Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Looking back to 2008 Kyle Cocchi views his taking a job in politics as a risk from the start — an endeavor he now compares to making it as an actor due to the lack of consistency in Washington’s political sphere. After finishing his undergraduate degree at The Catholic University of America and working on several campaigns, including John Edwards’ run for U.S. President, he landed a two-year gig with the think tank Friends of Cancer Research. There he performed several main jobs from around-the-clock data mining and news aggregation to program development, networking and advocacy. The end of that gig in September 2010, however, left him with no upward mobility in Washington, as the Democrats had suddenly lost steam and Friends of Cancer had less to tackle post-health care reform bill.

“It was discouraging at the time, but I wouldn’t take it back if I could,” says the 25-year-old Staten Island native. “Almost every job’s a gamble these days.”

Cocchi, who’s tall, fair-skinned and soft-spoken—at least until national politics or cancer research enters the conversation—decided to leave Washington for a new job arena, feeling burnt out and slightly abandoned. Capitol Hill had little left to offer it seemed. So he packed up his belongings and headed back to New York, home of the professional job juggler. As for his strongest credentials, Cocchi says he cultivated a work sensibility during his tenure at Friends of Cancer that places him ahead of the curve, or at least right on it: the ability to comfortably wear a dozen hats in times of severe austerity, growing political disparity and constant economic flux. Cocchi sees that as the realest sense of job security in today’s world, since few companies and organizations can guarantee long-term stability post-recession. When tough times call for flexibility, hats that aren’t needed can easily be replaced for other ones.

“When I went to D.C. I was an idealist looking for a career,” he says. “By the time I came back to New York I was a fully reformed pragmatist ready to enter any field that would pay me.”

After moving into an apartment with his father in Forest Hills, Queens, Cocchi began culling through all of the online job postings that required a similar amount of multitasking to his stint at Friends of Cancer; everything from a full-time editing job at the Huffington post starting at $40,000 a year to a part-time job at a small advertising firm with no listed salary. He settled on temp work in the finance industry; a more lucrative prospect with the opportunity to change fields again in the next year or two, depending on where the dice landed.

“I didn’t come back here looking for a job as a nurse or a teacher,” says Cocchi. “But I did come back here with my eyes on a lot of different industries; non-profit work, advertising, media, finance, even pharmaceuticals.”

The recent economic and political volatility impacting nearly everyone below the top 1% of wealth holders around the country has given way to a new sense of career gambling among young urban professionals. These days, unlike just ten years ago, the average 20- to 30-year-old with a colleague degree or higher expects reoccurring job changes and has at least two backup plans in motion at any given time. Job stability throughout both the private and public sectors has reached a drastic low since the peak of the recession, while individual mobility and adaptability have become all the more easy to maintain. In turn, fewer workers are considering the single-career path over the course of their professional lives, and more employers are finding ways to perform their own juggling acts when it comes to hiring, firing and taking on more freelance and temp workers.

We can tie it to our confused political system and fragmented labor market, even as the economy slowly recovers. We can also link it to the constant growth of the Internet and its most popular sites among those under 40—YouTube, Facebook and Twitter—making self-styled celebrity and entrepreneurial success seem all the more easy to obtain as traditional jobs become more scarce. But at the heart of it, the city’s and country’s populations are continually growing while the means to pay those for their fair work is shrinking, causing more professional loyalists to reconsider their professional loyalties.

“I have friend with a law degree who works as a communications director right now,” says Cocchi. “I also know a doctor who makes $45,000 a year. It can be hard to admit, but we’re not always as special as we think we are. Probably less special than we’re willing to realize.”

These days, artists who teach and actors who wait tables are just the tip of the iceberg. Meet the countless other divided young urban professionals: political workers who temp in finance, investment bankers who write on the side, journalists who work part-time in marketing and PR (and the list goes on…) They’ve always been around, but they’re growing in scope, and they’re no longer being discreet about their various survival techniques—or making their efforts and names as visible as possible.

