"What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?" I trust modern day clergy still preach this message, and not only on Yom Kippur or Good Friday. But this "columnist preacher" paraphrases this scriptural warning to also ask "What does it profit a city when there is no affordable neighborhood place to break bread, or find the everyday things we need in the nabe?" Neighborliness is also lost, and shouldn't failure to act, be something for us all to repent, and just now on the Yom Kippur day of atonement?
But, oh, also be thankful for this newspaper's active involvement to save and restore small businesses, including its September 24th Saving Small Business Forum held at Baruch College. This could be an awardworthy newspaper first! Although unable to attend, I have thoughts on what I hope the three distinguished panelists said. But first, is my great hope that Baruch will educate students on the myriad reasons for their involvement in saving and restoring small neighborhood businesses - saving self-sustaining neignborhoods.
I suspect panelist Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer noted how many especially affected by these lost places weren't able to attend, and how too often we are too much eating at home alone, without longtime waiters who really cared how you are doing. You can eat alone without being alone.
And I hope panelist Commissioner of Consumer Affairs, Julie Menin, dared call for commercial rent regulations. Ironically, my vast related archives turned up a February 7, 1988, Our Town report on an East Manhattan Chamber of Commerce meeting, called "Has the Time Come?" - meaning passage of city councilmember Ruth Messinger's commercial rent regulations bill. You know the outcome and the ensuing minimal official concern, even to protect small businesses from being maimed and destroyed by the near decade of Second Avenue Subway construction chaos. ("What does it profit a city to have more ways to get places when it loses the places where its citizens live?")
As for the Our Town conference, here's hoping panelist Nancy Lee, "owner of renowned East Side establishment of Pig Heaven," will urge her many "name clients" to become vocal supporters of rent regulations and whatever else will save places like Pig Heaven, but, also diner-type places which meet the everyday needs of so many New Yorkers.
And if reminded, I'm sure faith group leaders will do a bit of repenting and atoning for their silence on the loss of affordable places for their members to break bread together after services, as well as the loss to the community at large. And I think specifically of the loss of Soup Burg across from Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church and All Souls Unitarian Church and the East River Café next door to St. Monica's. All taken out by exorbitant rent hikes and replaced by high-ticket retailers, except for the one which respectively housed the diner type restaurant on 79th and First for nearly four decades. It is still empty and will only rent to a retail concern.
If ever a landlord should be picketed ? excoriated ? the two successive diner type restaurants occupied there, above all, the one operated for over three decades by Peter and John, with its all-booth seating, moderate prices, and all-around good neighborly vibes. And sure my column railed about my favorite diner's being forced out, and about countless other places over the years we couldn't afford to lose.
Lamentably, few media voices banged this drum, until this paper's editor has so knowledgeably, passionately and consistently protested this urban neighborhood crisis. But your help is needed, talking and writing it up. Of course, support neighborhood places. Share related Our Town messages, especially with those who only read The Times ? and on the Internet. Hey, and even suggest to your clergy that pews might be fuller if "What does it profit a city, when there is no affordable place to break bread?" kind of everyday life sermons were preached.
And indeed, most of us need reminding about those sins of omission ? for a happier, a blessed, new year for all.