When I founded Michael Angelo’s Wonderland beauty salon in the Meat Wrapping District 15 years ago, I never imagined that I would one day have to downsize and relocate to survive the rising rents, to then shut down for months. I also couldn’t conceive of having to choose between paying the rent on my apartment, paying the living room rent, or putting food on the table.
But in the height of summer, my partner and I received a letter from our landlord demanding that we pay months of rent back – the four months my business was closed – or move out of our house in the neighborhood. where I lived and worked for two decades.
As Diana Vreeland said, “There’s only one really good life, and it’s the life you know you want, and you’re making it yourself.” My life is in New York. So, after months of patience, I finally received enough unemployment to move into a more affordable apartment. The rent, the lease and the dinner are finally paid. For the moment.
But where are the others?
Chain stores are abandoning Manhattan. They claim that it is “not sustainable” for them to continue doing business in a city besieged by a pandemic, and that “there is no reason to do business in New York”. So let’s go, Bread Quotidiens, Victoria’s Secrets, Neiman Marcus, either dropping locations or packing up and running for the hills – which, in the case of the owner of Bryant Park Grill, means Florida.
I have a heartfelt farewell for them which can be summed up in two words, best said by a cab driver with his fist on the horn in what was once Midtown traffic.
I have lived and worked in and around this city all my life, as have my father, grandfather and great-grandfather before me: four generations dating back to the late 1800s.
It was there that I learned my craft, developed my artistic aesthetic, fell in love and supported a career, now for over 25 years. I love New York. This simple statement is inseparable from the fact that I made my living here. And this is true for so many of the city’s small business owners, who invest in the communities where they operate rather than shun them.
The big brands were abandoning the Big Apple even before the pandemic. According to a study According to the Center for an Urban Future, 2019 saw the biggest drop in the number of national outlets in the city since the organization began monitoring more than a decade ago. The number of chain stores fell 3.7% last year, a huge increase from the 0.3% drop in 2018, the first year the center recorded negative growth.
Before the pandemic, retailers large and small already struggled to compete with the convenience and ubiquity of online shopping. Here we are, six months after the start of a pandemic that has turned everything we thought we knew about city life upside down, with no clear end in sight.
Time reports whereas nearly 3,000 small businesses in New York City have closed permanently since March; the coronavirus has sucked the lives of not only Gap and JC Penney, but CAP Beauty and Sardines bar. Even the LGBTQ + monument Stonewall Inn begs for money on GoFundMe.
With the death of small businesses like these, New York City risks losing its signature and most enviable quality: being the melting pot of the world. When you choose to be New Yorker, you are committing to a level of intimacy with your surroundings that few other metropolises offer.
What the departure of the mass market should ultimately and definitely illustrate, however, is just how difficult it really is to do business here. The city must facilitate the survival of small businesses that choose to stay.
Our local government can help entrepreneurs and artists thrive by creating tax incentives for business owners to rent spaces deemed ‘unsustainable’ by corporations to local businesses and nonprofits at rents. lower. New Yorkers can choose to invest in our communities by disconnecting and returning to the streets to shop, live and play. Yes, it’s hard, but there are glimmers of hope – and right now it’s the people of the city who are open the way.
“I love New York” is more than a motto; it is a testament to the true nature of the relationship between this city and its people. We live all over the city, not just in our apartments. If all New York had to offer was the “flagship” retail of big brands and transactional experiences available anywhere else in America – or online – why bother? Why put up with the guts and the struggle of the city?
I cannot blame the people who have had to make difficult and complex decisions about how and where their businesses or their families can be successful. But I hope New York will show the courage, commitment and resilience to replace these vacant spaces with the kind of organizations that reflect the beautiful diversity and creativity of a city that has never been focused on the comfort or convenience, but thrives in facing challenges head-on, and through that painful process of endurance, weaves dreams that capture the imagination of the world.
And to those who bailed out because being in New York was all about optics, profitability and gross income: please don’t let the bridge and tunnel hit you in the – The New York Times won’t let me say it, but you know what i mean.