Ed Koch

UPDATED 3/30, 09:20

This morning, I signed onto Twitter only to find, in the Who To Follow column, Ed Koch:


For those who don’t know, Ed Koch was the Mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989. He died in February, 2013.

His publicist needs to take care of this! Or is he tweeting from the grave?


Speaking of Ed Koch, I see that Aron Kay is in the hospital.


He and Ed Koch go way back.

Chain Stores in the “East Village”


Last year, the Local East Village blog (operated by the NY Times) posted a piece about the number of chain stores in the “East Village.” According to the article, there were 115.

They posted an interactive map also — if you roll over a dot, a photo will pop up showing you what franchise is there. (This is just a screen shot of their map.)


Well, as fate would have it, just as I was writing this, a friend of mine, who shares an interest in this matter, sent me a link to the 2012 report by the Center for an Urban Future, the organization whose report the Local East Village was basing their post on!

I realize that 10009 is more legitimately “East Village” but there are people who identify with the East Village who live in 10003, so I’ll include that area also. So here is some information about the 10003 and 10009 ZIP code areas.

The 10003 area is 3rd in the city for national chain stores, with 179:

The 10003 area is 2nd in Manhattan for national chain stores:

10009 is 32nd in Manhattan, with 23 chains (out of forty-seven ZIP codes):

10009 chain stores, 2009–2012:

The 2009 report had a map in it that none of the other years have. In 2009, both ZIP code areas had 0.00–0.50 chain stores per 1,000 residents, and 0.06–0.45 chain stores per acre.

Other tidbits of information:

    The New Springville zip code in Staten Island 10314 still has the largest number of chains of any other zip code in the city, most likely as a result of the Staten Island Mall being located there. … Manhattan still has the highest concentration of chain stores at 119 per square mile…

Retailers with the most significant growth over the past year (city-wide):

  • NY Sport’s Club
  • 7-Eleven
  • GNC
  • T-Mobile
  • Potbelly Sandwich Shop
  • Panera Bread
  • Tasti D-Lite
  • Sleepy’s

* * *

Shortly after I first posted this piece, the following groups formed, and are Tweeting furiously:

  • No NY Sport’s Club NYC
  • No GNC NYC
  • No T-Mobile NYC
  • No Potbelly Sandwich Shop NYC
  • No Panera Bread NYC
  • No Tasti D-Lite NYC
  • No Sleepy’s NYC

L.E.S. Dwellers

I came across a somewhat-new organization this morning: L.E.S. Dwellers:


Like Quilas, they’re all over the place. Their main web site provides very little information. From there, though, you can connect to their blog, but to get this this page, you have to know someone!

I’m sympathetic to their plight — you can see photos of the area where they live, Hell Square (from their web site):


but the way they voice their opposition to Soho House, they’re shooting themselves in the foot:


Are they trying to attract supporters, or alienate them?1

Despite this (or rather, because of this), I followed the link to sign up for their mailing list (I put the fields side-by-side so it wouldn’t be so long):


Fourteen required fields! Ridiculous. Searching around a bit, I found another way to sign onto their mailing list, but how much searching do they expect from people? I was able to do it because work is slow today.


1 Don’t even get me started on their ridiculously-tight leading!

* It’s interesting to see that “Eurotrash” is its own category, separate from Jimmy Choo stiletto girls, newly-minted tech-set, B-list models, I-bankers disguised in Thomas Pink and Gucci loafers, trust fund wannabe hipsters, expense account ad men, and label whores!

Richard Wolff Follow-up on Bill Moyers

“Capitalism is a system geared up to doing three things on the part of business: get more profits, grow your company and get a larger market share… If along the way they have to sacrifice either the well-being of their workers or the well-being of the planet or the environmental conditions, they may feel very bad about it — and I know plenty who do — but they have no choice.”




I saw this sign on the door at St Mark’s Bookshop — it’s not a new sign; I’ve seen it many times — but today it made me wonder (again): Why is it our responsibility to make sure that the owner of St. Mark’s Bookshop receives a high-enough rate of return on his investment to keep him from closing? Why is it always shopkeepers making this plea, or organizing “cash mobs”?

    “Come today to St. Mark’s Bookshop and buy a book so we can pay our rent.”
    “Come today to U.S. Steel Corporation and buy 1,000 tons of steel so we can pay our directors.”

Why shouldn’t workers organize cash mobs? If they did though, no one would give them anything. Why do people feel obligated to give their money to shopkeepers but not to workers? Shopkeepers are idealized, they’re called “Mom-and-Pops”. We still think of shopkeepers wearing full-length aprons in front of their stores, sweeping the sidewalk.

shopkeeper See?

