Monday, November 25, 2019

The Streets of New York Are Just Not the Same

Every weekday a copy of Gothamist Daily arrives by email. Gothamist, its Website says, is “about New York City news, arts and events, and food, brought to you by New York Public Radio.”

More often than not I just scan the headlines, but one tickled my interest last week. Written by Jeremiah Moss, the article was entitled, “The Diamond District: ‘One Of The Last New York Blocks Left In Manhattan.’” 

I share these with you because my family has a link to the Diamond District, the stretch of West 47th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. The wedding band I wear on my left hand, the wedding band and engagement ring Gilda has worn, the same for my brother’s wife and my sister, and the baubles that adorned our mother, all came from the Diamond District. But not from just any merchant of jewels along that street of treasures. Ours came from the shop our mother’s sister, Aunt Vicki, and her husband, Uncle Harry, had at 55 West 47th Street. They had prime real estate in the Diamond Exchange building—a window kiosk to dazzle the imagination of any lady and her paramour. 

Fifty years ago, when I was most familiar with 47th Street, the Diamond Exchange housed a honeycombed floor of activity. It might still do so today. I do not know. Aunt Vicki and Uncle Harry relocated their business to Los Angeles in the 1970s. 

For a more personal perspective, I emailed the Gothamist article to one of their sons, my cousin Stanley. Also a jeweler, Stanley shared his memories vis-a-vis those of Jeremiah Moss:

“Interestingly....this is obviously the 47th Street of today....not the 1960’s and 70’s.

When we were there, there was no falafel and such. It was Berger’s deli, the Smokehouse restaurant or the Blarney Stone. 

“The Persians came to America, especially Great Neck (where his family lived), in the late 1970’s, the Israelis in the 1980’s. 

“The character of the street changed dramatically, both the people and the jewelry itself. 

“Many of the sons of successful jewelers actually moved off the street and into offices upstairs, away from the “new” riffraff. LOL 

“By the late 1990’s, the old timers, the Eastern European Jews....many with numbers tattooed on their arms were gone. Passed away or retired to Florida. 

Walking down 47th Street is just not the same.”

Broadway Blues: I could say the same for Broadway from 8th Street to Houston Street. It was on that stretch of pavement that my father’s factory jumped from one address to the next as his leases came up every five years or so forcing him to relocate either because the rent became too high or the landlord, in many cases New York University, opted to turn factory lofts into upscale apartments. 

718 Broadway. Then 692 Broadway (above Tower Records). Then 683 Broadway. Then 611 Broadway (above what is now a Crate & Barrel). From the mid 1950s to the late 1970s the factory ricocheted along Broadway. It was one of many owned by small manufacturers sewing lingerie and knitwear in buildings 10-12 stories high with service establishments on the ground floor. 

When residents, not businesses, started populating the buildings, NYU turned street level space into a shopping and restaurant mecca. Even Bloomingdale’s chose to open a store on Broadway as the retail district expanded to Canal Street. 

A mall without doors. As my cousin Stan said of 47th Street, Broadway today is just not the same. 

The Rent’s Too Damn High: Sunday’s New York Times provided another sad glimpse of the changing Manhattan landscape. Chelsea Convenience Hardware is closing, a victim mostly of a steep rent increase and the evolving way consumers shop (

After reading the article, take a few moments to read some of the comments. Mom and Pop stores close not just because of rent increases, or Amazon, or competition from big box retailers. Or maybe because their service and selection were sub-par. Or a combination of all factors. 

But whatever the reason(s), one cannot disagree that the landscape of a neighborhood changes. It’s just not the same. 

Friday, November 22, 2019

Go Ahead, Investigate

Let’s assume for a moment that Joe Biden remains the frontrunner for the Democratic Party presidential nomination and becomes its standard bearer. All the while he would be subjected to a withering attack by Donald Trump and his henchmen about his alleged improper interference in Ukraine’s investigation of corruption.

Wouldn’t it be more advantageous to Biden and the Democrats to welcome an investigation of his activities in Ukraine, even if it is by a Senate committee chaired by Republican Lindsey Graham ( If Graham’s committee displays bias the Democrats could always convene a House investigation that would afford Biden a more evenhanded venue. Such a House probe could call witnesses Graham might not wish to testify.  

If Biden is telling the truth, that he did nothing improper, imagine how that would buttress his candidacy and undermine Trump’s. It’s a play he should be willing to undertake to squelch not the drip, drip, drip of Trumpian tweets but the deluge of misinformation and outright lies cast his way. 

Republicans also want to investigate Hunter Biden’s role as a director of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company. For someone with no background in the energy field, Hunter was paid a ridiculous amount of money. Millions, it has been reported.

What Republicans are forgetting is what transpires in the Senate can be replicated in the Democratically controlled House. Donald Trump’s children can be investigated by multiple House committees for their international and domestic businesses. Just as Hunter Biden is maligned for trading on his father’s position as vice president the Trump progeny can be scrutinized for how their businesses benefitted from their relationship with the president.

Taking advantage of familial ties to our nation’s chief executive is nothing new. Presidents with siblings or children who created some embarrassing moments include Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan.  

