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New York Street Economics

Posted by K Krasnow Waterman on Sat, Jun 09, 2007 @ 15:06 PM
After many years away, I'm spending the summer in Manhattan.  I've pined for New York - the joys of so much intellect, art, cuisine, and money shoe-horned into every square inch of a walker's paradise.  And, I missed being amongst so many old friends, cronies who knew the more delinquent precursor to my responsible grown up self.  Until arriving, though, I'd forgotten all about another New York pleasure: what I've taken to calling "New York Street economics". 

One of the things that distinguishes a New Yorker from a tourist or casual visitor is the confident navigation of everyday financial transactions.  Everyone who reads a guidebook knows that there are bargains to be had on designer samples, luggage, or electronics.  A New Yorker knows there are price variations on every block. 

My benchmarks are the 20 ounce bottle of Poland Spring water, the soft pretzel, and the small Mr. Softee chocolate cone with sprinkles.  Charges for that Poland Spring bottle vary from $1.00 to $2.50.  On my own block, the bodega charges $1.25 and the sandwich shop directly across the street charges $1.50.  The "true" street value, from newsstands and food carts is $1.00.  A soft pretzel ranges between $1.50 and $2.00.  The ice cream cone is $2.00.

Stated prices vary depending upon location, overhead, and perceived market sophistication.  The cart at the corner of 79th and York is far from the tourists and has a regular clientele of hospital staffers: pretzel - $1.50.  Most corners around the city, pretzels are $2.00.  But, on the west corners of 50th and Fifth Avenue, where the tourist throngs are oogling Rockefeller Center: pretzel - $3.00. 

True New Yorkers navigate like Bedouins in the bazaar.  It took me a few days, but one incident returned me to my roots.  There I was at the Rockefeller Center corner, ordering a pretzel and then asking the price; when I heard "$3.00" I simply raised an eyebrow handed back the bag and walked away.  As his voice faded from my hearing, he was still calling me back and had reached the below-market price of $1.00.  Now, when I want to buy one of these items, I order it, and simply hand over the amount that seems appropriate; anyone asking for more gets the merchandise back in his hand.
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