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June 27, 2014

the world of things slipping away

Here's some more grist for the Slow Degradation of All Things, which is pretty much (come to find out) the underlying theme of my life's work: People don't make things like they used to.
Workmanship has declined in parallel. There continue to be expert craftsmen -- carpenters, roofers, painters -- who work with precision and pride, but they are increasingly being pushed out by cheaper labor with inferior skills (which is, of course, why the labor is cheaper). I have had paint jobs that blistered within days and had to be redone -- at my expense. And I have heard and read of many analogous experiences.

This is not the fault of homeowners, but of the industries whose practices favor the use of inferior products and labor that drive modern construction: the developers, lenders, builders and Realtors who, to make quick money, have created a stock of domestic and commercial infrastructure that is a waste of resources and will not last.

This is one of those things that all of us know instinctively and rarely think about.  One of the great things about NYC is that a large portion of the housing stock here is sixty years old or older (hence, "Pre-war").  The really great thing about a Pre-war apartment (I live in one) is that the quality in construction is supremely evident, especially having grown up in the suburbs, with it's hollow doors and cheap paneling.  The walls of my flat are so sturdy you can't put your fist through them, and there are all kinds of moldings and details that you just don't see outside of luxury condos anymore.

And while the writer of the piece above attributes this to good old market forces (Greed!), I think that it's also emblematic of a certain erosion of our ability to care, both in the sense of pride in one's work, and care of our material things.

At least, that's my working thesis for the time being.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:29 AM

June 24, 2014

the future is vacancies

In my neighborhood, next to the bar I habituate and at which I occasionally work, there is an old-school deli, run by nice young man from Syria.  Rather, there was, as this weekend he and his family packed the entire shop up into vans and drove everything to Philadelphia, as the story goes.

The reason?  The landlord raised the rent.  From $2,800 a month to $5,000 a month.

Now I'm no expert in commercial real estate (let's just shorten that to I'm no expert), but I'm guessing if you run a store that makes its nut selling mostly cigarettes, newspapers and soda pop, you're going to find it really hard to sell enough cigarettes, newspapers and soda pop to make a rent like that.

This is not an isolated phenomenon.  It's also currently rearranging the NYC restaurant landscape, with WD-50 getting priced out a couple weeks ago and the venerable Union Square Cafe announcing last night that it too had its rent jacked beyond tenability.

I guess I could join the chorus of geezers bemoaning the demise of a once-proud metropolitan area, greed squeezing residents, people and businesses alike, until nothing was left but ATM kiosks and Saudi royalty, but this is a familiar complaint, widely-shared.

What I would like to know, however, is what exactly our city's landlord class is doing with all that freaking money, because when rents go up some egregious amount over a short span of time, the cash has to go somewhere.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:11 AM