On the upside, we’re beginning to wear our mismatched hats more openly, as we become increasingly compelled to think outside of the box and boost our individual productivity (even if that means a higher rate of tweets per day.) On the downside, we’re gradually abandoning long-term skill development and potentially diluting the quality of our better work. But love it or hate it, rapid socioeconomic shifts and industry changes throughout the country are causing many us to go through career paths like paper plates, as we begin to entertain the next alternative even when we find a steady gig for the time being. Those same shifts are also leading many of us to develop skill sets that may or may not work together on paper. But that all depends on how big industries continue to reshape and rebrand themselves.

As of now and until the economy really improves, it’s open season for almost any budding professional who wants to try on another hat for the time being. Its as easy as covering several numbers on a roulette board. While freelancing on the side has become all the more manageable for those already employed (so long as employers provide a base salary to live off of), companies and organizations have begun to allow their workers more freedom to freelance on the side (so long as the necessary job requirements are met at the end of each work week.) That allowance includes fewer non-compete agreements, more flextime schedules and more open access to networking sites like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter for personal use.

“During the last downturn there were very few companies that went above and beyond to make their employees feel secure about their positions, so the minute the job market started to pick up, a lot of those same companies faced serious retention and loyalty issues,” says Lorri Zelman, Managing Director of the Human Resources Search Practice at the staffing solutions firm Solomon Page Group. “There are few companies and organizations that aren’t concerned with retaining talent, so knowing that most people want to be fulfilled both personally and professionally these days, a lot of employers have loosened the restrictions on what their employees do in their free time.”

But with more ways for young professionals to find new work, or create their own, retention no longer seems likely when the big bucks and benefits aren’t there. As a result, whether out of a sense of necessity or a sense of newly found freedom, the 10- to 20-year job routine has become all the more rare; especially in a city that tends to feel like everyone’s oyster until the aftertaste makes them too sick to stay. Even in the best of circumstances, job security is worth less than half of what it was at its peak in the 1980s and 1990s, making the single-career path seem more and more like a high risk/high reward investment. Joining a start-up company that makes it into its third year and keeping your job in the process is an equally risky bet, but in times of uncertainty, that kind of gamble can seem more appealing.

Not to say that career investment has completely vanished (this writer is committed to journalism as a full-time profession.) But among the many working professionals who have their chips in one pot when it comes to their careers, the anxieties are often visceral. For the government workers, and those who rely heavily on government funding, it’s the concern over looming budget cuts and coinciding job losses. For the investment bankers and analysts, it’s the concern over new regulations and the result on financial salaries. For the medical practitioners, it’s the concern over weighted health care costs and a rising volume of patients per doctor. For the content creators, it’s a growing concern over the continuous abundance of other people’s content, and the mass audiences who now view music, news and other media as a free commodity.

In New York, the economics behind career longevity are tricky to measure, since no raw data for job tenure exists on the city level. The biggest indicators are in the movements of people themselves. The city’s population has continued to grow at an increasing rate over the past decade—slower since the start of the recession, but growing nonetheless—while unemployment remains almost twice as high as it was five years ago, up from 4.6% in April 2006 to 9% in April 2011.

As a result of those figures and a sharp decline in public and private spending since the beginning of the financial crisis, finding steady work in the city has remained an ongoing challenging for those in search, with fewer full-time positions available. In larger industries like advertising and retail, companies have started to hire again as business gradually picks up, but the majority of those companies are expanding their workforces in small doses with less of a cushion for new employees. Smaller industries like publishing, on the other hand, have found it all the more difficult to keep their books open, while the city itself has continued to shed government-funded jobs by the month.

For those who have maintained stable positions in their fields over the years, one of the biggest concerns is a growing compensation-productivity gap, which hit a national all-time high in the past 10 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means the average U.S. employee is working more and receiving less in return at a growing rate. In media, the signs are obvious: AOL’s acquisition of The Huffington Post in February 2011 prompted a new requirement for the merger’s staff writers to produce between five and 10 stories a day, up from five or less, with no indications of a pay increase for their quicker turn-around.

“With so many developments in technology, more Blackberries, more means of remote access, etc, people are typically working longer hours and taking on more work,” says Zelman. “So burnout levels are increasing and employees are staying at one job for shorter periods of time. These days, a lot of people will go into a job saying ‘ok, I’m giving it a year or two, and if they take care of me I’ll stay. If not, I’ll move on.'”

