Caution tape and barricades blocked off 43rd Street and 9th Avenue the morning of Sept. 24 — not because it was a crime scene but because a welcoming extravaganza was in the works.
The Manhattan Plaza Tenants Association held its sixth annual street fair to gather residents in celebration of their Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. The old-fashioned block party focused on community bonding — local neighborhood retailers donated products for raffles and MP residents had most of the display tables.
Manhattan Plaza, with its two residential buildings, occupies the corners of West 9th and 10th avenues, like bookends, one on each side. In the last 40 years the subsidized residential unit has actively opened its doors to performers in the area, as they make up 70 percent of the tenants. The complexes have 1600 units in total and count Samuel L. Jackson to Larry David as former occupants.
An hour before the event begins, the vendors set up shop. The street is still wet from the early morning rain. Visitors stroll along the avenue with their eyes fixated on the abundance of inexpensive finds sprawled over at least 20 tables.
The display with the most traffic is overflowing with collectibles. Among the items are a vintage 1976 Mickey Mouse telephone, a Michael Jordan Wheaties box, and 20-year-old dolls still in their original packaging.
Although this is John Blaylock’s first time selling at the Manhattan Plaza Block Sale, he’s no stranger to the world of collectibles. He and a partner have an online following on Ebay, but Blaylock knows some items sell better in person. He is a big fan of The Beatles and sold crates full of vinyl records and posters from the famous British band.
“I tell my partner every time to stop bringing The Beatles stuff. I want them,” he said jokingly.
With a mix of items and activities, the block party has something for all generations. In the middle of 9th Avenue, there is a keyboard set up for a musical performance by Manhattan Plaza resident Sherrie Sano. At a nearby table, teenage girls offer face painting, using Snapchat to show off their artistry. Next to them sit photographer Ann Blackstock and actor Joel Bernstein, who have lived in Manhattan Plaza since the 80s.
“It’s a great way to see people we’ve known for 30 years and clean out our apartments,” said Blackstock.
Blackstock and Bernstein’s table is a time capsule of 90’s keepsakes. Stuffed animals from once popular Nickelodeon shows retail at the couple’s table for just three dollars.
“A lot of this stuff is our daughter’s. She’s a grown up now,” said Blackstock who negotiated with her daughter using video chat on what items could be sold.
By a row of Citi Bikes is Kathleen Conry, selling t-shirts for Hell’s Kitchen Farm Project, a Metro Baptist Church program. The church on West 40th Street uses the produce from the rooftop farm to provide food for the homeless and underprivileged in the area.
Conry has lived in Hell’s Kitchen for 40 years. She moved to New York City with dreams of being on Broadway and was attracted to the creative crowd within Manhattan Plaza’s walls.
“The neighborhood has changed so much. It was a difficult neighborhood to live in back then and because of all the new businesses it’s becoming a difficult neighborhood to live in again,” said Conry.
A gust of wind blows her pantry pamphlets to an adjacent table. Conry quickly recovers the papers.
“I haven’t lost one yet,” she said. Conry’s tenacity at the block party paid off. She earned $200 for the church from her t-shirt sales.
While Conry did well for her cause, the local vendors and residents did even better. Virginia Siedel, a member of the block sale committee, happily announced that the vendors raised $5,000 for the Manhattan Plaza Tenants Association.