Sweep Up Street Fairs, Please!

One good thing has come from the $4.5 billion of taxpayer money spent to construct the three stations that will comprise the Second Avenue Subway: over the near-decade of destroying small businesses and jobs, and undermining the health of residents, this project that was first (and better) developed in 1929 put an end to the Second Avenue Street Fairs.

I had made an annual ritual of slamming my windows to block carcinogens from burning meat snacks while I hoped to mute the cacophony of screaming drum-beaters who could not find a tune. However, the MTA’s claim that it will finally be opening those subway stations at 72nd, 86th and 96th Streets means that the fairs will be coming back. Hello tube socks and other merchandise that discount stores have rejected! Multiple welcomes to  vendors of rugs and schmattas who appear at every street fair one tries unsuccessfully to avoid! With you all come increased air pollution from busses and cars stalled in detours. Gone will be hours of human life lost while idling in lung-killing traffic. However, we will again finally see what our police officers look like because they will be present making overtime protecting us at these generic events.

Nonetheless, there could be reason for the audacity of hope. Writing in Politico, Laura Nahmias reports that the de Blasio administration plans to make New York City’s ubiquitous street fairs less corporate. Here is her story:

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration is proposing changes to the city’s street fairs intended to end the corporate flavor of many of the festivals, addressing a long-standing complaint from civic groups and elected officials that the fairs are a costly headache and do little to benefit the communities where they’re held.

Under proposed rules scheduled for a public hearing on October 13, at least fifty percent of vendors participating in a street fair would have to be businesses with locations inside the same community board where the event is being held. That proposal marks a major change that could remake the character of the roughly 200 street fairs the city currently allows each year.

The proposed changes, which must undergo a period of public comment before being approved and which would go into effect in 2017, were met with delight by Manhattan City Councilman Dan Garodnick, who has been pressing for reforms to the city’s street fair policies for years.

“My complaint is that they are generic and that they are too frequent with too little community benefit,” Garodnick said.

“A street fair should be a small, friendly community event, which people in the neighborhood identify with and enjoy. Many of them have just become a carbon copy of one another,” he said.

Currently, Garodnick said, the fairs “sell sausages and socks and cell phone cases and pashminas on every block and there’s not a hint of local flavor, other than perhaps the sponsoring organization which they are required to have.”

Since 2004, the city has had a moratorium on granting permits for any new street fairs, after the New York Police Department complained about the excessive burden the fairs placed on its resources. The fairs and festivals, most of which are concentrated in just three community board districts in Manhattan (in the areas around the West Village, Chinatown, Lower East Side, Greenwich Village, Midtown, Times Square, the Flatiron and parts of the Upper West Side), required officers to be diverted from their daily duties and drove up NYPD overtime costs.

New York City earned $1.6 million in vendor fees from more than 300 street fairs in 2010, but the events cost $4 million in overtime pay for the police officers staffing them, the Daily News reported that year.

Meanwhile, outer borough elected officials said their communities were left out of the capped street fair market, putting the burgeoning local businesses of the neighborhoods beyond Manhattan at a disadvantage. And last year, the de Blasio administration began eyeing the possibility of changing the regulations to enable outer boroughs to host more of these events. The administration sent surveys to local businesses and found significant interest in outer borough street fairs.

Under the proposed regulations, there would be geographic distribution of street fairs — no more than 200 street fairs could be held citywide each year, and no more than 100 of them could be located in Manhattan. Each community board would be limited to 20 street fairs annually.

The proposals are “a step in the right direction,” said Jonathan Bowles of the Center for an Urban Future, which in 2006 published a report calling for the city to “rethink” its “bland and generic” street fairs.

“One of the big problems with street fairs was that so many of the vendors weren’t even from New York City,” Bowles told POLITICO New York in an interview. “The fairs week in and week out were dominated by the same few vendors, which is one of the reasons why they were boring and generic.”

Bowles said the city ought to consider opening vendor opportunities at fairs to local and independent businesses from outside of the community boards.

“We’ve criticized street fairs in the past, but not on principle. These could be so amazing for New York City,” he said. In the ten years since the Center for an Urban Future first published its report, many new and interesting street fairs and festivals have popped up, particularly in the outer boroughs, Bowles said.

“We’ve seen, since we started writing about this issue, how New York City has benefited from all these incredible markets, like Smorgasburg, the Brooklyn Flea, the Union Square holiday market.

“New York City has so many independent and entrepreneurial businesses, but so few of them have been represented in street fairs that it’s been a missed opportunity,” he said.

But some of the city’s largest street fair operators said they plan to fight the proposed rule. Todd Berman, the head of Clearview Festival Partners, which is one of the city’s largest street fair and festival operators, applauded the idea to make street fairs more inclusive, but called the new proposed regulations “draconian.”

