Saturday, August 06, 2005


What do you call it when an already gentrified neighborhood gets gentrified? This is happening all over NYC, and has been for some time. My friends and I discussed the phenomenon this evening, but no revelations, I'm afraid.

Gawker bemoans the opening of a Starbucks on the Lower East Side. Well, a Whole Foods is set to open at Bowery and Houston, so Starbucks is nothing, really. I don't quite see why Starbucks, of all places, is a sign of gentrification and not just blandification. Starbucks branches are in parts of Chicago far less upscale, and with far lower rents, than the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

Without a doubt, Starbucks will be one of the less expensive cafes (if you could call it a cafe) in the area. If a Gap, or even a J.Crew, were to open on the Lower East Side, it, too, would be one of the cheaper places of its kind around. Tucked-away cafes and boutiques, if they maintain an independent, run-down, and cutting-edge atmosphere, don't seem to count as gentrification, even if they rely on and encourage housing prices to rise. Such places as boutique TG-170 sell clothing that costs as much as what's found in stores in SoHo or on the Upper East Side--clothing by the same designers, even--but somehow their existence doesn't get the gentrification-fearers to worried. $3 lattes, though, are unacceptable.

What's annoying people such as the Gawker folk is that Starbucks makes the Lower East Side more like the rest of the country. Other coffeeshops with more expensive cappuccinos, but without the tell-tale green awning, are encouraged. Yet a common complaint about trendy parts of NYC is that there's no room for the middle class. Starbucks falls somewhere between the real dives of Delancey and the pseudo-dive hot-spots on Ludlow. Is that such a tragedy? Can't a bit of mainstream America add to the area's diversity? The only complaint I find at all justified is that Starbucks takes the place of other, more interesting middle-of-the road establishments. But again, this is a complaint about blandification, not gentrification.

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