Pawn Shops

[This is part of the Release the Kraken! series.]

September 6, 2013

In the piece Quilas: Bike Sharer, I mentioned the web site Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York. The current post on that day was Gramercy Pawnbrokers. He was concerned about a For Rent sign he saw over a pawn broker’s sign, and that they might be closing.

I commented that along with liquor stores and check cashing places, pawn shops are the scourge of poor neighborhoods. My comment was rejected. Here are some that were not:

jvny-pawnshops-1

jvny-pawnshops-3

Too many people don’t take the time to think about what it is they’re defending.

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Hyper-Gentrification Revisited

In Hyper-Gentrification, I wrote about a blogger called Jeremiah Moss. Specifically, about something he wrote called On Spike Lee & Hyper-Gentrification.

Since that time, he was invited to rewrite that piece for the New York Times, as part of their overview of gentrification. So his position, distilled, is:

    The old-school gentrification of the 20th century, while harmful, wasn’t all bad. It made streets safer, created jobs and brought fresh vegetables to the corner store. … Unlike gentrification, in which the agents of change were middle-class settlers moving into working-class and poor neighborhoods…

    …hyper-gentrification in New York was implemented via strategically planned mass rezonings, eminent domain and billions in tax breaks to corporations…

    So before gentrification became “hyper”, it wasn’t all bad, according to Moss. When the process of removing the working class from their neighborhood was happening, using all of the tools at the disposal of both real estate developers and the city, from illegal evictions, to arson, to filling vacant apartments with drug dealers to drive out tenants, to turning over in rem buildings to “developers” for pennies on the dollar, to programs like AHOP, this wasn’t all bad. The same private/public interests (themselves, bourgeois legalisms) were at play as today, at the then-existing level of development.

Moss sees gentrification starting when people and small businesses start to move into an area where they weren’t before. He fails to understand the processes that led to that, despite his many references to Neil Smith. He doesn’t see the “flipping” of buildings (buildings bought and then sold at a profit, sometimes without any renovations being made) as part of the process, or even the transition from a healthy building stock to a decrepit one. For him, as for so many like him, it starts when the outward signs become noticeable.

So what is his solution?

    Let’s drastically reduce tax breaks to corporations and redirect that money to mom-and-pops. Protect the city’s oldest small businesses by providing selective retail rent control, and implement the Small Business Survival Act to create fair rent negotiations. Pass a citywide ordinance to control the spread of chain stores. … Shop local and protest the corporate invasion of neighborhoods.

Increase taxes on corporations? OK. Direct the money to small businesses? To what end? If the Small Business Survival Act creates fair rent negotiations (Moss’s contention), small business rents will be lower. So what will they do with the money? Raise their employees’ wages? Ha! Pocket the money? Probably. Use the money to expand? Probably. So the small businesses will become big businesses, in time. Maybe even chains. Regarding shopping locally, I’ve already addresses that.

Moss’s changes will only benefit small business owners. That is his starting and ending point.

    This … is the transformation of society in a democratic way, but a transformation within the bounds of the petty bourgeoisie. … [I]t believes that the special conditions of its emancipation are the general conditions within whose frame alone modern society can be saved and the class struggle avoided.*

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* The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, accessed April 27, 2014.

Pearl Paint Illegally Fired 39 Workers

There’s been some hubbub recently about Pearl Paint, a five-story art supply store on Canal Street, closing.

It was first reported (as far as I know) by Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, the small-business-lamentation blog.

On Tuesday, DNAInfo reported that Pearl Paint illegally fired 39 of their workers! In his piece, Jeremiah reported, regarding the closing: “The information has not been confirmed with Pearl…” but there’s no mention of his speaking with any of the workers. He did report it on his Facebook page, but there’s no follow-up on his blog.

This is why it’s important not to be pie-eyed about small businesses. Glitter and paint cannot cover up class relations.

Hyper-Gentrification

There is an anonymous blogger who goes by the name of Jeremiah Moss. His blog is Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York.

I’m not a regular reader of this blog. The first time I read it, he was lamenting a pawn shop on 23rd Street(?) closing. I commented to the effect that pawn shops, along with check-cashing places, were scourges of poor neighborhoods, but he didn’t approve it.

It’s mainly a nostalgia blog. I put it in the realm of the sites I’ve commented on, tirelessly advocating the position of the small business owners of the city.

He recently got a bit of extra notoriety for a piece he wrote on “hyper gentrification”. To his credit, he claims to take the position of Neil Smith. Unfortunately, he represents Smith poorly. For Neil Smith, gentrification was a class issue. Gentrification occurs when a working class neighborhood is turned into a non-working-class neighborhood. Once the area in question is no longer working class, gentrification stops. The job is finished. There are no “levels” of gentrification. There is no such thing as “hyper gentrification”.

To try to define gentrification as a steady process of “upscaling”, as a commenter here once did, is to remove the class nature from it. By this definition, gentrification occurs any time land is capitalized. When the conversion of a working class neighborhood is seen in the same light as the price of a $10,000,000 penthouse being raised to $25,000,000, then it becomes synonymous with change itself, under capitalism. This is the position of the real estate industry.

This puts Moss squarely on the same side as Spike Lee, despite his claim to differ. Spike Lee does not think that he was a gentrifier, because he’s Black. For Lee, gentrification is a racial issue that started when the first (Black) gentrifiers found themselves priced out of their neighborhoods. It’s the same for Moss.