“It is not realistic or achievable to reach the fifty percent requirement that they’re proposing and have the ability to generate a profit off of the event,” Berman said. “This regulation of fifty percent, it’s a death sentence to street festivals,” he said.

Berman, who operates many festivals outside of Manhattan, said the 100 festival cap on all outer-borough festivals was insensitive.

“I think this mayor has run on a platform of this being one city, but the boroughs are clearly being given the short end of the stick,” he said.

Thus ends Nahmias’ story. I would like to see all fairs banished from Manhattan, or at least confined to one area way downtown, or even in midtown where those who like them can find them with confidence. Please leave a comment by clicking on the lines below.

Airing Facts about AIRBNB

If the legal owner/occupant of a residence is in residence when he/she rents out their home, I have no objection. However, if they are not present, if they permit friends, family and strangers to occupy their property, it is their neighbors (as I have learned) who will bear the brunt of visitors’ carelessness, cluelessness and just plain not knowing that every time they drop their combat boots on the bare floor, the person living downstairs will suffer. Here’s a wonderful explanation about the dangers and dishonestly of AirBNB — and why it must be closely regulated — from http://www.gothamgazette.com and the hotel industry.

Please comment below.

Let There be Light Rail

Proposed Connector Route

Courtesy of Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector via New York Daily News.

Kudos to Mayor Bill de Blasio for proposing the Brooklyn Queens Connector, a light rail that will improve transportation along 16 miles of the East River waterfront. It’s a New York City-only undertaking (without the complications of state, federal or Metropolitan Transportation Authority involvement). Tax revenues from increased property values are expected to cover its $2.5 billion cost. Contrast that with the $4.5 billion, two-mile Phase 1 of the Second Avenue Subway, which will go from 96th Street to 63rd Street and Lexington Avenue. This required boring through rock, mining out tunnels and designing and building station stations with elevators and escalators. Brooklyn Queens Connector rails will be embedded in existing streets. Groundbreaking is tentatively scheduled for 2019-2020. If the Second Avenue Subway (a plan conceived in the 1920s) is extended north and south, one hopes future phases will be light rail and not the costly, wasteful, destructive construction that we have seen on the East Side for years. When the Second Avenue subway opens in December, 2016 (if it does) the public will see how little it gets for its money – two rails, not four as in the Lexington Avenue line, and new stops only at 96th, 86th and 72nd Streets – none in the 14 blocks between 86th and 72nd Streets. Certainly, there are concerns about de Blasio’s proposal and hopefully the review process will improve it further. The light rail was plan is based on a report commissioned by a group called Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector, who can serve as a model for what non-profits could achieve.

Remember the Alamo, Rizzoli Bookstore, and Jim’s Shoe Repair

Rizzoli Bookstore is still expected to close and Subway Inn was shuttered, but Jim’s Shoe Repair at 50 E. 59th has been given a new lease!!

See Present in the City blog of Feb. 17, 2015 for details as well as this fine ABC News New York story with an appearance by me.

Here’s the original post on the subject from May 2, 2014:

Jim’s Shoe Repair on Manhattan’s at 50 East 59th Street has been in business for 82 years. Now the adjacent Duane Reade chain wants its space, reportedly so it can sell frozen foods. Duane Reade, which Walgreen purchased in 2010 for $618 million dollars, is forcing the family-owned artisanal service to shut its doors.

Now is the time and here is the place for New Yorkers to take a stand if they are alarmed by seeing productive businesses destroyed by the combination of out-of-control generic big box stores, New York real estate interests, and the complicit Giuliani and Bloomberg Administrations. Maybe Jim’s Shoe Repair Store can be the place where the de Blasio Administration steps in to help small businesses and preserve what is left of commercial diversity in Manhattan. Surely small businesses are as worthy of salvation as carriage horses, even if their supporters are less organized.

Without a public outcry against Duane Reade and Walgreen ($72 billion in sales in fiscal 2013) and landlord SL Green Realty, Jim’s Shoe Repair will join the famed Rizzoli’s Bookstore, and the less iconic Nemati rug and tapestry store on Third Avenue and Vacesi Hardware on East 23rd, along with hundreds of other successful or promising small businesses that have been victims of predatory real estate interests.

Two Duane Reades, two Walgreens and a CVS all operate in a 1.5 block radius of my apartment, and most Manhattanites below 96th Street can say much the same of these interchangeable outlets. We do not need more of them and we do not need them to be bigger than they are. They should not gobble up more space and they should not destroy more productive businesses. Jim’s is trying to get redress through the Landmarks Commission, which ignored it in the past, but here’s a plan for the rest of us:

  1. Patronize Jim’s Shoe Repair at 50 East 59th Street near the Fifth Avenue N,R,Q subway. This support will help it to pay its legal bills to fight these greedy businesses that prey on the spirit of New York. In addition, you will also see what expert shoe repair looks like.

