Friday, December 14, 2018

The Sign Blitz

Before & after sign removal at Fifth & 9th

The calls to 311 started to pick up steam about a year ago.
They were complaints about an arcane New York City statute requiring special permits for businesses to hang signs or awnings larger than six square feet.
The caller — or callers — was clearly targeting certain commercial strips, making complaints in batches, as on Nov. 26, when calls came in reporting 25 businesses along a two-block stretch of Eighth Avenue in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The businesses did not have a license for their signs, the complaints said.
But it wasn’t just a couple of days of calls, city data shows. In Brooklyn, the hardest-hit borough, 234 calls about illegal signage were made to New York City’s help line in November — compared with 23 the same month last year. And the calls are still coming in.  (NY Times)

There have been almost 2,000 complaints about illegal signs called in to 311 this year.  The majority of them concern businesses in Brooklyn, with store owners in Sunset Park and Bay Ridge particularly hard hit.  Owners have received Department of Building fines of up to $20,000, and forced to take down their signs and awnings, many of which were erected long before the current store owners set up business.  The heavy fines have sent a wave of panic among small business owners, many of whom are taking preemptive action by removing their signs to avoid being reported to 311 and subsequently fined.

While many store signs technically require city permits, in order to ensure they are safe, this doesn't appear to have been a DOB priority until the unusually large number of complaints required investigation.  But just exactly who is calling in to make the complaints, and why, remains a source of speculation. Could it be sign companies?  Could it be connected to a City-led revenue drive?  Some store owners feel the complaints may reflect racial bias.

Those affected by the fines are asking for a fairer system of enforcement, with reduced penalties, and advance warnings on bringing signs into compliance.  With the support of other City Council members, Rafael Espinal is calling for legislation to put a moratorium on the current surge of fines:

Espinal’s bill now being negotiated between the Council and the administration calls for those who have paid the fine to receive waived permit fees, and expedited permit process for the new sign. There is also discussion for assistance in paying for the new signs. For those that have yet to pay, they will only have to pay 25% of the base fine. There will be a year long moratorium on the Department of Buildings (DOB) issuing of any business awning or sign violations, and an interagency task force established to better coordinate educational outreach.   (King's County Politics)

There's empty space above the grocery store at Fifth & 9th Street today.  The store was hit with fines in recent weeks, and a worker there told me they're fighting the violation in court.  The current scale of fines is unduly punitive to small businesses, who often operate with on paper thin profit margins.  Let's give them a fairer chance to keep afloat.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Hard Candy

Fall marched doggedly along, marked by one domestic calamity after another.  And now it's almost Christmas.  What better to welcome it in than this old seasonal favourite.  Thanks, Dolly!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Pay More

Payless (as in the discount shoe store) just pulled off the prank of the century. In an experiment that set out to prove shoppers will pay top dollar just for a label, the brand opened an extremely fake boutique called Palessi and invited a group of influencers to come shop the brand's new styles. But wait for it—all of the "designer" Palessi shoes were just $20 kicks from Payless.

...One influencer paid $645 for a pair of Payless shoes that range from just $19.99-$39.99. Others marveled at the quality of the shoes, and were quoted as describing the Payless designs as, "Just stunning. Elegant, sophisticated.  (Elle)

A great stunt!  In the real world, Payless filed for bankruptcy last year, and closed over 900 stores.

First, its core business was crippled by weak mall traffic and competition from larger retailers. Second, private equity firms acquired Payless’ parent company in 2012 for $2 billion and left the chain drowning in debt. Payless’ bankruptcy filing listed liabilities between $1 billion to $10 billion, compared to just $500 million to $1 billion in assets.

Despite restructuring agreements, stores continue to close, including the one above at Fifth & 10th.  With Fabco closing earlier in the fall, it's the last budget shoe store on this part of Fifth.  Several years ago, I looked at the shoe store history of Fifth between 10th & 22nd Streets, once a mecca for footwear.  With Payless on the way out, I did a little amateurish research on its building's retail history.

The first business reference I could find for 472 was for sewing workshops, with an 1872 ad for jobs in a third-floor loft.  By the 1890s there was a shoe store - M. & B.M. Carlile's - at 472, operating next door to Zeitz and Tarshis credit clothing store, which had moved from a location above 9th Street.  By the 1930s Zeitz was gone, and Tarshes, sporting a changed vowel, was at 472.  In 1933 a Tarshes publicity stunt involved Hardeen, brother of the late Harry Houdini.

Brooklyn Eagle, 24th March, 1933

Did Hardeen escape the box?  Oh come on Eagle! - I could find no account of the outcome.

As a credit clothing business, Tarshes, like Payless, targeted a lower income customer.  Here's a (DoF) shot of the building in the early 1940s, right around the time the El was removed.

Towards the end of the decade Tarshes became Uneeda Credit store, and a few years later Peggy Ann clothes took over.  If you lived around here between the 50s and 80s, you might remember what replaced Peggy Ann.  To me it's a mystery.  In the 1980s there was a store called National here, but the fuzzy tax photo won't reveal the nature of its wares.  There was a shoe store next door at 468 (Classy? Classic?) later demolished to make way for Rite Aid.