Service to The Crown: If you are among the fans of The Crown, the fictionalized Netflix series on the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, you might have already seen episode two of the third season of the series. It is 1965 and the new government of prime minister Harold Wilson is facing a financial crisis. The country’s deficit is running some 800 million pounds. Its only hope of avoiding economic ruin is to receive a cash infusion from the United States. But president Lyndon Baines Johnson is no friend of Wilson (Wilson didn’t support the Vietnam War), so despite the special relationship enjoyed for decades by the two countries, Johnson is loathe to bail out the British.

Spoiler alert—The solution concocted by the Brits is to stroke LBJ’s ego, to soften him up to give them what they want.

All this maneuvering 55 years ago has a very current ring to it. The key to currying favor with Trump parallels the same path. The Saudis knew this and did their best to shower affection on Trump during his state visit. The British did as well. So did France. And China.

Ego enhancement and money in his pocket ignite affection from the grifter-in-chief. Politicians, foreign dignitaries and business executives with their lobbyists know this, too. They have eagerly paid top dollar at Trump hotels. In addition, Trump has squeezed hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of dollars from the U.S. treasury to pay for his frequent golf and weekend visits to his various golf courses and resorts. In just the first five months of his presidency, the Secret Service spent more than $250,000 at Trump properties ( 

Though Trump was shamed into cancelling the G-7 economic meeting at the Trump National Doral in Miami, the Republican National Committee has jumped in to pick up some of the revenue slack by booking its winter meeting at the resort. 

Taking Credit: Even fabulously successful businessmen get caught up with Trump infallibility. In Texas Thursday Trump took credit for the opening of a plant that makes Apple computers. He did so while standing next to Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive officer.

Cook knew the plant had opened in 2013, during Obama's presidency, but he chose not to correct Trump, not to his face or in subsequent comments. 

It is speculated that truth-talking is less important than corporate profits which Trump could affect through his tariff policies (

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Expect Impeachment But No Conviction

After three sometimes gripping, at time contentious, sometimes pedestrian days of hearings by the House Intelligence Committee, the questions to be answered are, Did Donald Trump’s actions rise to the level of an impeachable offense? And, given the Democratic Party majority on the committee and on the Judiciary Committee which would have to pass impeachment charges, and its majority in the full House of Representatives which has to affirm the charges which would then be sent to the Senate for consideration, is there any prospect that the Republican controlled Senate will vote to convict and thereby remove Trump from office?

Yes, the House will vote along party lines to impeach; no, the Senate will not vote to remove.

There was no smoking gun testimony as there was during the Watergate hearings and impeachment inquiry. No secret tapes (as far as we know). Nothing and nobody to testify to direct person to person dialogue with Trump about his actions to withhold congressionally approved military aid to an ally unless Ukraine investigated Joe and Hunter Biden.

Unless, and it is a big unless, former national security director John Bolton chooses to testify. Assuming, of course, that he would finger Trump for actions specifically in violation of his oath of office. 

At the end of the day Trump will get off with no more than a slap on the wrist. Like a cookie jar pilferer who gets caught by an admonishing mother, he no doubt will return to equally provocative acts, believing that as long as the Senate remains Republican controlled he will be immune from removal.

Here’s another question central to our democracy—when, if ever, will Republicans return to their long held beliefs? When will they once again condemn executive office overreach? When will they recall their opposition to a ballooning national debt and their desire for a balanced budget? When will they again champion unfettered foreign trade not hamstrung by tariffs? When will they advocate for strong and respectful international alliances? When will they rebuke a president who trusts Russia more than his own intelligence agencies?

Is the answer only when Democrats regain the presidency?

Have we so tribalized our politics that we cannot accept any action by a president from the opposition party, and the corollary, that we blindly accept whatever “our guy (or  gal)” does?

Has our politics become so toxic that anyone we disagree with immediately becomes the object of smear campaigns and physical threats? 

Don’t expect answers from me. I’m as perplexed, as depressed, as woebegone as you. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

News of the Day and Tomorrow: Nikki Haley, Trees, Thanksgiving and Black Friday

Profile in Discouragement: Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley appeared Sunday on CBS Sunday Morning. In a segment of the interview conducted by Norah O’Donnell about the impeachment inquiry, Haley said, “The biggest thing that bothers me is the American people should decide this. Why do we have a bunch of people in Congress making this decision?”

For a public figure who many are touting as a future Republican presidential candidate, the former South Carolina governor demonstrated a naive understanding of government. Haley should realize that senators and representatives are sent to Washington not just to rubber stamp their state’s voter preferences or to blithely rubber stamp or reject a president’s agenda, but also to be leaders, to exhibit profiles in courage by supporting positions that are good for the country even if they are not compatible with the narrow interests of their respective electorates or political parties. They, after all, swore an oath of allegiance to the Constitution. No such avowal is required of the general population, though newly enfranchised citizens and members of the armed services swear their allegiance to our country.

Moreover, to follow through on Haley’s premise, surveys have shown a sizable majority of Americans believe in compulsory background checks before a gun may be purchased. Similarly, other gun control measures are majority-favored. Yet Republicans continue to refrain from enacting any such proposals. 

