10 Manhattan Neighborhoods Branded by Corporate Logos
Across the U.S. small businesses like coffee shops and drug stores struggle to compete with national chains like Starbucks and Duane Reade. They fight to stay afloat against the competition and many eventually go under, replaced by the very corporations that priced them out. Many of us are sad to see local businesses go, but what can we do to keep them alive?
To protest the corporatization of the local environment, James Campbell Taylor took to the internet to visualize the changing landscape of his residence of seven years, New York. His City in Chains series inserts the names of historical Manhattan neighborhoods into the logos of the national chains popping up in more and more locations across the borough. Though James focuses only on Manhattan neighborhoods, the series reflects an unfortunate trend affecting almost every community in the country.
New Yorkers have grown accustomed to living in an ever-changing setting where stores like traveling carnivals appear one day and disappear the next. “It’s got to the point where you make a point of going to a particular store or restaurant because you know it might not be there next month,” James told me over email.
Among the many closings of local businesses in recent years, the loss of Empire Diner hit James the hardest. “I loved that place and when I heard of its imminent closure I got in touch with the owner who invited me to their farewell party. Prime Burger was another one: I made a special trip up there on its last night.”
The corporate takeover scares James, who believes our culture will become overly dependent on online shopping. “While chain stores proclaim to be providing convenience and value, their proliferation eventually eliminates your options as a consumer,” he wrote, “until you’re forced to buy all your books and CDs on Amazon because there’s literally no alternative.”
In some ways the presence of big box retailers is pushing local businesses to evolve into more kitschy, more expensive versions of themselves to keep up with changes in the local landscape:
My greatest frustration is that invariably these places are replaced by something inferior that the neighborhood does not want or need, like another chain store or bank branch. Who are all these people eating frozen yogurt? Not me. Worse still is when a restaurant closes only to be reopened as a more expensive ersatz facsimile of its former self, in which something old is replaced by something made to look old.
In James’ own neighborhood, the East Village, he’s seen both the demolition of a 100-year-old church and continued protests against a 7-11 that moved into the neighborhood several months ago. Another East Village 7-11 that opened on St. Marks Place in 2012 recently closed its doors for good after sustained protests.
Are protests the answer, then, to ridding neighborhoods of chain stores and preserving local businesses? Maybe, but James suggests an additional option. In San Francisco, James points out, a zoning law limits the number of what he terms “formula retail” stores that may operate in any particular area. “I don’t know if the same thing could happen in New York, mainly because it seems there are already too many commercial and economic interests at stake,” James says, but newly instated Mayor Bill de Blasio, who seems empathetic toward small businesses, might help local shops in some way. “I don’t expect the situation to reverse itself, but if it swings back a little he’ll have achieved something,” James said.
Unfortunately, if nothing is done soon to curb the corporate move-ins, Manhattan could lose its former local flavor and, as James suggests, become a caricature of itself:
Sometimes it feels like the city is becoming a parody of itself, catering solely to tourists and the wealthy. The ultimate consequence is that every day New York looks less and less like the city in my head and more and more like a New York-themed theme park.
Find more of James’ work here.
Are you saddened to see local businesses closing in your neighborhood? What do you think we can do to stop corporations from taking over every street corner?