Many Upper West Siders may have noticed a window sign at 143 West 69th Street reading “Spiritual Advisor” and “Psychic Readings”. Over the last ten years, a so-called psychic shop called West 69th Street Home has taken residence on this block of valuable real estate. Despite neighbors’ complaints and surprise visits from New York City inspectors, the small psychic shop continued to do ample business, even amid the violations it received from NYC Gov (story first reported by the NY Times).
Despite the fact that city agencies stepped in after complaints at the apartment, the fortunetelling business continued to come and go, never being shut down completely. Records show that the city’s Department of Buildings issued a violation to the fortunetellers for displaying a sign for a commercial business. However, when they removed the sign, the violation was dismissed.
The tenants in the apartment building claimed to offer guidance, spiritual cleansing, and warding off of evil spirits. These all technically misdemeanors under New York City law. It is illegal to claim to be able to use “occult powers, to answer questions or give advice on personal matters or to exorcise, influence or affect evil spirits or curses.” However, a commonly used loophole allows “psychics” to practice “for the purpose of entertainment or amusement”. Which is not illegal. Using this gap in the rules, fortunetellers snuck fine-print disclaimers in.
By using this loophole to their advantage, modern day fortunetellers continued to thrive in New York. The apartment at West 69th has continued to operate over the years, promising a look into the future for $5 or $10. The operating psychic, Kitty Mitchell, 25, lured in customers from the neighboring streets who appeared vulnerable or distraught. She sought out those who were crying in public, or displaying signs of distress.
But eventually, the fool-proof plan led to the arrests of three women working as psychics in the apartment at 143 West 69th Street.
In statements to the police, a woman testified that Ms. Mitchell “gave me a small bottle of gold dust which she said to bathe in, to calm down my energy.” She then summoned the woman back to her apartment the next day. Mitchell claimed that in order to cleanse her life from troubles, she needed to light a candle for each of the 42 years of the woman’s current life. Each candle cost $90.
This, among other meetings in which Mitchell claimed to ward off evil spirits and tell the customer that her family was at risk, earned Mitchell thousands of dollars in charges. Finally, one more payout was needed to finish their work – for $30,000. Mitchell claimed that all of their work would be “wasted if you don’t continue.”
This, among other cases, eventually led to a guilty plea by Mitchell to a felony larceny charge.
She paid a sum of $100,000 in restitution to her victims. She also admitted before the court that she had no psychic abilities.
But the fortunetelling business on West 69th Street may not be done yet.
Last week, the apartment windows were spotted filled with signs promoting psychic readings and a book titled “Casting Spells.” Additional signage outside promoted $5 readings , and “Chakra, Tarot, Palm Readings”. According to the signs, walk-ins are welcome.Join the UWS newsletter for more local stories: