I recently returned from a month-long road trip. It was supposed to be even longer but we exhausted ourselves trying to cover too much ground and dodging those big rigs on I-40 took its toll also. For my first, and maybe only, trip to New York City I booked us into a Hassidic hotel in the Borough Park area of Brooklyn because of price (hotels about half the Manhattan rate), proximity (20-minute subway ride to Midtown) and the lowest crime rate in NYC. If you don’t mind being the only person on the street not dressed in traditional Jewish clothes, it’s like a trip to Europe where everyone speaks English. Did I mention you can actually find street parking?
The shopping area is Thirteenth Avenue, full of small groceries , bakeries, felafel joints, a jeweler who replaced my watch battery and men in long black coats who marched along with cellphones clapped to their ears. It dawned on me eventually that there were no Dunkin Donuts, no Starbucks, no McDonald’s, no Kohl’s. There were dress shops, shoe stores, toy stores but not one chain store. The only corporate presence in the whole ten-block stretch was – wait for it- a Curves! tucked away on a side street. It is the kind of business climate that I believe the good people of Arcata had in mind when they enacted their limit on fast-food palaces. This chainstore-free neighborhood in Brooklyn had apparently developed organically, because of a community of interest in the neighborhood, not because of any laws or zoning codes.
And business was booming. Trucks crowded onto the sidewalks to make their deliveries and women with shopping carts and baby strollers – lots of strollers- herded their children and purchases through the chaos. It was just a glimpse of what shopping was like before the corporatization of America. I’m very glad I saw it. Later, in Manhattan, we passed by Guy Fieri’s new restaurant near Times Square. Didn’t even bother to go in.