Tuesday, December 18, 2018

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.