Shifting Forward: Newark 2025

Newark has yet to see its bright day since 1930 when its population (490,000) and its manufacturing and retail power were at its peak. Now, that day has been set for 2025. Toni Griffin, Director of Planning and Community Development, is presenting a “majestic” vision, in Deputy Mayor Stefan Pryor’s words, about the city’s daunting effort to shape its future. In three “listening sessions” entitled “Shifting Forward: Newark 2025,” Griffin is inspiring hundreds of Newarkers from all walks by reviewing Newark’s over 300 past development plans and declaring the beginning of the master planning process of 18 to 24 months.

By 2025, Newark will revitalize its downtown into a living community with tens of thousands of new residents. Various mix-use and high density developments will add to the existing housing stock above the street level, which has turned dark since the late 1930’s. The Passaic River waterfront will become one of the most valuable regional assets, pumping energy into the city and its neighborhoods. Newark’s cultural and historic resources will project a new image to the world. The growth of the higher education institutions will create a city of learning, filling the painfully enduring educational gap among the city’s young people. With its strategic advantages of mass transit, Newark will exemplify a sustainable city of the 21st century. Toni Griffin calls a new Newark “the city of choice.”

Continue reading “Shifting Forward: Newark 2025”

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.

To Starbucks, a Closing; To Newark, a Trauma

To Starbucks, a Closing; To Newark, a Trauma
The Times article points out that there are two additional Starbucks franchises in the city that aren’t in the airport. Sure: one store is nestled in the series of interconnected tubes that conjoin the Gateway Center buildings — like a giant hamster cage.

The other is on the Rutgers campus, which I’m not entirely sure is a “real” Starbucks, serving their mixed drinks and trained by Starbucks employees. Any number of retail coffee shops “proudly brew Starbucks coffee” without actually being a Starbucks, and by that criteria, you could include the coffee shop in the NJIT student center, as well.

The point isn’t so much a loss of the product as it is a loss of the brand. Corporate sponsorship of a streetscape is, for many people — customers and investors, alike — a kind of shorthand about the quality of retail and safety of that street. That might raise the ire of some, and it makes me a little uneasy being an independent blogger, but it’s true: seeing a company like a Starbucks or a Kinko’s or an Old Navy means those companies did their due diligence to consider actuarial risk and profitability. If they decide a neighborhood is worth investing in, it “legitimizes” that neighborhood.

All of that is to say nothing of the subconscious comfort of seeing a familiar brand in a strange place. When visitors come to the city and find their favorite coffee shop, it makes them feel less unsettled about that place. (Especially if that new place is rumored to have zombies!)

Sure, we get to keep the remaining two or three Starbucks coffee shops for those of us who need a local latte fix, but the city is losing that perception of growth, safety, and familiarity at its most important crossroads.

Or maybe it’s just a coffee shop, and another will take its place, and we’ll forget this whole thing. But you’ll have to excuse me: I’m on my morning commute and I have to pick up my grande iced coffee.

What do you think? Register your opinion in our poll, Should Newark Save Starbucks?

But every store, as it turns out, is not quite the same. When a Starbucks opened on Broad Street here almost eight years ago, it was not seen as a bland new spigot of a corporate coffeepot, but as a gathering place whose very existence would have seemed impossible a decade before, a symbol of a knocked-down city’s attempts to get up.

A few miles away, in New York City, new Starbucks branches were sometimes greeted with yawns, or even annoyance that the national chain was invading neighborhoods. In Newark, Sharpe James, then the mayor, showed up for the opening.

So when Starbucks announced last week that the Broad Street branch would be among the 600 stores that the coffee company is closing around the country, the reaction here was especially emotional, a mixture of anger, disappointment and frustration.

“They’re not going to close the one on Wall Street!” one man exclaimed.

Should Newark Save Starbucks?


The Starbucks in downtown Newark is set to close as a result of a cost-cutting initiative at the beleaguered coffee chain. Newarkers have been emailing asking if anything can be done.

