Billy Leroy and Friends Spend One Last Night in the Tent

Suzanne Rozdeba

The hand in formaldehyde, the dusty Styrofoam mannequins and the subway signs for sale were long gone. But last night Billy Leroy and around 200 friends celebrated the now-closed antique shop on the Bowery a final time, raising their beers inside the iconic tent that will soon be six feet under.

“It’s sad, but it’s a new beginning,” said Mr. Leroy, patting the coffin like an old friend as neighborhood characters like Clayton Patterson, director Jim Jarmusch and writer Anthony Haden-Guest mingled with the crowd. “It’s an outpouring of love. All of my friends are here. It’s really amazing. I didn’t realize how much people love this place.”

The love was not in short supply because Mr. Leroy’s eponymous shop on East Houston Street at Bowery, which he ran for 10 years, had to close on Jan. 1. In the place of the store will go a two-story development, though the story isn’t entirely tragic. The tent will be gone, but the landlord, Tony Goldman, has assured Mr. Leroy his store will have a space in the building when complete.

By 8 p.m. the tent was at capacity as old friends and the crew from Mr. Leroy’s upcoming film rocked out to the bands The Naked Heroes and The Virgins. Two hours later the funeral bash had spilled out to the sidewalk.

At one point Mr. Leroy — a raconteur if there ever was one — grabbed the mic and shared a tale from his tent’s glory days. “A homeless dude came into the store and he brought me some pieces of junk. I said, ‘Dude, I don’t want this crap. Bring me like a human head or something,’” he recalled. “The next week, he was on 12th Street and saw a beautiful trunk. He was going to bring me the trunk, but it smelled funny. Inside the trunk was a young lady, dead. He was going to bring her to me, but he freaked out, and the cops took the trunk. His name is Spider, and he’s probably slithering around here somewhere.”

Not surprisingly, that wasn’t the only example of gallows humor last night.

“There have been two deaths in this tent. One in the 1980s, there was a junkie that jumped the fence and ODed in the office. The other one, one of the workers committed suicide in the bar next door,” Mr. Leroy said, adding, “The cosmic energy of this store is unbelievable. The ghosts are here.”

The nostalgia was nearly palpable. “This is bringing back a lot of memories. It’s getting to be the end of a period of time,” Mr. Patterson said.

Mr. Haden-Guest sounded a more hopeful tone. “Energy does not die, it just moves. This energy’s going to move,” he said.

Today at 3 p.m. the tent will be torn down and packed into the coffin. Mr. Leroy’s wife, musician Lorraine Leckie will lead a funeral procession around the neighborhood, and then they’ll bury it on the property where it once stood. It will be a somber moment, but Mr. Leroy has plenty to keep him busy while waiting for his new store. He’s promoting his new movie “Dirty Old Town” (about a merchant on the Bowery who has 72 hours to pay his rent) as well as filming for the “Baggage Battles” reality show.

“You’ve got to move on,” Mr. Leroy said. “The neighborhood’s changed forever.”