The streets of New York are an ever-changing canvas, with new people and places jockeying to paint over the old. This Jackson Pollock of an urban metropolis is in a constant state of revision, which makes it such a fascinating place to live -- and makes those who call it home appreciate even more the few institutions that have endured over time.
There are some who say, rightly, that amid this change, New York has lost some of its edge, its grit, what separates it from every other city in the land. Small, independent businesses make up a big part of the Big Apple's character, and we've seen their ranks shrink in recent years, as the chain stores clamor at the gates. Billy Leroy, owner of Billy's Antiques & Props, was one of the more colorful holdouts.
For years, Leroy served as ringmaster of a circus-tent-of-sorts at the corner of Houston and Bowery, which peddled a rotating collection of antiques that would, quite literally, stop passersby in their tracks. While he officially became its proprietor in 2003, the tent has stood on that spot for the past three decades -- and in an increasingly suburbanized neighborhood that was once the city's skid row, became a symbol of "the old New York."
Those who enjoyed it and what it represented also knew it wouldn't last forever. And as Leroy himself predicted -- in an interview with HuffPost Small Business and on the big screen in the film "Dirty Old Town," which was loosely based on life in the tent -- the show has finally come to a close. The coveted piece of real estate at the crossroads of downtown Manhattan will make way for a permanent retail structure (in which Leroy will eventually have a space). It won't be the same as the old tent, of course, and so Leroy, his landlord, Tony Goldman, and Jenner Furst, Daniel B. Levin and Julia Willoughby Nason, the filmmakers behind "Dirty Old Town," planned a "funeral" on March 9 to commemorate its passing.
"Seeing the sea off smiling faces at the party made me realize how loved Billy's was," Leroy said afterwards. "We had a grand party in the tradition of the Bowery, with free booze and great music. From the bum on the street to Hollywood royalty, all were welcomed -- and came. When I closed the gate for the last time I felt the presence of the ghosts of Ye Olde Bowery and they seemed satisfied. For now."