So, today I bought three t-shirts, a tank top,¬† a new bag to replace my rapidly dissolving one that I’ve been dragging around town, and a¬† a new dish drainer for the sink – all for $10.
Where you say? Well,¬† 34th Street in NYC, NY of course. 34th Street where people come in by throngs to snatch up tasty bargains on one of the most popular shopping strips on the East Coast. You can tell you’re getting close to 34 St when you’re walking that neighborhood when you see person after person with that tell tale bright pink, Conway shopping bag. It’s unmistakable and is a backbone of the 34th Street experience.
Conway’s not fancy. They don’t have a dressing room, or a mirror, so it’s definitely a ‘commando’ shopping experience. But they have almost¬† everything, it¬† seems, a human¬† being could ever want; from clothes to housewares,¬† from bath products to shoes, from comforters¬† to the odd piece of furniture. It takes a certain amount of patience to wiggle through the isles not bigger than a bus isle, and wade through mountains of clothes piled high one on top of the other to find your perfect colour and of course, your size, which sometimes it seems they never have.You feel that way ’till you get brave and reach¬† your hand way into the base of the pile, pulling out a wad of clothing and plopping it on the top of the ‘display’ and voila! undoubtedly, if you really search with gumption, it’s there – your size, your colour, your everything and you feel so victorious.
Today I was victorious and feeling quite happy about that¬† fact.¬† As I walked out of Conway I happened to notice a huge sign displayed over the top of the store front (which by the way has never had doors. Winter and summer alike it’s like an open air market of goodies, but with a roof). The sign read; PRIME RETAIL SPACE AVAILABLE.
Conway? Conway’s going to? I was shocked and saddened.
I try, a I walk through the streets of Manhattan these days, to ignore the fact that so many streets now look exactly the same; same chain stores, same chain restaurants, same chain drug stores. I do my best to observe closely and see what’s really left of Manhattan.
Today, seeing that Conway’s life is now also coming to and end saddened me to no end. It saddened me not only because Conway is my ‘go to’ store when I need … you know, stuff when stuff wears out, but it pained me once again, for what it’s demise and so many staples of this city, represents.
I’m not sure those who run this city really get that people don’t come to Manhattan to go to The Gap, or Old Navy or visit Starbucks or grab a hot dog at a 7-11. In fact, people visit this marvelous messy, creative, bustling city for it’s uniqueness. But the very sad thing is the ‘same old same old’ is exactly what people are getting and are going to get from here on out. People will travel from Pittsburg to Peoria, from Dallas to Delaware and all across the globe and what they will find here is exactly what they have at home, in America at least – one big strip mall. Don’t get me wrong, Old Navy et al are superb for what they are, it’s just that there is no way a few minds can be everything. And¬† I don’t know about you, but every time I purchase¬† something ‘cool’ from¬† one of¬† the¬† chain stores I walk out knowing that at some¬† point I’ll see someone wearing exactly the same thing. That’s just creepy.
I’m pained to see my city dissolve so fast into an island of harmoniousness, a city of lemmings. It’s like one big Ground Hog Day here in Manhattan. It’s sad to see neighborhoods that were once bustling with small, independent shop owners, creating their little piece of the island now bulldozed into street after street of corporate chain stores. These people came here,¬† putting their unique stamp on the city with their family owned restauranta, shoe repair shoppes, pharmacies, ethnic grocery stores, and now, practically overnight their creations have been changed into block after block of ‘sameness’. In any neighborhood now in Manhattan, you can find your familiar CVS, your predictable Linens & Things, your friendly, all organic Chipolte Grill, your always dependable Gap, Old Navy, Sephora and of course Starbucks.
But do you really travel to experience ‘predictable’? Do you explore a place like Manhattan so you can feel safe in the knowing that you’ll¬† be able to familiarly navigate a Crate & Barrel just in a different local?
I think not. But the sad thing is that those who visit Manhattan from here on out will know no other Manhattan. They will only know it¬† from here on out as a strip mall, and in time a completely sanitized strip mall.
America is known for creativity and innovation. I’d like here to argue that sensitization and homogenises does not breed innovation. It does not breed creativity or it’s expression, and it certainly does¬† not breed freedom. In¬† fact I’d like to argue that the ‘cleaning up’ of our cities and neighborhoods is leading to the suppression of creativity and individuality. It’s leading to a few people with a lot of¬† power telling us what we can eat, how we can dress and how we are to behave. That concept alone scares the crap out of me.
I live in a neighborhood called “Hells Kitchen” – which is somewhat of a joke or perhaps just an irony,¬† at this point in history since on one corner of our block there’s a Citibank, the other a¬† Chase Bank and the other is now home to a Starbucks. The one free corner is my building. Across the street is another 62 story double high rise going up¬† where a small independent theater used to stand. This double high rise is the third erected in 6 months and the non chain shops that try to make it in these neighborhoods with such inflated rents, open and close faster than you can learn their names.
This week has been an anomaly in what I’ve experienced, and perhaps it’s driven home once again, why I love the underground so very much. Normally I can sing the trains daily to ground myself and remind myself that life and humanity is inherently creative, inherently expressive and inherently messy. That’s how I remind myself of the true nature of humanity and I love it that way. I love when random people pass, wearing whatever they feel speaks to their heart the very best, dancing if they’re moved to dance, singing if they’re moved to sing and clapping if they’re moved to clap. I love the randomness,¬† spontaneity, unpredictability and the messiness of it all. Daily that creative chaos means more and more to me as Bloomberg, the huge developers and moneid corporations above ground continue with their mission to ‘clean up New York’.¬† Daily I cling to the bits of artistic¬† ‘chaos’ that still exist in New York. The bits of true humanity, the part (our creativity) that set us apart from the other animals on the planet or the dog in a Pavlovian experiment. Soon I fear, we will all be part of one large Pavlovian experiment. If we’re not already.
I think the clerk at Conway said it best when she, as she put my ‘loot’ in a bright pink bag; “I know, pretty soon there wont’ be anymore nooks and crannies to this city”
I already miss the ‘nooks and crannies’ that used to populate and make up the heartbeat of Manhattan, and it pains me to no end when the bits that are left are bulldozed to death in one day my money and power and some image of perfection.
If you, yourself have a ‘nook’ or a ‘cranny’ in your neighborhood,¬† no matter where you live; visit it, patronize it frequently and get to know it’s owner. You never know if one day you’ll wake up and in it’s stead will be a glistening 7-11.
My thought of the week – given that I’ve been not able to sing and have instead been silently meaning above ground versus nestled comfortably in my underground cocoon is; “Please, powers that be, please stop taking the New York out of New York. Please, before it’s too late”
PS remember your new password unless I or you has already changed it is 1bc1234 : )