Nowhere in Moss’s piece do you find the word “worker”, or “working”, or “class”, or “Volume 3”. For Moss, and so many like him, gentrification is bad because it affects small business owners and their “buy local” customers, not workers.

He writes:

    I want to make one thing clear: Gentrification is over. It’s gone. And it’s been gone since the dawn of the twenty-first century. Gentrification itself has been gentrified, pushed out of the city and vanished. I don’t even like to call it gentrification, a word that obscures the truth of our current reality. I call it hyper-gentrification.

Gentrification is not over. Gentrification is not a one-time event. It’s over in some neighborhoods, but it’s still going on in others. There are slums in India that are being gentrified, due to their proximity to wealthier areas. The favelas of Brazil are also being eyed by real estate interests there. And cities like Detroit and Cleveland are already in the sights of developers, waiting for circumstances to change in their favor.

I’m not saying that there’s no reason to track the increases in wealth inequality, just that the problem doesn’t start when the first round of gentrifying small business owners are affected.

Quilas: Bike Sharer

I am now an official bike sharer.

How did this happen, you ask? How is it that I, who sat on the fence for so long regarding “Citibikes,” have become a card-carrying member? I received an annual membership for my birthday! And because I recently became a member of the Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union*, I received a $35 discount, bringing the cost down to $60. (Although, once I saw that LESPFCU members got a $35 discount, you can be sure I would have opened an account.)

For those who live in NYCHA housing, or are members of approved credit unions, be aware that the Citibike web site might give you an error message when you enter your discount code:

citibike-error-msg

As long as you know it’s a valid code, continue with the signup process. The confirmation email you get will show the discounted price you paid.

citibike-welcome-msg
citibike-price

So in about ten business days, I will rejoin the mass of people who bike to work.
(I used to ride my bike to work a long time ago, when I lived too far away to walk).

quilas-bike-share

***

The bike share program in New York is run by a company called Alta Bicycle Share. Alta is currently under investigation by the Department of Labor after sixteen current and former employees of Washington D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare circulated a petition asking for back pay and benefits. According to the McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act (SCA), contractors and subcontractors with federal and D.C. agencies must pay their workers the prevailing wages and benefits in their locality. Alta’s 2010 contract with the District Department of Transportation states that they are bound by the wage determinations made by the SCA. According to that contract, “Bicycle Repairers” should be paid $14.43 an hour, plus either $3.35 an hour or $580.66 a month in “health & welfare” benefits. They should also receive two weeks of paid vacation and paid federal holidays. The SCA also covers part-time workers—under the act, they should be paid the same wages and receive benefits appropriate for their time spent at work.

Unlike Capital Bikeshare, the CitiBike program doesn’t receive government funds. For now, it’s completely underwritten by CitiBank and MasterCard, who paid $41 million and $6.5 million, respectively, to have their names on the bikes. The underwriters receive no profits, but the city says it will share any profits with Alta. Because the bikes are completely funded by a corporate sponsor, the workers for CitiBike are not subject to the city’s living wage law for city-funded jobs, which would require a minimum pay rate of $10.20 an hour with benefits or $11.75 an hour without benefits.

***

Back in early June, I received this email:

jerimiah-moss-petition

Jeremiah Moss has a web site called Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, but apparently he’s a MoveOn member also. (The petition came from MoveOn.org).

The idea that people who live in the vicinity of Frank’s Bike Shop and take Citibikes to get to work are causing Frank Arroyo to lose his business is absurd. People don’t rent bikes from bike stores to get to work. As far as tourists go, anyone who buys 24-hour Citibike passes still has only 30 minutes to get their bike to another station before they start incurring late charges. According to a NY Post article, Frank’s charges $30/day for a rental. A four-hour trip on a Citibike, without changing bikes every thirty minutes, would cost $73.00. There is no comparison.

People make any sort of claim, and just assume that it will be believed. What if Citibank didn’t sponsor the bike share program in New York? What if the city paid for it, under the DOT? Would these people still complain? Probably.

    Dear Quilas,

    Frank Arroyo has sold bottled water on the Lower East Side for 37 years. Recently, the city placed a water fountain in a park just 150 feet from his store, Frank’s Deli. Now his business is in jeopardy.

***

Finally, one last tidbit of information. Alta Bicycle Share is based in Portland, Oregon, and currently operates bike share programs in eight cities: seven in the U.S. and one in Australia.

  • CoGo Bike Share is a project of the City of Columbus, Ohio;
  • Bay Area Bike Share is a project in a partnership among local government agencies of the bay area of California;
  • Divvy is a program of the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), which owns all of the system’s bikes, stations and vehicles;
  • Citi Bike is operated by NYC Bike Share LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Alta Bicycle Share;
  • Bike Chattanooga Bicycle Transit System is a project of the City of Chattanooga and is managed by Outdoor Chattanooga, a division of Chattanooga Parks & Recreation;
  • Hubway, the Boston-area program, indicates that the program is run by the municipalities it connects;
  • Capital Bikeshare is owned by the participating jurisdictions of the Washington D.C. area;
  • Melbourne Bike Share is operated through a partnership between the government and Alta Bicycle share.

Of all of the programs operated by Alta, only New York’s is owned by a private company, and only New York’s has a company logo on the bike. Furthermore, of the programs serviced by Public Bike Share Company, the bicycle manufacturer, the only other city that has a company logo on the bike is London, and theirs is Barclay’s Bank. Maybe that makes sense.

nyc-london
 
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*The name “Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union” is, in the words of Jimmy McMillan, too damn long!