APRIL 11, 2017

The two sides of Frederick Douglass Boulevard between 115th and 116th Streets, the block where the Masjid Aqsa-Salam mosque once stood, appear to belong to different neighborhoods.

On the west side, recent development flourishes. The L Lounge nightclub, closed until 4:00 p.m., awakens at night with karaoke and grenadine-laced cocktails. Blujeen restaurant serves Zagat-rated comfort food. And Harlem Shambles sells meat that customers see carved before them. A high-rise residential building encompasses all three businesses, bright with windows and off-white paint.

On the east side, two grocery stores, a nail salon, and a Texas Chicken and Burgers chain operate from buildings whose darkened brick walls belie their age. These establishments bookend a hundred-foot construction fence that spans over half of the block, the site of the former mosque.

Workers demolished the mosque in September last year—six months ago—but its absence continues to resonate throughout the community. Litter has proliferated. Businesses have suffered. And the empty lot portends development of unknown scale, frightening locals who fear rising rents.

The two sides of Frederick Douglass Boulevard appear to belong to different neighborhoods.

Six months have transformed the lot into an improvised refuse repository. Behind the plywood and peeling paint, tires, cabinet shelves, and sheets of metal tenant the dirt terrain alongside cans and bottles abound. A pool of brown water reflects the trash surrounding it.

The mosque’s eviction and subsequent demolition has harmed nearby businesses beyond the lot’s appearance. The neighboring grocery store benefitted from the increased foot traffic Masjid Aqsa-Salam brought the block. “Every time they were praying, they needed to feed,” said Jobany Hilario, 41, who manages the store. “It was very busy for the store. We were the closest.” He remembered many worshippers visiting post-prayer to buy tea and water.

The store used to sell Halal-certified products, Hilario said, but demand for them plummeted after the mosque’s departure. Consumers have ready access to such goods at New Halal Meat, a grocery store roughly twice its size at the other end of the block featuring a butchery counter in the back. The store attracts immigrants from West African countries, who converse in a diversity of languages while queuing to purchase their groceries.

Masjid Aqsa-Salam relocated more than half a mile away to 115th Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues, supplanting El Barrio Boxing. The mosque now occupies the two upper floors of the three-story building, its windows shaded by awnings as green as the construction fencing. On the bottom sits The New King Deli, a grocery store and deli in one.

The mosque’s arrival in East Harlem has not helped, said Harlen Romen, 29, a clerk at the deli. “Business is a little slow,” he said, flashing three fingers at a lone customer, who promptly dropped that number of dollars on the counter for his chips and bottle of soda. Romen explained that the daily flock of worshippers who occupy precious parking spaces for hours deters patrons. “The customers, they can’t park, so they don’t come in.” He said that they don’t sell Halal products.

Romen said the street reaches greatest occupancy between 5:00 and 8:00 p.m., corresponding to the call-to-prayer, but taxis began to double-park the cars lining the curb around 4:00 p.m. in a profusion of yellow, green, and black. A cat meandered around the vehicles, scurrying away when a new car approached. The scents of gasoline and lunch meat lingered in the air.

On the west side, the high-rise loomed in silence.

Muslim tradition suggests that worshippers visit the mosque nearest them at the time of prayer, said Niane Abdoulaye, 50, a taxi driver. “Whichever’s closest to you, that’s the one you’re supposed to go to,” he said. “If I happen to be in Brooklyn, then I go there.” Abdoulaye said he believes most of the local business owners who attended Masjid Aqsa-Salam at its Frederick Douglass Boulevard location now meet at one of the Central Harlem mosques instead of venturing to East Harlem.

Locals believe owner Joseph Rabizadeh will construct a luxury high-rise any day now, mirroring the west side of the street, though Rabizadeh has yet to procure a permit for any development. Hilario speculated that the property’s proximity to the subway line has delayed the construction. “They have to rebuild the foundation,” he said.

On the east side of Frederick Douglass Boulevard, the subway grate whistled with an incoming train. Two women chattered, not in English, as they sold dresses from a table. And the construction fence creaked in the wind as a man tossed an empty soda bottle over it.

On the west side, the high-rise loomed in silence.