper West Side of today bears little resemblance to the Upper West Side of even 50 years ago, however, as it has experienced much of the same gentrification as the rest of Manhattan. In fact, my walking tour of the Upper West Side felt very much like I’d emerged out of the subway and found myself back home in Dallas – an oddly pedestrian-friendly Dallas, but Dallas nonetheless. As I made my way down Broadway from 86th Street to 72nd Street over lunchtime on Friday, I passed a lot of the stores at my local strip and shopping malls back home: Talbot’s, Banana Republic, Club Monaco, the ubiquitous Barnes and Noble, and more banks than any one area could possibly require. However, there is nothing quite like Zabar’s, Fairway, or H&H Bagel’s at home.
Zabar’s has a famously wide selection of fish, cheese, and housewares among other things, and after remembering I currently don’t have a refrigerator I had to drag myself away from the array of cheeses. Zabar’s prices may be on the steep side, but from the sheer volume of people who left the store with multiple bags in their arms, it definitely has a loyal following. The Fairway market has great produce indoors and out, and much more if you’re willing to fight through crowds and strollers to find what you’re looking for. It is far less expensive than Zabar’s, and has fairly low prices for the area. The best bargain on my walking tour is H&H Bagels where they have the best bagels I have ever tasted for merely $1.30. When I went on Friday, I got two bagels and told myself I would save the other one for breakfast the next day, but I couldn’t wait and ate it for dinner instead.
Another thing I noticed on my walk is that both Broadway and West End Avenue seemed impossibly wide, open, and clean, but then again the foot traffic in the Upper West Side is considerably less than, say, Midtown or SoHo. For example, when a woman bumped into me on the street, she actually bothered to say, “Excuse me.” Imagine how much time it would take to apologize to everyone you bumped against in Midtown. There was no one skateboarding or using a scooter, and only one street vendor selling sunglasses. Even when I went back over the weekend, the foot traffic was never that heavy, and I could often count the people walking on my block on only one or both hands.
What made the biggest impression on me was how many children were around. In other parts of the city, you don’t see nearly as many strollers or young children walking around without their parents. When I passed by the Collegiate School they were having a small party in the street complete with a bounce house, men grilling hot dogs, and two teenagers who looked like they’d been dragged there who were sitting on a stoop and writing a song on their guitars. It was something I’d never seen in the City and I lingered on the street corner taking it in for a while.
From what I witnessed, the Upper West Side is primarily a residential area despite the many shops lining this part of Broadway. I understood Broadway to be the equivalent of a very large and mostly expensive strip mall, and the streets around it were quiet streets where everyone actually lives. The area was fairly quiet in general – honking horns and blaring music were notably absent – and the air smelled and looked clearer. I enjoyed my trip to the Upper West Side because it showed me yet another different life and lifestyle that New York City has to offer.
– Andrea Autrey