retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The New Yorker has a lovely piece about Fairway Market, the iconic New York City that has entered bankruptcy, the victim of some combination of greed and mismanagement and neglect that lasted just long enough to make it almost impossible for the current owners to rescue it, making a sale of some stores and a closure of others inevitable.

Fairway, the story says, was "one of those odd original New York institutions that grew up organically, on the sidewalk, unlike the Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s stores that have competed with it in recent years, which were dropped down on the street from a retail empire headquartered elsewhere. No less a magus of social history than Simon Schama once wrote of Fairway that it if it were possible to award the congressional Medal of Honor to a food market, Fairway would already have won one for its service to appetite, and that its cheese department alone turned 'Rabelaisian excess into a stationary New York festival of aroma, color and texture'."

The "democratic energy" at Fairway, the story says, "was so extraordinary that someone coming home to New York from a place like, say, Paris - where the division between the gastronomic and the generic, the élite and elementary is still strong - would be knocked sideways by the coexistence of those seemingly contradictory principles."

"Such private enterprises, from coffeehouses and grocery stores to high-end department stores, with their vast common spaces … create the social capital that supports our common life - the possibility of bumping into people with whom we share a common citizenship but don’t often share a common space or pursuit. The accumulated social capital of such spaces becomes our common life. The single man buying cheese and the family buying paper towels in bulk stand in line together."

In the end, Fairway's bankruptcy "seems likely to cost the employees far more than it will the investors - not to mention the customers."

It is a thoughtful piece, and you can read it here.