Of course, in the fickle world of finance that mindset might prove slightly more fleeting as money markets steadily improve. But it’s no less significant considering the recent changes on Wall Street post-2006. After the subprime mortgage crisis hit and the federal government began to clamp down on banking, Wall Street suffered not only a revenue decline, but also a branding issue that it continues to struggle with even as profits steadily return. Bankers, no longer the well-protected risk takers of the 80s and 90s, have been left with three basic options in recent years: 1. Be the decent and accountable good guy and be willing to make less. 2. Be one the one who still plays dirty and nervously cover every track. 3. Be a big swinging dick and face public castration.

“In finance, there has never been that tactile sense of creating something, but for a long time there was the reward of being well compensated for dealing with the pressures and criticisms of the job,” says one New York-based sales trader, who has worked in the finance industry for 12 years. “Now people coming into the field are starting to realize that the big checks aren’t always guaranteed, despite the sweat. I think the underlying thought for a lot of these people is why not translate my skills into something more creative.”

The infamous Goldman Sachs alone has seen the passing of several financiers who were betting on something other than finance: Cristina Alger, the former Goldman analyst who’s getting ready to publish her family-drama novel The Darlings; J.C. Davies, the former Goldman analyst who recently published her nonfiction book on interracial dating, I Got the Fever; Allen Mask, the former Goldman analyst who released two online hip-hop albums, “Pilot Season” and “Sweet Dreams.” While working in finance and pursuing a side career in the arts has become common practice in recent years, it’s no secret that many of the same professionals doing so would have received far less acceptance from their employers and colleagues no more than a decade ago, when moonlighting and rapid job changing in the corporate world signified disloyalty.

In 2011 it’s more often a matter of self-preservation. And few can criticize. In tough times like these, the best potential outcome of more people taking on more roles is a rise in productivity and innovation throughout the country, especially in big cities. Ideally, the employed, self-employed and unemployed are spending less time resting on their laurels and more time coming up with new ideas and viable ways to make money, as fewer long-term job opportunities become available.

When Kyle Cocchi cashed his chips in on making a lifelong career out of political advocacy, he felt momentarily defeated—like a frustrated tourist leaving Atlantic City with empty pockets. But in the long run, remaining on unemployment for too long was like getting barred from the casino. With that in mind, almost any industry would do as long as it provided an open window for another year of work and another set of skills to keep him marketable.

“It’s not really about what kinds of jobs you do to get by in tough times like these,” says Cocchi. “It’s about the amount of time between each job on your résumé. It had already been a few months for me and I didn’t want that gap to get any bigger.”

—Damian Ghigliotty

Some might see the new age of professional business bloggers as a sign of progress — even if those bloggers rarely leave the office or pick up the phone to report and wear ironic t-shirts that say things like, “Trust me, I’m a reporter.”

If you ask me, it’s further proof that journalism is experiencing an identity crisis.

In early April, Dan Colarusso, the former New York Post Business editor and a longtime newspaper veteran, contacted me to see if I’d be interested in a summer internship at the high profile business and media blog, The Business Insider. The rate for graduates was $12 an hour and most of the work involved simple news aggregation. About as appealing as administrative paperwork to a scientist.

But I would have the chance to observe the much talked about banned equity analyst-turned-blogger Henry Blodget run his new media outfit, and I needed the work.

“This also might be a good place for you to catch up on the twitter phenomena,” Dan told me when I came to see him at the blog’s former office and confessed that I was a little out of touch with new media. “To be 100% honest, I don’t know if this is the future of journalism,” he said. “But I might not be the best judge of that.”

“My blackberry doesn’t even fully work,” he added with a comforting laugh.

“Mine doesn’t either,” I replied in all honesty. “Maybe it’s about time I got it up to speed.”

I was ambivalent about the idea of taking a step backwards in order to go forwards. But after seeing most of my freelance gigs disappear, along with the last few job scraps on Poynter and mediabistro, I contacted Dan a few weeks later to see if there were any openings left. He graciously invited me on board — signaling, again, his own ambivalence about the place — and told me I would join the Insider’s Clusterstock team starting early June.

