Around the Block: The Business of a Neighborhood

Tom Shachtman, Author
Tom Shachtman, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-15-100077-7
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
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After a year interviewing small business owners in one Manhattan community, Shachtman (Skyscraper Dreams) suggests we could do worse than become a nation of shopkeepers. His template is West 17th and 18th Streets (PW's neighborhood), including the surrounding avenue blocks; the time frame is 1993, with a follow-up in 1997. An animated writer with a talent for characterization and dialogue, Shachtman, who lives in the area, turns his interviews into human-interest stories. The neighborhood is low in density and ethnically and economically integrated, with a large gay population; the anomaly of the study is that its shopkeepers live elsewhere. Paying only token attention to the two corporations on the block, Nynex and Reed Elsevier, Shachtman focuses on the competing plumbers, kitchen/bath designers, video stores, health clubs, delis and myriad restaurants; the single antique shop, one millinery, lumber mill, liquor store, unisex clothing boutique, dry cleaner, day-care center and Catholic homeless shelter. The shopkeepers, initially apprehensive of the growing dominance of Barneys on their fringe (the upscale retailer has since filed for bankruptcy), talk about their marketing strategies, plans for expansion, difficulties obtaining financing. It seems amazing that most of the stores Shachtman wrote about originally were still in business when he made his follow-up visits. Risks aside, he sees shop-keeping as the salvation of the downsized work force, the best option for the middle class to maintain itself in postindustrial capitalism. If he wanders-one vignette, for example, takes readers to the graduation of an English class for foreign-born students--Shachtman's involving anecdotal study will hearten and instruct would-be entrepreneurs. Photos. (Oct.)
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