The invasion of the merchant snatchers has almost completed its mission.
As I walk up Amsterdam Avenue on the West Side, the number of shuttered restaurants, dry cleaners and other darkened retail spaces is startling. The scene repeats itself on other main thoroughfares in the five boroughs, where you'll see lots of empty storefronts.
I turn up Broadway, where Sovereign Bank occupies a corner of 82nd Street, Bank of America 83rd Street, and Wachovia 85th Street. On 84th Street, Morris Brothers, an institution that outfitted neighborhood kids for camp and back-to-school clothing for more than 60 years, vanished five years ago.
I continue up Broadway and pass Citibank, Duane Reade, Dunkin' Donuts, two more banks and a host of vacant stores, then veer over to Columbus Avenue and 86th Street. While TD Bank was being constructed on that corner, someone posted a desperate plea on the wall in the middle of the night: Please -- this neighborhood does not need another bank! By the next morning the sign was torn down and construction continued, and today TD Bank sits directly across the street from a Chase branch.
Meanwhile, chain drugstores have taken the place of family owned businesses, selling candy, sandwiches and even clothing, with "mom and pop" proprietors replaced by impersonal sales clerks whose idea of "customer service" is a blank stare.
Returning from a recent trip, I find my favorite Thai restaurant and shoemaker have disappeared. My mind flashes to the movie "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."
Since the economic collapse of 2008, vacant retail space has soared, with powerful banks and national chains among the few able to afford the bloated rents. We remember clearly how Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and other "too big to fail" banks gambled with other people's (our) money leading up to the collapse, then were bailed out by the government (us).
Now some of the small businesses that were run responsibly and had rents jacked up are going to their banks for loans to stay afloat, and some are being refused -- often by the same megabanks we bailed out.
What's wrong with this picture?
Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at newyorkgritty.net.