No Logo, Newark!

In this hot summer day, there is no place better than my favorite Newark coffee shop, where my children and I can spend hours reading in cool air and refreshing aromas. We keep getting distracted, pleasantly. On the next table, six deaf people are “talking” all at once, with 12 excited hands waving in the air. On the other side, an old couples and their grandson are enthusiastically eating crispy Cuban sandwiches and fried codfish balls.
The lunch crowd is filing in from different directions. My 9-year-old daughter comments on uniformed nurses, muscular brick workers, and a few regular old Irishmen chatting furtively, “Dad, these are real people!” Two small TV screens are silently showing a fierce soccer match. There is no soft Jazz of urban sophistication in an upscale atmosphere that entices customers to pay $4 for their daily caffeine fix. In fact, even after a few years, I still pronounce my coffee order of $1.50 sheepishly: G-A-L-A-O.

Café Caffe of 274 Chestnut Street is not closing, even without our mayor offering help of city incentives, like he promised to the closing of Starbucks at 744 Broad Street. As CBS reported, the decision by Starbucks to close 600 stores nationwide has hit this Newark location especially hard. After the recent closure of Old Navy and Kinko’s, both around the premier spot in the city’s heart, people responded angrily on losing this window of a ubiquitous coffee chain.

It is hard to swallow the grief of being deprived of the corporate seal of approval for the long cheered revitalization. “Yes, you have invested over $300 million on the brand new arena. Yes, the long-waited multimillion dollar Broad Street beautification project is about to be completed. But you are not good enough yet,” the corporate world said loudly. In fact, for decades, Newarkers have been ridiculed by the rest of the world, particularly by the affluent Jersey suburbanites, who find it hard to lose the symbol of all social illness and political corruption.

The outgoing President of Starbucks, Jim Alling, proudly called his people “the little-pick-uppers.” He said, “We just naturally stop down to pick up that gum wrapper or soda can on the sidewalk as we’re talking with you about how the kids are doing and what crazy weather we are having….” Blah, blah, blah… He quickly added, “Profitability is essential to our future success.”

Obviously, Starbucks, or any corporate big name, is made by neither an altruistic Mother Teresa, nor a paternalist Federal government. In Starbucks’ case, it goes as far as to declare “diversity” one of its guiding principles, and to hire Magic Johnson as its representative. However, a casual google of “Starbucks Gary Indiana” will find nothing but ten shops in the surrounding area. Similarly here, except its inner cities, New Jersey has one of the highest concentrations of the latte chain shops, as well as almost all brand-name retailers, in the nation.

Bryant Simon, a professor at Temple University, who is writing a book about the coffee chain, observed the lone Starbucks in Harlem in 2006. The dingy store was busy and cramped and lacked the usual niceties like upholstered furniture. “It’s a classic American story,” he said, “African-Americans get less of everything.”

My take, however, can be a little different. God designates Newarkers a totally different path. We, ordinary citizens, political leaders, and city planners, should have listened to the corporate voice more clearly. If the city does not deserve “Main Street” services, Newark should just as well block those fast food brand-names, like Southern Californian cities are doing.

We need some heavy-lifters, not “little-pick-uppers,” no matter what they pick up. After all, we have our own successful stories. Next to Café Caffe, there is a new copy shop, PrintPost. Arthur Stern, the owner of 744 Broad Street, can easily refill the space of Kinko’s and Starbucks with the much superior pair of Chestnut Street shops. Our mayor will save some city money and trips to trade shows in Las Vegas to lure brand names.

No Logo in a prosperous Newark, would that be cool?

Cold Coffee

Cold Coffee
The New York Times editorializes the closing of the Starbucks at Market and Broad, citing its opening eight years ago as “a herald of the city’s resurgence.”

…Joe Hallinan, regional vice president, says the branch has actually been losing money. Now that the company has hit tough times, he says, there is no alternative but to include the outlet among the 600 that the company will close.

Perhaps. But the area shows strong signs of growth. A luxury apartment building is almost filled, and construction is about to begin on a new residential loft building. The recently opened arena, the Prudential Center, is bringing people in on nights and weekends.

Want To Bet? No One Will Act!