When I walked into the new office space for my first day, I put my intern hat on and reminded myself that this was just another stepping stone into the age of post-postmodern journalism.

The first assignment the Clusterstock editor handed me was to cull through espn.com and a multitude of sports blogs to come up with the 10 worst franchises, in terms of payrolls and home-game attendance, for a multimedia slideshow. He also asked me to search for photos online to put over captions he would write. When I asked about the protocol for reusing published media, he told me not to worry about it, so long as the photos weren’t from a traceable publication — like say, ESPN.

That was the first sign that something was off.

The next morning the Clusterstock editor told me to go through a list of financial blogs and pitch three story ideas based on recent blog entries about larger news stories. After that, I was put to writing up email alerts, finding photos and doing other intern stuff.

A few hours later, he asked me to run through the financial blogs again and pitch three more story ideas.

“Sure, but why don’t you give me some feedback on the first three before I get started?” I asked, trying not to sound too unappreciative.

“That’s a good point,” he said, “I’ll do that in a little bit. Why don’t you just go through those blogs again in the meantime?”

Out of curiosity at that point, I stood up to get some water and glanced over at his computer screen. He had the blog’s heat map pulled up and was totaling the hits on his posts from that week.

That was the second sign.

Later that same afternoon two of the Silicon Alley Insider editors started to trade jokes and giggle over the New York Times’ horrendous earnings report for that quarter. I had heard similar jabs from bloggers several times before, but I finally realized then that bashing the Times has essentially become proof of one’s own merit in the world of blogging — even for those who rely on the Times for information.

I started culling through older Business Insider posts to see what the general consensus was.

One staff editor had actually written in a post titled “Newspapers Must Be Allowed to Fail”: “Watergate broke because an FBI agent, aka Deep Throat, didn’t like the way Nixon politicized the FBI — not because Woodward and Bernstein sleuthed it out. Source will always find the biggest megaphone they can to get their views out.”

In other words, reporters are dependent on their sources and the smart ones should just hang around the office and wait for a phone call (or a facebook message.)

I was scratching the surface of information so these guys could take cheap shots, grammatical errors included, and then go back to praising twitter. And then it hit me. Where’s Dan Colarusso? It was a fairly small office and I hadn’t seen him either day.

I asked out loud where he was, but all I got were blank looks and faint mumbles. So I waited about an hour and asked again. I never got a straight answer, but all that mattered at that point was that Dan certainly wasn’t there and, from the looks of it, he wasn’t coming back. “There goes any obligation I had to this place,” I said to myself.

That night, I emailed the Clusterstock editor and Business Insider’s publisher to let them know I would need to cut down on my hours to pursue freelance commitments elsewhere.

The publisher wrote me back the next day, informing me that under the circumstances it would be best if they released me from my internship.

“I understand,” I wrote back. “Please send my check for those two days to the following address.”

“Are you serious?” she responded a few minutes later.

“Yes. I came in and worked for those two days, and these are tough times.” I wrote.

Her next response read: “In two days you did not contribute productively to The Business Insider, rather you consumed resources while we trained you. You may send an invoice for those two days if you really think it appropriate.”

Wow. Their CEO Blodget gets $5 million in new funding for his blog — the third round of funding in its less than two-year existence — and I get a snippy insult when I ask for my $192 in return for aggregating news for the site.

Newspapers and magazines are dropping like flies, cable networks are just a few steps behind, and even the blogs that thrive off of their failures are feeling the unbearable lightness of being.

—Damian Ghigliotty

 

As George Orwell put it, “It is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs – and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety.”

If these words mean anything to consumers and investors around the world, it’s to those anxiously waiting for the bottom:

The bottom of stock markets, the bottom of housing and credit markets, the bottom of ambiguous recessions muddled by GDP reports.

Perhaps Orwell would top even Warren Buffet as an oracle.

In a recent Op-Ed piece in The New York Times, Buffet assured investors that now is the occasion to buy American stocks. Not a bad idea, considering the Dow was at a low of 8,578 the day before his piece ran. But that suggestion looks less promising than it did two weeks ago as stock markets continue to tumble. Today, the Dow closed at 8,176.