One reason to keep these stores open might be to keep the workers there employed*, and that’s not nothing (in fact it’s something), but it’s not the reason people do this. The reason people participate in these efforts is that it says something about them. If I live in a neighborhood where there is a St. Mark’s Bookshop, it forms part of my experience of living in New York City. For people for whom that is important, I say fine, buy your books at St. Mark’s, and your cupcakes at Butter Lane, and your kitsch at Alphabets.

But, this reason is valid only to the degree that what I view as an authentic urban experience is dictated by the shops that surround me, that is, by what I am able to buy. Urban life becomes a shopping experience. I am validated by my purchases.

How do people decide which stores form their experience and which don’t? What if the sign were hanging up in a nail salon? Would people rally around the nail salon? Or a dry cleaner’s? There’s nothing democratic about it. Voting with your wallet isn’t democracy, and too many people’s wallets are empty.

It’s probably true that bookstores are something that should exist in a city, that if there were no bookstores then the city would be worse off for it. I am not against bookstores. I’m not even against St. Mark’s Bookshop. I used to go there all the time, even back when it was on St. Mark’s Place. And when I had money, I used to buy books from them, books being among those objects I deigned to spend money on, being someone at that time who defined myself in part by my book purchases. I was even there today — if it hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have been inspired to write about them, just as I have never been inspired to write about St. Mark’s Buggywhips.


*What jobs are we protecting? There’s no doubt that the job sucks and is low-paid. If St. Mark’s Bookshop closed and another store opened and kept all the same employees, they’d still have meaningless, low-paying jobs. There are no other jobs. Still, it would be less disruptive to their lives if they could keep the same job, without a break in their paychecks, than to have to begin a new job doing some different meaningless task, even in the same location.

Consumer Choice

I added a new category today, which means I’ve added a new topic to my revolving group of topics: Food. Right now, the main thrust of my posts will deal with the food branch of the unhealthy commodities industries, but it could be expanded over time to cover other aspects of food, such as food workers, or… I don’t know, genetically-modified food. We’ll see.

* * *

During the recent discussion around New York City’s proposed portion cap on sugary drinks, the beverage industry’s refrain, like the tobacco industry’s before it, was one of “personal choice.” They claim that people choose the high-calorie/low-nutrition products, in the ever-large sizes, they offer for sale. Without thinking, others echo this refrain when dove-tailing their own agenda with that of the unhealthy commodities industry.

In the same New York Times article I referred to in Follow the Money the intensity with which food companies pursue the “perfect” food was described:

    Frito-Lay had a formidable research complex near Dallas, where nearly 500 chemists, psychologists and technicians conducted research that cost up to $30 million a year, and the science corps focused intense amounts of resources on questions of crunch, mouth feel and aroma for each of these items. Their tools included a $40,000 device that simulated a chewing mouth to test and perfect the chips, discovering things like the perfect break point: people like a chip that snaps with about four pounds of pressure per square inch.

This is just one company and one product line, and it doesn’t include a dime of marketing or advertising money. Up against this, we’re told we have to exhibit “will power” and “personal responsibility”. We’re told that taking this away takes away our freedom of choice, as if anyone outside the industry chooses this.

It has always been the case that the food offered to the majority of people by capitalist food producers/distributors has been of poor quality. A quick Google search this morning yielded the following:

    Proceedings American Pharmaceutical Association Eighth Annual Meeting,
    Held In Boston, Mass., September, 1859,
    With The Constitution And Roll Of Members.

    Excluding, then, from the class of adulterations all cases of substitution, impurities, and accidental contaminations, adulteration may be thus defined: It consists in the intentional addition to an article, for the purpose of gain, or deception, of any substance or substances, the presence of which is not acknowledged in the name under which the article is sold.

    Your Committee feel that perhaps they may bring forward some facts, not in all cases agreeable, and that they may be met with the oft repeated statement that “the public wish the adulterated articles,” that “pure mustard and cream of tartar will not sell,” coffee with burnt peas and apples in it is “richer,” and more “nutritious,” but we feel constrained to say this pretended regard for the wishes and tastes of the “public” is most generally based upon a slight interest for the pecuniary welfare of the manufacturer or trader. [Emphasis mine.]

