Disappearing Delancey

A filmmaker’s meta experience capturing the changing LES

A rendering of Essex Crossing, a massive project transforming the Lower East Side.
A rendering of Essex Crossing, a massive project transforming the Lower East Side.

Imagine a filmmaker making a movie in New York City against a backdrop of local shops, only to find the locations have disappeared the next day.

This is not sci-fi, nor is it a disaster movie. This was the real-life experience of first-time director Clayton Smith, who made a short film, “Off Track Betty,” on location on the Lower East Side. According to an article on thelodownny.com, as Smith filmed, vacant stores he used for filming were being dismantled, part of the sweeping development transforming the neighborhood.

For example, the old Jade Fountain Liquors, which is used in the film, came down when the former Essex Street Market was demolished; the same fate awaited a former shoe store at 402 Grand Street, where Smith also filmed, as well as a fabric store. And so the film will serve as a reminder of what one corner of the Lower East Side looked like before Essex Crossing, a 1.9 million-square-foot mixed-use project, goes up. Regal Cinemas will be an anchor tenant with a 14-screen movie theater. In May, Splitsville Luxury Lanes signed a deal to operate a 10-lane bowling alley at the development.

This is a movie about a transformation happening so fast that it sweeps up even the production of the film itself. Talk about meta.

On the movie’s Kickstarter fundraising page, Smith explained that even the film lab he used was caught up in the wheels of change. “The last remaining film lab in NYC discontinued film development services shortly after we dropped off our 16mm  Kodak reels,” Smith wrote. “As a result, ‘Off Track Betty’ is one of the last film projects to be processed in New York City — ever.”

The movie is the fictional story of a woman named Betty, inspired by “a longtime resident of the Lower East Side who begins to question her place in the city she calls home,” Smith said. The name was inspired by a faded sign for OTB (Off Track Betting) on the corner of Delancey and Essex streets. From there, the idea took off as Smith conjured up a woman living there and witnessing the area’s transformation.

“People and businesses are forced to leave every single day, and the physical shape of the city is transforming with dizzying speed. This story is my way of giving voice to the people, artists, and workers who are trying to come to terms with life in this city we all love.”

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Median sale prices

Studio         N/A
1 bed           $599,000
2 beds         $1,687,500
3 beds         $1,950,000
> 3 beds      N/A[/column]

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Median rents

Studio         $2,438
1 bed           $2,675
2 beds         $3,250
3 beds         $4,578
>3 beds       N/A[/column]

Source: StreetEasy; sale prices are for listings, not closed sales