Buffet, himself, has lost $9.6 billion in equity this year, according to a recent story in The Wall Street Journal.

He did write in his call to investors, however, “Let me be clear on one point: I can’t predict the short-term movements of the stock market. I haven’t the faintest idea as to whether stocks will be higher or lower a month — or a year — from now.”

The CEO of Berkshire Hathaway can certainly afford the gamble, despite his loss. For the rest of us, there are plenty of opportunities on the horizon to buy cheap and lend at high risk with a chance of reward, plenty of opportunities for new home seekers to go bargain hunting, and plenty of opportunities for graduates to find jobs once companies start to hire again. But not until the economy — at least ours — truly bottoms out.

It’s a matter of physics. You can’t pick something up when it’s still in the process of falling. Sure, you can try and catch it mid-fall, but that might just hurt your hands.

In the meantime, enjoy the little perks: overheated rent prices are beginning to cool down; Barack Obama stands a better chance in lieu of McCain’s displays of financial ineptitude; there are more free ATMs available for WaMu customers (maybe even ATM fees will start to decline as a result); and everyday goods and services, with a few exceptions, are getting cheaper – just wait for gas.

Some of those perks might not help lift the economy, but se la vi, the economy’s going to the dogs anyway…

—Damian Ghigliotty

Father Jim

Father Jim performs first communion at Saint Mary Star of the Sea in Far Rockaway.

By Damian Ghigliotty, Clark Merrefield and Mathew Warren

Before Father James K. Cunningham relocated to Far Rockaway in 2001 he barely spoke Spanish and had served a predominantly white congregation in his six years of priesthood. Now the 39-year-old pastor, known as Father Jim, leads a multi-ethnic parish at Saint Mary Star of the Sea with a growing number of families from South and Central America and the Caribbean.

And as a leader among Catholic immigrants he now performs his services in Spanish as well as English.

“When they first sent me here I thought they made a mistake,” Cunningham said with a laugh as he sat inside the 88-year-old rectory. “You usually had to be 25 years a priest and I was only six years ordained at the time. But I guess they figured I could adapt – that adaptability was one of my strengths.”

Saint Mary embodies the sea of cultural and economic changes that have occurred on the Queens Peninsula since the early 1970s. As the bulk of second- and third-generation Irish, Germans and Italians packed up and left over the past four decades, a growing number of Hispanics and Caribbean Islanders have made Far Rockaway their home.

Today, the most recent immigrant groups – including Guatemalans, Mexicans and Guyanese – make up more than 70 percent of the 1,400-member congregation.

During a recent Mass, as Cunningham alternated between English and Spanish, more than a dozen children lined up to receive their First Holy Communion. Flags representing 37 different countries lined the inside of the church.

“The parish has had two or three turnovers since I’ve been a member,” said Josephine Kelly, 81, who moved to Far Rockaway from Buffalo in 1964. “Each turnover has caused a bit of an exodus among older members.”

And as those new members came in, so did new customs: from clapping and cheering to outward displays of affection among families.

“Back when it was predominantly white and European families the most you would hear was an occasional whisper,” Kelly added. “Now during services people tend to be a lot more expressive. You’ll often see a son put his arm around his father without giving it a second thought.”

While those changes have helped redefine the church’s inner-culture and the way in which the priests perform their sermons, they have also impacted on the parish’s finances. New groups appeared, but old money faded.

“Far Rockaway has faced the classic phenomena,” said Joseph Barden, executive director of Margert Community Corp., a neighborhood preservation group dedicated to helping struggling homeowners in the area. “In the 1970s there was a lot of white flight followed by a high concentration of poverty and a growth in public housing. Those forces plus immigration drove the original people who used to live here out. The problem for the church has been that most of the new immigrants don’t have the same economic base.”

One of the most apparent cultural and economic shifts can be seen in the fall off of donations given to the church.

“A lot of the churches in South America and the Caribbean are supported by their governments,” Cunningham said. “In the United States, that’s not the case and people aren’t as accustomed to tithing. A lot of the new members put a few dollars in the basket a week and think that’s enough of a donation. As a result, it’s become hard to pay bills when our collection is good, but still not good enough.”

