Mosque gets all the press, but area near Ground Zero full of bars, porn, liquor stores, salonsBY Erin Einhorn
August 17, 2010
Opponents of a proposed lower Manhattan mosque and community center speak in hushed tones about the sanctity of the "shadow of Ground Zero."
Tell that to the patrons of the Pussycat Lounge, a strip club where a photo of a nearly naked woman marks its location just two blocks from where the World Trade Center stood.
Or the Thunder Lingerie and peep show next door, where the marquee sports an American flag above a window display of sex toys and something called a "power pump."
Many come to the scene of the worst terrorist attack on American soil to pay tribute to pain and unspeakable tragedy. They're welcomed by solemn memorials and a visitors center amid the noise of reconstruction.
If they're so inclined, they can also buy porn, play the ponies and take care of all manner of personal business within steps of the former World Trade Center.
In a walk of the streets within three blocks of Ground Zero, the Daily News counted 17 pizza shops, 18 bank branches, 11 bars, 10 shoe stores and 17 separate salons where a girl can get her lady parts groomed.
"There is something for everyone downtown, from mom-and-pop establishments to luxury retailers such as
Tiffany's and Hermes," said Jeff Simmons of the Alliance for Downtown New York.
There are at least 10 churches in lower Manhattan south of Canal St., three synagogues, one Buddhist community center and a Hare Krishna facility. There's also a Muslim prayerhouse that, on its website, denies any connection to "any other organization trying to build anything new in the area of downtown Manhattan."
It may be sacred ground, but the streets surrounding Ground Zero are also a place where New Yorkers work, eat and buy shampoo.
"Ground Zero is pizza, cafes and apartments," said Nick Champa, 21, a lower Manhattan student who says he opposes the proposed mosque, but would like to see better bars and restaurants in his neighborhood.
It's one thing to see liquor stores in a neighborhood trying to return to normalcy - there are at least three - but critics say it's entirely another to talk about a mega-mosque.
"A 13-story, $100 million structure stands out as something that can be opposed," said Rep. Pete King (R-L.I.).
He says the mosque planners should sit down with the families of 9/11 victims to find a more appropriate location and suggested that conversation could kick-start a larger discussion about what belongs in the area and what doesn't.
King says zoning laws could be used to clean up lower Manhattan the way they were once used to attack smut in Times Square.
"There are limits to what you can be opposing just as a practical matter," King said, but he added,
"Tomorrow, if some guy were to build some eight-story strip club a block away, we would do what we'd have to do."
Critics have been reluctant to draw a line in the sand around the sacred area, but some say that's not the point.
"I don't have an interest in policing every square inch of lower Manhattan to purify it," said Debra Burlingame, spokeswoman for some Sept. 11 victims' families and the sister of one of the pilots killed in the attacks. "We're trying to prevent an imam from appropriating 9/11 to push [Islamic law] in America, an ideology at the heart of why our loved ones were ripped to pieces."