Shop Local!: How Big Corporations Are Destroying Unique New York
Lucia Barerra and Francie Brewster
September 29th, 2017
“Ah, the good old days.”
A lot of people, when thinking about New York City before the twenty-first century, may think of the dirt, grit, or crime that used to be oh so abundant all around. But many also look back at the unique small shops, restaurants, and businesses that have been systematically shut down in the process of the city’s gentrification. The small businesses that gave our New York neighborhoods characters are dying out, and quintessentially, so is what makes (or made) New York, well, New York. As these small businesses are being closed, the longtime New York tradition of “make it here, you can make it anywhere” is no longer a reality for a diverse array of small business owners. Corporate and consumerist America is gentrifying our city, and it’s been happening right before our eyes.
Near my school, Hunter College High School (on the Upper East Side) chain name restaurants pack the neighborhoods: Starbucks, Famiglia’s Pizzeria, Sarabeth’s, Le Pain Quotidien, Subway (and several others) -- all within a few block radius. Our school is located in one of the most easily identifiable neighborhoods of the city; shows such as Gossip Girl or Sex and the City have maximized on its iconic nature. The Upper East Side is famous for being rich and snobby, characterized by brands like Blue Mercury or Tiffany’s. Places amongst the Upper East Side, such as Fifth Avenue or Madison Avenue, are interlaced with a pattern of classy boutiques and big-name companies. Gone are the days of small “Mom and Pop” shops; now is the era of commercial gyms and restaurants. But this commercial transformation does not only apply to the Upper East Side.
Take a walk down by the East Village. What do you see? (If you walk by St. Mark's you’ll probably see lots of teenagers, but that’s beside the point.) The East Village is known for having tiny second-hand shops, or specialized dessert bars, or even vintage records. And those are still there. But when the “hipsters” go out to buy their vegan smoothies or Texas Sand Contest t-shirts, where are they getting their products? Most people nowadays prefer getting their “vintage” clothing from big stores like Urban Outfitters or Forever 21 -- as opposed to, I don’t know, an actual vintage store. And where are they retrieving all their cash from? A big name bank.
As a city, we are building a culture that relies more and more on big corporations, and less on the local businesses that helped build this city in the first place. And that makes sense, I guess. After all, New York City is known to many as the center of capitalism. Just take a look at Wall Street or the big Bloomberg building. New York City is slowly being revolutionized into a state-of-the-art, technological city.
And that’s awesome. I, for one, cannot wait to get home with my Amazon groceries on my Amazon couch listening to my Amazon music. But what about those neighborhoods that get left behind? Those that rely on small, local businesses to sustain their community, or even economy?
What about all the small shops that are slowly going out to business? Are we reaching a future where our entire livelihoods are run by one company? (Facebook would argue no, but let’s be honest, it’s Facebook…) Well, we can prevent that from happening. Or at least, stall it for a bit.
There is a movement to restore power to small businesses. More and more people are choosing to buy locally, from small, sustainable companies. Instead of ordering that book from Amazon, go to your local indie bookstore. Go to a farmer’s market. There are so many incredible small shops in New York, that really, if we focused on more, could eliminate the potential need for those big corporations anymore. I for one, have limited myself to only making an Amazon wishlist, not actually buying the products. So what do you say? Ready to make New York, New York again?