Want To Bet? Those words were the last sentence in Bob Braun of the Star Ledger’s column in this morning’s paper. That question refers to his opinion that nothing will change in Newark, even with the execution style killings of Dashon Harvey, Iofemi Hightower, and Terrence Aeriel. Braun says Newark is “a city neglected by the state for as long as I’ve worked there, and that comes close to 50 years. We build interstate highways around Newark to avoid seeing it and its people. We allow its property taxes to become confiscatory, and then complain about the city’s shabbiness. We allow it’s school to become useless warehouses of children until the state takes over – and then the state itself fails, so now talks of giving up”. In my opinion, Braun hits the nail right on the head. Newark’s problems don’t just consist of violence, but rather it consists of a host of different factors. Violence and crime is the after effect of all the ineffectiveness that takes place from the school system to the economic infrastructure. Newark is a nest egg of inconsistent “criminal” behavior that does not put anyone in jail. The failure to pay a large number our teenagers for the entire month of July and the first week of August is one of those criminal acts that goes unpunished every day in Newark, and we wonder why our children decide to sell drugs for money. Braun agrees, stating “We send our jobs overseas and wonder why so many young men are idle – the unemployment rate among black teenagers is 40 percent, not much better among Hispanic youngster”. And kids like these who have no jobs are the young individuals who were involved in the grotesque acts that occur August 4, 2007.
“We think an arts center and a stadium and a Starbucks represent a Renaissance, when what is really needed are jobs, health care and housing”. Newark, NJ is crying hard and loud and everyone is listening to a different tune. Many will forget the names of these young adults who were slaughtered much like the 160 before them over the past 18 months. We’ll go about our daily chores and meanderings until another 8-year-old is shot, or until another young promising life is stopped short. The New Jersey Devils, a hot latte, and a dance troupe will not ease the suffering of Newark’s poor minority population. Those Saturday night events and sports are simply entertainment to sidetrack the fact that no one really cares. As long as it looks like someone is doing something to make progress, then that’s all that counts. Baltimore has the Orioles and the Ravens; Detroit has the Tigers, Red Wings, Lions, and Pistons, yet these two cities like Newark are still among the most dangerous in the country. Renaissance is French for “rebirth” and is defined as the revival of learning and culture. What has Newark learned over the past forty years since the 67 riots? Where is the rich culture that was once Newark? Where is the Newark that Council President Mildred Crump spoke about on My 9 News’ show “Real Talk”?

That Newark seems to be buried under hardships, unease and broken promises by politicians looking to add more impressive markings to their resume. To police officers who would rather harass than help the citizens that they are supposed to protect. Under a desensitized public who is afraid to stand up for their rights because their street is cascaded with drugs and thugs who care nothing for the quality of human life. People have certain inalienable rights that cannot be taken away and should not be surrendered to mindless hoodlums, or to the government who has sworn to protect them and ensure that their rights are preserved. Martial law and the suspension of civil liberties is not the answer to the problem that plagues Newark. I can understand the sentiment of Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura, but if his intense feelings were allowed to prevail as police policy, then it would cause more harm then good. Racial tension would be at an all-time high, and teens would feel more abandoned then they do now.

Frankly, we need tough action, and for people to stand up like Ghandi, Jesus, Martin, Malcolm, the hippies of the 1960s, the college students of the Vietnam War, William Wallace, and John F. Kennedy who decided to “go-against-the-grain”. To retreat from the common thought of the masses for the benefit of the entire population. Most of these people were killed for their decision to be different or jailed and or doused by hire-pressured fire hoses. Yet, they got their message across and those images still ring true years after they made their mark.

Remember last summer? Do you remember who Brielle Simpkins, Eric Jackson, and Sandra Belush were? That horror was pretty much forgotten by the time Terrence Aeriel, Iofemi Hightower, and Dashon Harvey were killed. How long before those names will be forgotten, too? Lot of huffing and puffing Guys in law enforcement who can’t keep guns from the city want to suspend the Constitution. Grab a headline while the outrage is high. And, worse, lots of talk now about how this particular set of murders – so cold-blooded, happening to good kids- will change things”. Bob Braun and Ameer Washington ask together. Want to bet?