To a visitor from Connecticut--even, say, a 100-foot Norway spruce plunked down in the middle of Rockefeller Center--things in the big city might look awfully familiar.
Downright suburban, as a matter of fact.
Next door to the seven-ton Christmas tree outside the GE Building is a J. Crew outlet. Nearby is a Banana Republic, a TGIFridays, a Dean & DeLuca franchise and a microbrewery.
Rockefeller Center, the architectural masterwork of midtown Manhattan, has always been part spectacle. Now some complain it is also becoming part strip mall.
"New York City is disappearing," complained Billy Tanen, a performance artist and Big Apple personality. "We're becoming a vertical version of the Midwest."
Gone from Rockefeller Center is New York Bound, an offbeat store that sold books, maps, out-of-print editions and vintage photographs of New York City.
Gone are Rockefeller Center's old-time bars: Hurley's, a block west up 49th Street, closed its doors for good in September after a century in the same spot.
Gone is the local movie theater, the Guild 50th Street. Gone are the small--often quirky--specialty stores that once dominated the concourse below the center.
"You could get eyeglasses, dry cleaning, a good box of chocolates," recalled Andreas Brown, owner of the 79-year-old Gotham Book Mart on West 47th Street. "There was a wonderful sandwich place.
"If that disappears, it would be a real loss."
Brown, a neighborhood resident since 1967, said he loves walking around Manhattan in search of great restaurants hidden on side streets. He doesn't bother looking in Rockefeller Center anymore--if he did, he'd probably find a McDonald's and a Wendy's.
The malling effect, of course, isn't limited to Rockefeller Center. In Times Square, Loews recently unveiled its new multiplex movie theater--yet another fixture of the suburbs now here in the big city.
"When I think of a neighborhood, I think of an individual having enough roaming room for unexpected things to come up," Tanen said. "Neighborhoods are anecdotal."
Rockefeller Center still has its landmarks. The skating rink, overseen by the statue of Prometheus, survives. So do the Channel Gardens. One recent arrival, Christie's auction house, even brought a touch of class to the area.
But for many residents and visitors to the city within a city, Rockefeller Center has become a lot like "The NBC Experience"--the network's two-story homage to itself, complete with enough logo-encrusted memorabilia to make Graceland look like a general store.
"Everything is buying and selling," Tanen said. "Everything is, 'Brought to you by . . .' "