When a messy foreclosure cleared out the Yippie building and a boxing gym took over 9 Bleecker Street, it was easy to see the development as the ultimate symbol of downtown Manhattan’s trajectory: counterculture replaced by counterpunching!
But Joey “The Soho Kid” Goodwin, who hopes to begin construction on the gym in February and open it in the Spring, insists that his endeavor is more in keeping with the yippies than one might think. In fact, tonight the gym is teaming with Dana Beal – who was ejected from the building after its mortgage went into default – to throw a fundraiser for an ibogaine clinic that the marijuana activist hopes to open in Afghanistan. Sure, the party will feature boxing matches with “models and midgets,” but Goodwin truly believes that Overthrow, as his gym is called, is in the spirit of its namesake yippie newspaper, copies of which now serve as wallpaper in the front entrance.
“What they did was essentially political marketing,” he said of the yippies as he and his English Bulldog, Prince, strolled down Bowery yesterday. “Just like boxing, they were fighting for something. They were fighting for something different – for social change and this sort of thing – but there are some parallels.”
To emphasize those parallels, Overthrow’s ground-floor boxing ring, where one-on-one training will take place, will be surrounded by artwork and posters that evoke not just the yippies, but also counterculture icons like CBGB, once down the block. “It’s not just about boxing,” Goodwin says of his concept. “There’s more of a layer to it and it’s evoking questions — like, are we a brand? Yes, we want to be a brand. But at the same time there’s nothing wrong with evoking questions and questioning authority.”
The brands Goodwin mentions most when you talk to him are David Barton’s gyms and SoulCycle. The former, which infused a culture of glamor and nightlife into hum-drum workouts, represents the client mix Goodwin is going for: “I see a Wall Street guy next to a Sophia Lamar next to a midget next to the head of marketing for JackThreads.” And SoulCycle represents the sort of ingenious identity-building Goodwin tries to employ at his other company, Good Days Marketing (best known for the Anthony Weiner-inspired Weiner Truck).
That said, Goodwin isn’t a big fan of the SoulCycle experience. In fact, it’s one of the corporate chains he mentions when he argues that a boxing gym was “the lesser of evils,” as far as the fate of 9 Bleecker is concerned: “This could be a SoulCycle or a Starbucks or a Duane Reade,” he said as he sat on a bench outside of the building, greeting neighbors by name as they walked by. “I think maybe we can come to some balance. I don’t think everybody’s going to be happy because it doesn’t work like that but at least this gives people something to talk about.”
Goodwin recently tried SoulCycle for research purposes. “I hated it,” he admitted. “It just can’t keep my attention.” Partly because of his attention deficit disorder, he prefers to get his exercise where there’s more stimulation. While growing up between West Palm Beach and New York City, he spent high school playing basketball in Tompkins Square Park and, especially, at the West 4th Street courts. It’s there, while going to Fordham, that he met a man who went by the name Butter and decided to form a clothing line with him. They posted an ad on Craigslist and lured partners like PR flack, socialite, and object of Gawker scorn Kristian Laliberte, now a senior editor at Refinery29. Thus was born Unruly Heir, a headline-grabbing clothing line best known for its seersucker hoodie.
When that effort fizzled out (Goodwin’s new rule of thumb is “never go into business with a grown man who still calls himself Butter”), he struck upon the idea of a clothing store in a gym, and that eventually evolved into Overthrow.
Goodwin himself got into competitive boxing after model, photographer, and amateur boxer “Rockstar Charlie” Himmelstein introduced him to the gritty-glamorous underground boxing matches known as Friday Night Throwdown. (Rockstar Charlie, who turned the events into a destination for models and became the face of Unruly Heir, still works with Goodwin.) “The Soho Kid” fought in a couple of matches and went on to spend three years training at Mendez Boxing, in the Flatiron, before a fractured rib put him out of the running for the Golden Gloves.
Now 29, Goodwin describes himself as a “grass-roots marketer more than anything,” and pitches his plan with a combination of bravado and boyish, self-depricating charm. He’s the first to admit that some might wonder why a “little shit” like him thinks he can go and open a boxing gym. On the second floor of 9 Bleecker, he and art director John Gagliano — also his partner in Unruly Heir and Good Day — are crammed into one end of an office space dominated by a teacher training program owned by Goodwin’s father, who also has a background in sales and marketing.
But while Goodwin won’t ever be a professional boxer and is still finding his way as an entrepreneur, he says, “I do think I’m a good businessperson and a good marketer, and I see this climate of the SoulCycles and Barry’s Bootcamps and Flywheels and all that. I see an opportunity to do something similar but with more layers of culture and edge and more depth and more fun.”
He describes those layers of culture and edge thusly: “You get to come into a historical environment with tons of character and you’re going to feel something totally different,” starting with music curated by nightlife fixtures like Sophia Lamar, who will appear in a promo video along with neighborhood characters like LES documentarian Clayton Patterson, East Village alt doctor Dr. Dave and Dan “Looking for a Girlfriend” Perino (Goodwin is helping Perino out with an Indiegogo campaign while also overseeing an online fundraiser for the gym).
It’s clear Goodwin loves downtown iconoclasts such as these — he respects late CBGB owner Hilly Kristal and John Varvatos alike, and points out that his other dog, a French mastif, shits all over the place just like Hilly’s did. He carps that he once got to tell Jim Jarmusch that his neighbor, legendary photographer Robert Frank, wasn’t home. And he’s quick to rattle off the names of people who, he has heard, have passed through 9 Bleecker – everyone from Bobby Seale to Larry David to Roseanne Barr. Today, when we showed up for a surprise photo shoot, he happened to be wearing a CBGB t-shirt.
Sure, Goodwin’s Indiegogo spiel floats the possibility of “one of the city’s sexiest yet grittiest bathrooms,” in which the men’s locker room will be separated from the women’s by a mere steam-glass wall. But for the most part he plans to preserve as much of 9 Bleecker as he can. (“Hell, I want to restore it,” he says. “I just don’t have the money for it.”) On the ground-floor, you’ll be able to let fists fly under a pressed-tin ceiling.
So how much will it cost you to buy into “the feel of kids doing something they’re not supposed to” that Goodwin experienced on the underground boxing circuit — and that he hopes to reproduce here, complete with a “Sex & Violence” workout?
“If you’re a finance guy,” says Goodwin, “or you’re a marketer or you’re a restaurateur or you’re a reporter for Bedford + Bowery and you can afford $32 a class or you go to SoulCycle, yeah we’re going to charge you that. But if you’re living on Fourth and D and you go to the Boys & Girls Republic and you say to me –
and I know a lot of kids that say – ‘Hey, I want to come box,’ we’ll figure out how to make it work for you.”
We’re assuming Dana Beal’s membership would be free – except that, as a result of the foreclosure proceedings, he isn’t legally allowed in the building. (Tonight’s fundraiser will be held at a loft on Broome Street.) “At the end of the day he doesn’t want a boxing gym going in there,” Goodwin admits of the yippie statesman. “And the other people don’t like him, and it is what it is. But I think we can be the lesser of two evils.”