In a brief one-liner, I asked Mayor Booker on WBGO if he plans to intervene in the closing. He noted that the would try, but that a local Newark businessman has offered to step in and launch a new coffeeshop at the Starbucks site.

With just a couple of weeks to go before the closure, what do you think? Should Newark save Starbucks?
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Newark Starbucks among 5 N.J. stores slated to close

Newark Starbucks among 5 N.J. stores slated to close
Say it ain’t so! The Starbucks at 744 Broad is slated to close as part of the pre-announced 600 store closure intended to cut costs for the flagging coffee chain.

I’m heartbroken and surprised: the downtown Starbucks is absolutely one of the stores with the most potential for growth in the state, and I predicted on Newark Speaks that it would have stayed open.

I asked Mayor Booker about the closure on WBGO’s Newark Today this evening. He said that, while he does plan to fight the closure, there is a plan ‘B’ to offer the space to a local Newark businessman who would open up another coffee shop at the same store.

Speaking of WBGO — welcome listeners who are new to the site! 🙂

Five Starbucks in New Jersey, including one in downtown Newark, are among those in the final list of store closings announced tonight.

The company earlier announced plans to close 600 stores around the country by the end of March in a massive cost-cutting effort aimed at restoring the luster to the once fast-growing coffee company.

“In the spirit of transparency with our partners, customers and communities, we are providing the full list of stores for general information purposes,” the company said in a release.

Bookstore, Café, and Imagination

In 1997, Jonathan Cole, the Provost of Columbia University, walked around the Morningside neighborhood in New York City, disturbed by the shabby conditions of a few older bookstores. After failing to lure the legendary bookseller Jack Cella from the Seminary Co-op Bookstore of Chicago, Columbia offered Chris Doeblin and his partner Cliff Simms a university-owned building and computer services for a quality bookstore next to the campus.
Last week, I had a conversation with Chris in Book Culture, his wonderful bookstore on West 112th Street in Manhattan. It’s a place where you only intend to stop by, but come out two hours later with five, six, or seven books.

“Why can’t my city of 30,000 university students support a decent bookstore?” I asked Chris. He smiled, “Although university students don’t read much, the university with imagination must be happy to have us around.”

There is no reason that Newark’s universities could not repeat this rather simple success story.

Last year, in his annual university address, Dr. Steven Diner listed opening a downtown bookstore as one of three Rutgers’ major contributions to Newark’s revitalization. However, the waiting for a Barnes and Noble bookstore may last forever.

Meanwhile, Robert Muller, the owner of New Jersey Books, has survived and thrived in his book business during the city’s thick and thin times. In New Brunswick, Rutgers had failed in an eminent domain battle against Mr. Muller for the location of his branch bookstore there. In Newark, the university administration has always given him the cold shoulder, failing a mutually beneficial relationship.

A few years ago, Professor Dorothy Olshfski felt sick about not having a decent coffee shop around the campus. Instead of waiting for Starbucks, she bought a building on New Street to open Woodrow’s, a wonderful café.

“I want to use what I have been teaching to bring something to the community,” this public administration professor determined.

Rutgers magazine planned to interview her for a feature article. At the last minute, the provost pulled the rug from under her feet to block the article in order not to send a “wrong message” to faculty members — apparently, community service is somehow perceived to interfere with research.

Professor Olshfski’s fans were puzzled: why wouldn’t the university want an entrepreneurial initiative that benefits the school and the community from one of its most academically productive faculty members?

For the second year, Mayor Booker went to the International Conference of Shopping Centers in Las Vegas and failed to bring back any big-box businesses, even with millions of dollars in tax incentives. Well, begging for big names is a painfully conventional approach, which might never work for Newark.

Wouldn’t it be much more promising if our mayor would just pick up his phone to call Mr. Muller, whose family has been here for generations, to have a cup of good coffee in Woodrow’s with Professor Olshfski and now Chancellor Diner?

Everything is here in Newark — expertise, capital, and entrepreneurship, if only our leaders could have a little more imagination.

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?