A Downturned Economy Means Dire Straits for Greenpointers
This year birds aren’t the only thing heading south for the winter — lately the economy has been headed that way, too.
Washington may be busy reassuring Americans everywhere that the bailout package is everyone’s answer to an economic upswing, but Greenpoint and Williamsburg residents are only just beginning to cope with the effects of a failing economy. From buying gas efficient cars, to eating at home, or in the case of the Polish community, just moving back to Europe where the Euro is still strong, everyone is developing strategies to deal — whether the impact has hit their household or not.
Representative Anthony Weiner (D – Brooklyn and Queens) released a statement last Friday assuring that the new version of the bailout plan was the average taxpayer’s new best friend.
“The ‘blank check’ approach of the Bush Administration was simply unacceptable, especially given that the deregulatory zeal of this Administration had led to the problems in the first place,” said Weiner. “The final plan was improved in key ways.”
Those “key ways,” Weiner was referring to, seemed to most taxpayers ambiguous at best — somehow protecting taxpayers, so they see the gains, instead of shareholders and executives, when the Treasury Department buys up the fledging companies assets; placing limits on “Golden Parachutes” for failed CEOs and executives and “help” to prevent foreclosure, while, of course, not actually insuring people’s houses against their being foreclosed upon.
“The middle class and those struggling to make it face a series of looming challenges,” said Weiner. “We need to lean into these problems to keep New York City the capital of the middle class.”
While a few of us are still wondering when New York City was ever actually the “capital of the middle class,” the question weighing most heavily on people’s minds is “what will the bailout do for me?”
Greenpoint and Williamsburg residents are largely either already feeling the hard hitting affects of a southward economy, or gearing up for when the storm hits.
“We’re almost out of canning jars,” observed Taylor Erkkinen, owner of kitchenware shop The Brooklyn Kitchen on Lorimer Street. “It’s like people are preparing for leaner times.”
Reverend Ann Kansfield of the Greepoint Reform Church explained that at the church’s weekly food pantry, more and more people are working class locals, not homeless.
“We’ve been seeing a lot of working poor coming to the food pantry, said Kansfield. “I have one woman who stops by that recently lost her job, and she’s been looking and looking for another job but just can’t find one.”
“There’s always been a reasonable number of working people,” added Kansfield. “But we’ve definitely seen a significant increase since spring. We’re seeing a lot of people who have never before needed to use emergency food services. A lot are recently unemployed, laid-off, or having their hours reduced. They’re working people who can’t pay their bills.”
Kansfield, who lost her own job recently as well, says that since the shelter relies on donations and financial gifts to purchase food for the pantry and soup kitchen, their allotments have gone down significantly since the economy started slumping. “At the point of greatest need, we’re experiencing the greatest decline in funding ability,” she said.
Miesdko Kalita, the owner of Beata Delicatessen on Manhattan Avenue for over 20 years, says that in the last year and a half, business has sharply decreased while price points for the imported Polish goods that are the staple of his grocery stock have gone significantly up.
For example, he says, he now buys imported fruit preserves for more than he used to sell them for in his store — in the last year and a half the price of wholesale preserves has leapt from $1.00 to $2.50, forcing Kalita to jump the price to $2.99 from the original shelf price of $1.69, significantly reducing his profits.
Not to mention, says Kalita, “first and foremost, if you remember, Greenpoint was a Polish community a couple years ago — but a lot of my customers have gone back to Poland where the economy is good! At least once a week I have someone coming in and saying farewell because he’s going back to Poland. So the neighborhood is changing very rapidly.” Due to slower business, Kalita and his wife Beata (for whom the deli is named) recently tightened their budget by trading in their Lexus for a more gas efficient Prius, which he says they only fill up once a month for about $35.
Kalita also mentioned that while there are less people, buying less food because of limited budgets, there are also more and more people coming in to buy groceries on food stamps. “You can see a lot more people on food stamps,” he says. “And they’re not just older people anymore, they’re every age group.”
“I’m happy I own the building, otherwise I’d be in dire straits,” added Kalita, referring to the two delis along his strip of Manhattan Avenue that recently shuttered.
Greenpoint blogger Heather Letzkus and her husband haven’t yet been hit been hit by the economic blows some Greenpointers are feeling, but have felt the effects in their electric bill. “We overhauled our entire computer system and we’re trying to become more energy efficient,” said Letzkus, “But the funny thing is that now we are more efficient and using less power, but it’s costing us a lot more, up to $400. The price of power is Draconian.”
Letzkus says that in order to fight rising electricity rates, next to go will be expendable things like their satellite network and eating out, small luxuries that many Greenpointers are coming to terms with losing.
In fact, at local restaurant Cyganeria owner Zbigniew Lakatoszi says people are eating out so little, his business is down at least a third from the previous year.
“If people were going one two to three times a week standard, now it’s one time a week,” he said, adding that he’s jazzed up the menu and taken out newspaper ads in hopes of attracting more people to his restaurant. Other local restaurants like the Park Luncheonette have adopted similar strategies, adding breakfast to their menu, staying open later, and developing daily specials to combat a nearly empty lunch hour.
So whether you call it a “Financial Rescue Plan” like our politicians, or a bailout, North Brooklyn is still anxiously waiting for either to begin to work.
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