Raul Hernandez, a 33-year-old construction worker who came from Mexico with his wife and two children, is part of the newest wave of immigrants to join the church. While some of the congregation members see a link between their parish’s financial struggles and the growing proportion of immigrants, Hernandez links it to external forces.

“Today things are really difficult,” he said. “The economy is really bad. Before maybe I could give $10 a week, now it’s $5.”

Jason Fernandez, 7, was one of the first children in line to receive communion. After Mass, his mother, Maria, shed tears of joy while the rest of her family waited to take pictures with Cunningham.

“When I have, I give, and it’s from the heart,” she said. “Without the church and without God, I don’t think we could survive in this country.”

Click Here for Slideshow

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By Damian Ghigliotty

Surrounded by uniform sterile brick buildings, a rickety cab pulled up to the corner of 97th Street and 57th Avenue in LeFrak City.

A small group of men in their late-40s and 50s came over to see what Freedom had brought for the day. An old friend, Black, had come to help him unload several brown boxes from the trunk. Duke and C. were the first customers of the morning. The rest had stopped by simply to chat with familiar faces congregating on a familiar street corner.

“Today this is my corner,” said Freedom with a smirk of self-satisfaction as he began to open one of the boxes. “Mine alone.”

Freedom, 58, a retired maintenance worker turned local part-time merchant, has become LeFrak City’s only art vendor. “One day,” he said, “I plan to have my own flea market here.”

“Today this is my corner,” said Freedom as he began to open one of the boxes. “Mine alone.”

Freedom, 58, a retired maintenance worker turned local part-time merchant, has become LeFrak City’s only art vendor. “One day,” he said, “I plan to have my own flea market here.”

Freedom’s goods ran the gamut — framed posters of southern blacks on porches, portraitures of Martin Luther King and Malcom X, religious proverbs encased in floral designs, and scenes of a disgruntled Scarface holding a smoking tommy gun. Most cost $8 a piece, or $15 for two, but Freedom was apt to bargain with nearly anyone who asked, bringing more people from the neighborhood over to browse as the day went on.

“This helps the neighborhood,” said Duke, a retired hotel management employee from Ghana, as he paid for two framed posters of silhouetted jazz musicians blowing on yellow saxophones. “Children see the pictures of historical blacks with familiar images from the movies and they ask their parents, ‘what’s that?’ It opens people’s eyes.”

Freedom, who has walked with a wooden cane since he fractured his hip in 2002, decided to sell posters after retiring from the LeFrak City Maintenance Department. Surrounded by several take-out restaurants, an income tax office, two beauty salons, and two sportswear stores, he said he had found the perfect place for cheaply priced artwork; an outdoor market overlooked by other vendors in the neighborhood.

“I’m doing something new and positive here,” said Freedom as more customers showed up to his corner. “This is for the five generations of LeFrak,” he added in reference to everyone living in the community — small children to the elderly.

LeFrak City had always needed a stronger sense of identity, Freedom said, a place where people could stop and chat as they went about their day. One effort was to have the side wall of Fluffy’s Salon on 57th Street painted with a mural of local and historical figures: LeFrak City native, Al Blake; Jackson Heights native, Sen. John D. Sabini, Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan; and local hip-hop artist, Noreaga. Freedom and several community activists, including Al Blake — now the chairman of the LeFrak City Tenants’ Association — organized the project in the summer of 1994.

As the new mural attracted more and more people walking by, Freedom soon thought of commerce in art as another way to bring disconnected neighbors together.

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Outside of LeFrak City, city planners, historians and academics looking in have shared Freedom’s dissatisfaction with a community that lacks an identity despite its racial and religious diversity.

“On a visual level, LeFrak City has always been rather depressing,” said Architectural Historian Barry Lewis. “It’s like being in the middle of nowhere.”

When Samuel J. LeFrak began development along the Horace Harding Expressway in 1960, he and his investors envisioned a self-contained community with the basic essentials — a local grocery store, a local pharmacy, and a few nearby restaurants, surrounded by parks, playgrounds and private homes. In his view, Manhattan was close enough for those who needed to purchase luxury items.

