Thursday, December 16, 2010

NYC Empty Storefronts: A Mini-Photo Essay

On Wednesday morning last week, hizzoner Mayor Mike Bloomberg gave a speech--ranted, you might say--about what was wrong with Washington, DC, and suggested ways to address the country's serious economic short-term and long-term problems. His solutions were predictable: not enough bipartisanship, not enough will to cut taxes for businesses, which are recording record profits these days, etc. Bloomberg went on to suggest that our third and current capital of the United States, Versailles-on-the-Potomac, whose leaders' main goal is self-preservation of the status quo, which is to say, plutocratic power and corporate dominance and influence, needed a shakeup, but really only a gentle one. Not from below, though--NOT THE RABBLE. But from above.

Above all, after the shake up, the same sorts of people in power, who had brought the country to its present state, should remain in power, and this week, after he had again declared his non-candidacy for the US Presidency, an office to which he could and not be elected, he and similarly minded plutocratic-focused, corporate-friendly, power-worshiping conservative Democrats and moderate-to-right-leaning Republicans labeled themselves the "No Labels" party, convened to chat, issued a proclamation that was pure mush, and addressed not a single one of the major problems facing the majority of American people. (For their emblem they also purloined an artist's graphic designs yet initially denied doing so, to top it off. And they won't reveal their funders. Not a good start by any measure.)

But that's not my point, really. My point is that one of the first things I thought about as Mayor Bloomberg was ragging on Washington was the economic state of the very city he is supposed to be leading. He was, let us not forget, re-elected to a third term he engineered through the City Council, which changed the term limits law in his favor, by a slender 50,600 vote margin over Bill Thompson. New York has 4-5 million eligible voters, so this was pretty slim.  Not only is New York facing the largest income gap of any major city in the country, and not only do only 25% of its young young black male residents have jobs, but the city itself appears, despite Bloomberg's official line, to be in as shaky shape as the country at large. I have seen it with my own eyes.

The other day, as I went to New York to pick up a piece of hardware from the Apple Store on 14th Street, I began to note, once again, between my entrypoint into the city, at lower Christopher Street and far West 14th Street where the Apple palace is, how many storefronts were again empty, redolent to me not of the economically listless period in New York of the late 1980s or even of the early 1990s, but of that horrifying moment right after 9/11, when a cataclysm struck, businesses closed, people C and I knew fled (one friend told me he simply could not live in NYC any longer, and was gone shortly thereafter), and it was unclear what was going to happen next.

I decided to snap shots of all these empty store fronts, going farther, up into Chelsea, which despite its A-listers, endlessly sprouting luxury condo towers, and chic boutiques, is also not as economically healthy as hizzoner would like the world to believe.  Of course Mayor Bloomberg will not be reading this blog and couldn't give a flying you-know-what about what I have to say, but some J's Theater readers will recognize in these images their own cities, towns and suburban areas, and ask, perhaps already knowing the answer, why are the people in power so seemingly oblivious to this, and so fixated only one thing, which is reducing their top marginal federal tax rates, and those of businesses, despite the fact that they are taking home an increasing share of the economic pie and getting richer by the day as a result of the policies now in place?
This was the first empty storefront I spotted. I remember going into this place from time to time when it was a deli-corner store. They never had my favorite date bars, but it was okay in a pinch. Then it became a clothing boutique geared towards the wealthy, and now....
This place holds sentimental value for me, because I copied many a poem, short story, whole sections of Seismosis, papers for NYU, etc., here. And now look at it.
Empty Storefront, NYC
This was a restaurant, I think, then a boutique of sorts. I think; I can't remember.
Empty Storefront, NYC
This was a too-pricey Portuguese restaurant, Alfama, where my friend Arthur and I had a meal. When I went to order some wine, the word for cup (copa!) slipped completely from my memory.
Empty Storefront, NYC
A restaurant, no longer.
Empty Storefront, NYC
I can't recall what was here; it appears it was a restaurant.
Empty Storefront, NYC
A Thai restaurant was here for years. I went there once when I was in school. Not great but not bad. Inexpensive, always a godsend to students and working people.
Empty Storefront, NYC
Not sure what was here, but when I peered through the pane I spotted beautiful wood paneling and wainscotting, and a sumptuous red leather-covered bench inside. A bar? A restaurant?
Empty Storefront, NYC
A bike shop, but no longer.
Empty Storefront, NYC
Two stores, just stones throws away from the Apple Store, what used to be the Meatpacking District and then the Rich People's Downtown district, and now...?
Empty Storefront, NYC
The twin storefront of the previous empty storefront
Empty Storefront, NYC
This was heading towards 6th Avenue. After a while it got so cold and I had errands to run that I stopped taking photos, but the name of this now defunct business stopped me. "Whynot"? Indeed.
Empty Storefront, NYC
And yet another.
Self Portrait on 20F Day
At the end, before I got on my way, I took this self-portrait. I can attest that years in Chicago have weathered me well for New York's cold spells. Still, nothing will acclimate me to the signs of the city's--and country's--distress.

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