Thursday, November 29, 2018


Sanitation Salvage, Troubled Garbage Hauler, Surrenders Operating License (ProPublica)
In recent months, ProPublica has reported on Sanitation Salvage’s troubled record of labor and safety violations, including involvement of its workers in two deaths. ProPublica and Voice of America revealed that Sanitation Salvage workers lied to the authorities about one of the fatal crashes, which resulted in the death of a 21-year-old off-the-books worker in November 2017. The two company employees on the truck that ran over the worker, an African immigrant named Mouctar Diallo, told the police that the dead man was an unknown homeless man who had jumped aboard the truck. In April, the same driver was involved in a second crash in which 72-year-old Leo Clarke was killed while crossing the street.

Meet the Politician Fighting to Make Cash-Free Caf├ęs Illegal (Grub Street)
"When I was growing up, I remember the embarrassment that surrounded the use of food stamps. We live in a society where it’s not enough to stigmatize poverty; we are also going to stigmatize the means with which poor people pay for goods and services."

Remembering Ricky Jay (New Yorker)
Deborah Baron, a screenwriter in Los Angeles, where Jay lives, once invited him to a New Year’s Eve dinner party at her home. About a dozen other people attended. Well past midnight, everyone gathered around a coffee table as Jay, at Baron’s request, did closeup card magic. When he had performed several dazzling illusions and seemed ready to retire, a guest named Mort said, “Come on, Ricky. Why don’t you do something truly amazing?”
Baron recalls that at that moment “the look in Ricky’s eyes was, like, ‘Mort—you have just fucked with the wrong person.’ ”

130,000 Photographs by Andy Warhol Are Now Available Online, Courtesy of Stanford University (Open Culture)
Dig deep, and you’ll find the oddest things, like Andy Warhol running in Central Park for charity with Grace Jones and photographer Gordon Parks. Whatever Andy did, whoever he happened to do it with—and a stranger cast of characters you will not find—it’s all in this huge photo archive somewhere.

A Working Class Kid | Wayne Waterson’s Images of Hackney during the 1970s & 80s (British Culture Archive)
My name is Wayne Waterson. I was born in 1958 by Victoria Park, in 1963 my family and I picked up sticks and moved to Hackney where I went to school and lived for the next 50 years.
After leaving Shoreditch Comprehensive I worked at all those jobs you do when from a working class background with no A levels and little or no prospects, factory work, the print trade, shops, market stalls etc.
I began taking photos at the age of 14 and loved it for the sense of freedom it gave me, I also idolised David Bailey for he was a working class kid who had made it and made something out of himself. This inspired me and in the late 1980s I applied to do a photography course.

All the women players: cross-gender Shakespeare – in pictures (Guardian)
Kathryn Hunter is about to play the RSC’s first Lady Timon of Athens and next year the Globe is staging Richard II with a company of women of colour. Here’s a look back at some of the many actresses who have taken major male roles in Shakespeare’s play.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

On Sixteenth

DOF 1940s tax photograph

In the nineteenth-century there was a moving business at 325 16th Street.  The family company appears to have been founded by Daniel Morrison in the '40s or '50s.  His sons inherited the business, and by January of 1880 son James Morrison assumed sole ownership.  Later that month the "old-established" business was advertised for sale, though it's not clear if a sale took place.  In August 1901 James Morrison died of injuries sustained in a trolley accident and the following month the stable building on the property - "five stalls and yard" - were listed to let. 

By the 1940s, at the time the photograph above was taken, Vital Machine Tool Co. operated here.  Help Wanted ads offer "highest rates" for toolmakers and lathe hands.

Sanborn maps from the 1880s shows wooden stable buildings at the rear of 325 & 327, but by 1903 a larger brick stable building has replaced the stable behind 325 (presumably the back house still standing today) and a narrow wooden building runs the from the front of the 327 lot all the way back to the wooden stable.

DOF tax photo, 1980s

The general look of the buildings in this 1980s photograph is similar to that of the 1940s.  The cornice and the little front entry of the wooden house are still there, but the house is boarded up on the ground floor.  It's seen better days.  By the 2000s, the front house and the side building have acquired aluminum facades, but the house's cornice has survived.

The place has quite a different look today.  325 and 327 have been combined and given a period look, albeit in that of-the-moment grey and black.  According to the plans the wooden buildings on the two lots have become a two-family.

I walked through the new driveway to look at the back house.  There are still quite a number of them round here and I like ferreting them out.  I often dream of living in a place with a back house - it seems like a perfect, secretive set-up.  I'm guessing the compound here will be rather more de luxe than anything I have in mind.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

About Daylight

Upon waking next morning about daylight, I found Queequeg’s arm thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner. You had almost thought I had been his wife. The counterpane was of patchwork, full of odd little parti-colored squares and triangles; and this arm of his tattooed all over with an interminable Cretan labyrinth of a figure, no two parts of which were of one precise shade- owing I suppose to his keeping his arm at sea unmethodically in sun and shade, his shirt sleeves irregularly rolled up at various times- this same arm of his, I say, looked for all the world like a strip of that same patchwork quilt. Indeed, partly lying on it as the arm did when I first awoke, I could hardly tell it from the quilt, they so blended their hues together; and it was only by the sense of weight and pressure that I could tell that Queequeg was hugging me.
                                                                                     Herman Melville, Moby Dick, 1851