Lewis said that in an effort to suburbanize parts of New York City, the movers and shakers behind community projects like LeFrak City and Stuyvesant Town failed to predict the shortcomings of their developments. Suburbanization never came to fruition as those “progressive thinkers” expected, he noted in a tone of sarcasm. Especially once New Yorkers realized what a neighborhood without bustling streets would actually look and feel like.

“People in the city gravitate to where the shopping streets are,” said Lewis. “Shops attract social activity. They’re the microorganisms of the city people love — older folks chatting, young kids hanging outside of candy shops.”

After LeFrak’s vision of a prepackaged suburban community in Queens began to collapse in the mid-80s, the area become notorious for gang violence and drug deals, a reputation the neighborhood still carries today, even though crime has dropped with the rise in Eastern European and Muslim immigrants.

But with a continual lack of interest among landowners and private investors to diversify the neighborhood’s commerce, individual efforts have only amounted to small accomplishments on small scales.

Most days, when Freedom isn’t offering framed posters for sale, he sits outside of Fluffy’s Salon, helps sweep up, and sells packs of Newports for $4, which he buys in bulk for far less.

“I get frustrated sometimes, because everyone around here has their own agendas,” he said, gazing across the street at a group of young teenagers. “One day I’m going to get myself a big stage right on this corner, and then everyone will see what I’m trying to do.”

After the sale of his last poster, Freedom’s spot to one day run his own flea market became encompassed by the slumped shadow of an unemployed community member struggling to get by. With no financial support from the LeFrak Organization since his injury, it has been hard for him to support a family, let alone a community.

“I guess that’s it until the next batch comes,” Freedom said with a sigh as he picked up his cane and headed home.

You Limy Bastards

Posted: April 27, 2007 in Brooklyn, Business, Culture, Food, Trends

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By Michael Hicks aka Mad Mike Mean Face

What goes perfect with a Corona? Yes, you little booze dumpster, you guessed it: a slice of lime. Getting a lime in the city is no problem, but the variety of prices can be daunting. Take your standard bodega where a lime can cost anywhere from 25 to 50 cents. Some have deals such as four for a dollar or buy four and the fifth one is free. The super markets sell limes for 33 cents apiece, which is generally a standard price in most produce departments.

The trendy organic stores like Dean & Deluca, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have a few different kinds of lime for the real connoisseur. You haven’t lived until you’ve tasted the citrus delicacy of a rumored $3.00 Dean & Deluca lime. These limes must be kept in a small temperature controlled oasis as not to spoil the moment that that $3.00 slice of lime hits your $1.50 beer. One example of variety is the Persian lime, which is commonly called the bear lime. The Persian lime is cultivated in the good old US of A, so those people bitching about the movie 300 should shut the fuck up cause we got yo limes bitches. The American manufactured limes are most likely harvested by immigrant workers earning around 33 cents an hour, which gives them plenty of money to buy limes from their local food stores. There’s also the infamous Key lime often called the West Indian or Mexican lime. Key lime pie is gross.

Down in Chinatown you can usually find a vendor selling four limes for a dollar next to a sewer drain. These limes tend to have a more flavorful taste but usually need a day or two to ripen. This is okay, unless you’re a raging drunk in need of a beer that requires a lime at that exact moment. Then again most raging alcoholics don’t drink beer that requires lime. Real drunks will drink anything, or in the case of the closet alcoholic soccer mom, wine is usually the weapon of choice. MADD would be so disappointed.

I walked past a hipster haven food market in Midtown where the name of the store was written in graffiti font. I guarantee those limes are at an above average price, say maybe in the 55 to 72 cent range. I don’t know about you, but I really could give a shit less if my limes go all city. I want my limes cheap and accessible. I bet those hipsters keep their limes right next to the fat cap carrots and the style wars broccoli.

The Korean grocer on my block sells limes for 29 cents each, but forget about organic that’s another tax bracket all together. So go ahead everyone, waste your hard earned money on limes, I’m drinking whiskey. Ice costs nothing in the winter and in the summer there’s always shots.