AROUND THE BLOCK by Tom Shachtman


The Business of a Neighborhood


 Shachtman returns to the turf of his 1991 Skyscraper Dreams, the business world of New York City, for a study of one year in the life of an urban block. The block in Manhattan bounded by Seventh and Eighth avenues, and 17th and 18th streets is ``an ordinary block in an in-between neighborhood in the biggest city in the country,'' Shachtman writes. As such, it makes a surprisingly good lens through which to view three trends going on in urban America: increased urbanization, a growing polarization between rich and poor as the middle class is driven out, and a concentration of economic power in the hands of large chain stores. Each of these trends comes into play during the year covered here (April 15, 1993, to April 15, 1994). Shachtman uses the block's three large companies (Nynex, Cahners, and the fashion emporium Barney's) and over a hundred small ones to illustrate the effects of rising rents, increasing tax burdens, and rapid technological change. Along the way, he offers some profoundly moving vignettes: A lumber-company proprietor commits suicide rather than allow a bank to foreclose on his business; a Korean-born professional is making his way in the New World as a liquor-store owner; a gay video-store proprietor finds himself battling the behemoth Blockbuster chain. The personal lives of the men and women who own businesses become deeply implicated in their survival, as Shachtman richly illustrates. Finally, he offers a bold thesis, that it is the small businesses of American cities that engage in real job creation and are the heart of the nation's economy, and he proposes a series of changes in US banking and governmental practices designed to bolster them. Despite the limitations of his pedestrian prose style, Shachtman conveys the drama of simple daily life in New York small business, and no one who reads this will ever walk down a city street and see it in quite the same way again. (8 pages photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-15-100077-8
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1997


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