Taken a step further, what Haley seems to be endorsing is the supreme executive, a president who really does not require any other branch of government. His or her way or the highway for anyone who disagrees with the chief executive. 

The impeachment proceedings and a Senate trial will show in startling relief just how far Republicans have subsumed their allegiance to the Constitution in favor of service to a president who has obstructed justice and encouraged foreign interference in our “free” elections. 

Later in the interview Haley acknowledged that Donald Trump’s verbal assaults on four first term congresswomen, telling them to go back to their own countries even though they are all U.S. citizens, was unbecoming from a president. But she defended his actions, saying of the representatives categorized by Trump as “the squad,” “Don’t bash America over and over again and not do something to try and fix it.” 

Huh? Has she not been keeping abreast of policy initiatives they have put forward? I don’t agree with all of their proposals but clearly they have been trying to do something to improve our country.

Tree Time: Last week a Norway Spruce from upstate New York started its travel to Manhattan for its crowning as the annual Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Center. The tree will be festooned with appropriate decorations—some 50,000 lights— in time for a December 4 unveiling on live television. 

Gilda and I are “big tree” fans, and by that I mean we really like trees, especially big trees. Our favorite is a copper beech, or mostly any beech variety. 

One of our more interesting days while visiting Scotland recently was a visit to Dawyck Botanic Garden, a 65 acre garden and arboreta eight miles south of Peebles. The trees are magnificent, especially the Douglas firs. 

You might be interested to know that the majestic Douglas fir, so common in the Pacific Northwest, is named for a Scottish botanist, David Douglas, who “discovered” them during an 1824-27 expedition. He brought seeds of the Douglas fir and about 10 other conifers back to Britain.

While on the subject of trees, Normandy, France, is known for its apple trees. But the French, at least in Normandy, don’t eat the fruit. Rather, they wait until their particular specie of apple tree drops its fruit. The apples are then gathered and fermented into hard cider. As the climate in Normandy is not conducive to growing grapes for wine, cider with an alcoholic kick makes life très jolie. 

Once an Editor …: I’ve been retired for more than 10 years now from Chain Store Age but my LinkedIn page still attracts onlookers every week. Recently I’ve been inundated by one head hunter organization sending me job opportunities. I’m flattered but not interested.

Perhaps my admirers are impressed that retailers are coming around to my way of thinking, at least when it comes to one of my fervent opinions. About a dozen years ago I editorialized that the madness of Black Friday was demeaning to customers and store employees. As retailers desperately tried to corral more consumers they chose not to wait until Friday morning. Many opened their doors on Thanksgiving Day itself, another intrusion on family get-togethers, particularly for store personnel who had to leave hearth and home to harness hostile shoppers intent on beating anyone in their way to a desired purchase.

It’s not a tidal wave yet, but I am encouraged by the number of chain store companies that will be closed all day on Thanksgiving. Here’s a list of the retailers I am aware of: Army and Air Force Exchange Service, Academy Sports and Outdoors, Ace Hardware, BJ’s, Costco, Hobby Lobby, HomeGoods, Lowe’s, Marshalls, Petco, Sam’s Club, Sierra Trading Post, Stein Mart, T.J. Maxx, True Value. 

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Historic Moments in Berlin, a Personal Perspective

Thirty years ago today, the first cracks in the Berlin Wall appeared. Not cracks in the wall itself, but rather in the restrictions East Germans had in traveling to West Germany. Through a fortuitous, confusing and seemingly uncharacteristically incompetent set of actions by East German officials, unfettered access to and from East Berlin began 30 years ago on November 9 (for an hour by hour playback click on this link:

Hanging on a wall in my home office is large chunk of the Berlin Wall. Another sizable portion, next to a picture of me chipping away at history, rests on the built-in wall unit of our living room. I wasn’t in Berlin November 9. I didn’t get there until February 16, 1990, a few days before the wall near the Brandenburg Gate was knocked down.

I flew in from Dusseldorf from where I had been attending EuroShop, a once every three year trade exposition devoted to store design and construction. I headed to a Woolworth store (btw, Germans for years thought Woolworth was a home grown company, not an America import), to buy a small chisel and standard-sized hammer. When I arrived at the Wall that rainy and snowy day, I discovered how pitiful my purchases were to the task at hand. I barely made a dent in the reinforced concrete.

Standing next to me was a man with a huge sledgehammer and 30-inch chisel. He was breaking off softball-size or larger chunks. He took pity on me and offered his tools. I still failed to break off pieces larger than a pebble. He pitied me once more. He gave the Wall a few choice whacks for me. I left Berlin with a bagful of souvenirs, most of which I gave away to family, friends and colleagues at work.

My memories of the Berlin Wall are tinged with personal links. November 9 is more than just the date unification of Berlin began. On that date in 1938 the Nazis began a massive pogrom against Jews under their control in Germany, Austria, the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia and the Free City of Danzig. Known as Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass), the assaults continued into Danzig on November 12-13. My father lived in Danzig (now known as Gdansk). He would leave for America within two months. 

February 16, when I visited Berlin in 1990, marked four years since my mother died on that very same date.