  2. Sign an electronic petition at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/save-jims-shoe-repair   or this site.

  3. Phone Customer Relations at Duane Reade (and why is this office not in New York City where it could hire the city residents who patronize these stores?)
    Here are two numbers – 800-925-4733, which I obtained from a company source, and 866-375-6925, which is on the website. Provide Jim’s address – 50 East 59th Street — and 625 Madison Avenue, the address of the building that houses it and the rapacious Duane Reade that is gobbling up its business.

  4. Phone Walgreen at 800-925-4733

  5. Call SL Green Realty, ask for the leasing agent of 625 Madison Avenue, and tell them that they should renew Jim’s lease. They will give you a polite runaround. Probably SL Green thrives on bad will, but perhaps it would like to generate good publicity by doing something decent.

  6. Contact REBNY – the Real Estate Board of New York. Its website says that questions about the commercial Brokerage Division should be directed to Desiree Jones at (212) 616-5226 or djones@rebny.com

Taking these actions would be constructive use of smartphones. On a personal note, without Jim’s to repair my shoes, I may have to use them less. Certainly if Walgreen and Duane Reade takes Jim’s down, I will never again walk into one of these outfits again. Drugstore.com* is looking good – and it sells cheaper branded contact lens solution too.

*Correction: In a demonstration of the importance of a family business, after this blog was posted my nephew David, a business grad student, informed me that drugstore.com is owned by Walgreen. One of us has made me proud.

Ferries Could Save Tax Payers from the Second Avenue Subway

A decade ago, the Metropolitan Transit Authority held public meetings at the old Hunter College School of Social Work to prepare East Side residents for the construction of the Second Avenue Subway, and for the destruction and damage to homes and businesses. Mysore Nagaraja, then president of MTA Capital Construction Company, nearly wept as he described the plight of those of us living east of Third Avenue in the 70s who had to walk 20 or 30 minutes to reach the subway. That was why, he told us, construction of the Second Avenue was so important and inconvenience was to be darned. He was so aggrieved about our situation and so agonized over those who live around York Avenue and 77th Street, that he advocated construction of multiple entrances on the north, south, east and west sides of every station so that after years of suffering we would not have to cross one more avenue, or tarry at one more traffic light, before we could descend to a train each day.

As it turns out, residents of the far East 70s or 80s will continue to be under-served by train service, even if the Second Avenue Subway is ever completed. There is no stop between the 86th Street and 72nd Street stations. Michael Horodniceanu, Nagaraja’s successor, told me during neighborhood tour of the underground construction this is intended to speed travel on the line. I had suspected that plans to construct a station in the high 70s were dropped because a developer pal of former MTA chairman Peter Kalikow was building a new high-rise on the spot, but clearly I was wrong.

Although Second Avenue Stubway, when it opens, will not shave much time from the commute of those living on East 79th Street and First Avenue or York, a more efficient and cost-effective service for them and everyone else is on the way.

The East River, the greatest transit artery in New York City, is one that few travel today, but the New York City Economic Development Corp. recently proposed five new ferry routes that would exploit its possibilities. Such service would connect waterfront neighborhoods in Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and the Bronx to Manhattan and to each other. It would also improve transit from midtown to the Lower East Side and Wall Street.

Current ferry service on the East River has proven to be a success. It served 1.2 million total riders last year, some 3,200 riders daily. Fare is $4.00 each way, and like the rest of public transit, it is subsidized. The city pays $2.22 or 55 percent, for each one-way trip, compared to 62 cents, or 35 percent, for the subway, which because of the varying fare structures averages $1.73 per trip. Increased use of ferries would make the water system more cost-effective.

Currently there is a pier at 34th Street on Manhattan’s East Side and shuttered one near Gracie Mansion at East 90th Street. An additional one in the mid-70s has been on the drawing board. Happily, construction of ferries would also cost taxpayers far less than the subway. A NYCETD report notes that the extension of the 7 train cost $1.6 billion per mile served, compared to the cost of construction of infrastructure serving the East River Ferry at $8 million per mile served. Unlike busses, ferries don’t travel on congested roads and bridges. Based on what figures I can glean from MTA reports and a helpful 2010 post on the 2nd Ave. Sagas blog, I calculate that construction of the Second Avenue subway ballooned to a cost of  $2.75 billion per mile.

Phase 1 of the Second Avenue Subway will end at Lexington Avenue and 63rd Street and is supposed to be operational by December, 2016 after much delay. Increased ferry routes, and the relatively new Select Busses on First and Second Avenue that have improved surface transit, should mean that other Manhattan neighborhoods will not be needlessly and pointlessly blighted at enormous cost to taxpayers.