Another example:

    In London there are two sorts of bakers, the “full priced,” who sell bread at its full value, and the “undersellers,” who sell it under its value. The latter class comprises more than three-fourths of the total number of bakers. (p. xxxii in the Report of H. S. Tremenheere, commissioner to examine into “the grievances complained of by the journeymen bakers,” &c., Lond. 1862.) The undersellers, almost without exception, sell bread adulterated with alum, soap, pearl ashes, chalk, Derbyshire stone-dust, and such like agreeable nourishing and wholesome ingredients. (See the above cited Blue book, as also the report of “the committee of 1855 on the adulteration of bread,” and Dr. Hassall’s “Adulterations Detected,” 2nd Ed. Lond. 1861.) Sir John Gordon stated before the committee of 1855, that “in consequence of these adulterations, the poor man, who lives on two pounds of bread a day, does not now get one fourth part of nourishing matter, let alone the deleterious effects on his health.” Tremenheere states (l.c., p. xlviii), as the reason, why a very large part of the working-class, although well aware of this adulteration, nevertheless accept the alum, stone-dust, &c., as part of their purchase: that it is for them “a matter of necessity to take from their baker or from the chandler’s shop, such bread as they choose to supply.” [Emphasis mine.] … Tremenheere adds on the evidence of witnesses, “it is notorious that bread composed of those mixtures, is made expressly for sale in this manner.”

So when people say that it’s a matter of choice, or the converse, “personal responsibility,” you know they’re lying.


As I wrote in Why This? Why Now?, a big reason for me starting this blog was the sort of things I was reading in the Comments section of EV Grieve’s blog. I was struck by the provincialism displayed in many of the comments, directed at people who may have at one time lived in the suburbs, or visit from the suburbs, or at stores that are associated with the suburbs. At first I thought the commenters were just supercilious, and I’m sure that’s true of some of them, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that what people were referring to as “suburban” was only incidentally suburban, or rather tautologically suburban.

When the International House of Pancakes opened on 14th Street, commenters railed against it as “suburban”. When it was announced that 7-Eleven would open on Avenue A and 11th Street, it was vilified as “suburban”, and the people who would shop there as suburban, living out their suburban childhoods, turning the dirty Lower East Side into a suburb. Here are some examples:



No 7-Eleven NYC meeting announcement:

So what are they opposed to? It has more to do with standardization than with geography. What is referred to as “suburban” is nothing less than the direction that retail-capital took after World War 2. This was the time that franchising grew significantly. Cities were too prohibitive to build in — ground rent was high, zoning and existing structures restricted what was possible — but the interstate highway system allowed for expansion outside of the city. The land they moved into was not only cheap but plentiful. If there had been enough cheap land in the cities in the 1950s, franchises would have developed here, because capital would not have moved to rural areas to seek higher returns.

There’s nothing wrong with critiquing franchising, but to confuse it as “suburban” masks the real driving force.

The New, New South Street Seaport

On March 20, Crain’s New York reported that plans to to demolish the existing mall that exists at Pier 17 in the South Street Seaport and build a different mall were approved by New York’s City Council.

There is nothing even remotely interesting about the South Street Seaport. I would guess that the last time it was genuinely interesting was when it was an actual seaport. It was somewhat interesting when the fish market still operated there. When they were driven out, there was nothing left but the mall and an endless parade of charter busses.

It’s not a bad place to ride by on my bike…

Richard Wolff on Bill Moyers

This was broadcast on February 22, 2013.

Richard Wolff was an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He leads a monthly discussion on the financial crisis every first Tuesday of the month, at the Brecht Forum in New York.


Follow the Money — Addendum

When I wrote my most recent piece, Follow the Money, I cobbled together so much information that it became too long, with too many extended quotes. I knew when I hit the Publish button that it needed more work, but I had become impatient — I’d worked on it for two days already. Anyway, I revised it again yesterday and now it’s done.

There was one part I cut though, that I think is important, regarding public health initiatives and personal responsibility:

    In the food arena, a great example of this would be in New York City, where the health department has banned trans fats in restaurants. So if you go to New York now, you can’t get trans fats in the restaurants. Now you could try to solve that problem of people eating trans fats, and having heart disease as a consequence of it, by personal responsibility. You could say, “Okay, well, let’s educate people about trans fats.” But it’s a pretty hard concept to understand. Restaurants would have to label them. People would have to have options within restaurants, trans fat versus no trans fat. And you see you’d have this complex, burdensome system that would never work. And so, that would be an example where personal responsibility wouldn’t get the job done but government intervention would. And so, in New York City, they’ve decided that we can’t default to personal responsibility there, we need to take action. And that would be an example of a real success story from a public health point of view.

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