The Strange Main Street USA on Roosevelt Island

Did you ever play with the Fisher Price Little People when you were a kid? Or Lego village sets? Did you ever notice how every store was simply named for its purpose, and there was zero competition? For example, the market was called “Market,” the barber shop was called “Barber Shop,” and the pet store was called “Pet Store”? Apparently, Roosevelt Island is modeled after this revolutionary idea!

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Though Roosevelt Island certainly has its share of interesting sights, its Main Street has to be one of the most depressing places in New York City. Lined with ugly, box-shaped brown buildings that block out the sun, it seems to exist in perpetual darkness.

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Main Street is the commercial district for the island, and consists of about ten or fifteen shops, all of which seem to be named like the Fisher Price Main Street. Want your nails done? Go to “Nail Salon” at #570!

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Looking to brighten your girlfriend’s day? Perhaps a trip to the “Flower Shop” is in order!

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Of course, it’s nice to get a discount once in a while, and for that you need go no farther than “The Thrift Store.”

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Need a new hammer? Looking to rent that silly mall cop movie that recently came out? You’re in luck – on Roosevelt Island, you can do both at the same establishment.

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Sure, most churches are named after a particular saint or martyr…but not on Roosevelt Island!

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Finally, when you need to send your children to school…well, you get the idea.

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The most creatively named place is the “Cards ‘n’ Gifts” shop across the street, the quirky yet satisfying reduction of the word “and” to a single letter suggesting a level of creativity far superior to that of their neighbors:

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And lest you think these are ancient holdovers from a bygone era, I happened upon an island sign putter-upper hanging a brand new “Senior Citizens Center” sign.

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I’m being a bit facetious – some of these stores sort of have actual names hidden in the shadows of Main Street’s alleyways. But I get the sense that, with such little space available, perhaps the island designated each storefront for a particular purpose, and regardless of the current tenant, say, #570 will always be “Nail Salon.”  Ha, I always liked the idea of the perfect archetypal Lego Main Street, but now I’m not so sure…


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  1. For what it’s worth, the RC parish does have a real name (it’s St. Frances Cabrini) — but I guess putting that on the sign would ruin the effect. They rotate with the other Christian denominations in using the church across the street (which you can see reflected in the windows of your “Hardware and Video Store” picture).

  2. What about the cool stuff on Roosevelt Is? I grew up looking at the ruins of the lunatic asylum and the Delacorte Fountain out my bedroom window. After 14 yrs of staring, I finally went exploring around the ruins. Cool and creepy. There’s some interesting structures on the north side too.

  3. This post is hilarious. I loved both the fisher price little people and the lego city growing up, but this main street just looks depressing.

  4. roosevelt island is far from being a depressing place to live. i live at the octagon, which is the former lunatic asylum. we have the most gorgeous view of manhattan and our apt has floor to ceiling windows letting in plenty of light and the most gorgeous sunsets you have ever seen. the people who live on roosevelt island are the friendliest you will ever meet in nyc. people actually stop to say hello here. it is a great place for kids and dogs too. plenty of parks and greenery. it is cleaner than manhattan. you will never see piles of garbage on the streets. the garbage is sent out through tubes like you would see at a bank. neato!

  5. Roosevelt Island is far from the depressing place you make it out to be in your post. It is a vibrant community that grows every day. Sure, Main Street has some work needed, but that’s the fault of the organization that runs the Island. Nothing beats a bike ride around the water or a game of frisbee or catch on one of the countless fields. I would highly recommend coming back for more.

  6. dude, you should have seen the island 15 years ago, my mother has lived there for the past 20 years or so. The island has a very rich and vibrant history though you might not be aware. Amongst many things it was the original Rikers Island, it was home to all the unwanted and sick in New York City for much of the 18th century. Sadly very few of the original structures remain. But the light house and the Church (St. Francis Cabrini) have very interesting histories, for one they were both built by inmates incarcerated on the island at the time from stone quarried from the island as well, and the lighthouse was actually built by either one of 2 men by them self. The South end of the island had many more structures at one time, but do to neglect and the good people of Sutton Place whose views were obstructed not much remains but one buildings exterior. There was also a dig site for the NY Sand Hogs, there is tunneling that runs under a good portion of the island whose purpose we never discovered and just dubbed them the steam tunnels. Supposedly if you follow one all the way towards the lighthouse there is a big round vaulted door that leads to the river? or who knows… That may just be urban legend, but growing up in the 80s we were free to do just about anything we wanted with never any real consequences. SO we had explored many of the sadly gone and sourly missed abandoned buildings including a nurses residence which we had many a fun summer day roaming its halls. The south end now slated to be a park was completely cordoned off and we would have to scale the sea wall around barbed wire in order to get, when it was home to many more buildings and overgrowth. The Island deserves more then the facetious report you gave it and is very unique and has a place in NY history that many are not aware of.

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