Lamenting the loss of New York City's character

Part of the East Village was once considered Ukrainian-town. Chain brands started dyeing its ethnic roots slowly at first.

But Tom Birchard, whose family owns Veselka -- the 24-hour Ukrainian diner on the corner of 2nd avenue at 9th street, says things seem to be disappearing an increasing pace. Three generations of Birchards have kept Veselka alive, but Tom says a small piece of his heart breaks each time he sees a local business get pushed out by a corporate brand. And it has been breaking a lot.

Perhaps no one has done as much to document the cultural, if not historic bleaching of New York neighborhoods than Jeremiah Moss, the man behind Vanishing New York, a blog that passionately gives voices to institutions that may not have landmark status, but are crucial strands in the cultural fabric of our lives. Strands he feels are being torn out at an alarming pace.

Jeremiah says it is almost like a mass extinction event in which different species are just dropping like flies.

Species like Lincoln Plaza Cinema, a bastion for independent and international movies otherwise not available on a large screen, and Cafe Edison, a stylish Theatre District sandwich shop that is now a hotel.

Some are forced out without a replacement. Along a span of two blocks on Bleecker Street in the west village, storefront after storefront after storefront are vacant. Many of these establishments have been closed for several years. Jeremiah calls it a "form of urban blight" because empty storefronts look terrible and create a bad feeling when you walk down the street.

One of the reasons behind Jeremiah's Vanishing New York is to preserve history, but the other is to motivate us to do something. For example, New Yorkers could promote policies that help small businesses—and not just on the ground floor but also about who owns property in New York.

Tom of Veselka says that smaller landlords can be more flexible and humane whereas the larger corporate landlords can keep spaces vacant for a long time without suffering that much financially.

And Jeremiah says he talks to younger people who come to New York and ask, "What happened to the city?" He says for a century the city was the center of rebelliousness, creativity, excitement.