Friday, February 08, 2008

Won't Wolf Down These Veggies

In today's NY Sun, the paper's Andrew Wolf looks critically at the mayor's green cart policy, and doesn't much like what he sees: "I maintain that if more customers in Harlem wanted to buy leafy vegetables, market forces personified by New York's very savvy bodega owners would be more than happy to fill their shelves with as much arugula as they can sell to meet this demand, just as they do on the Upper East Side. But selling produce is a high-risk proposition. If you invest in goods that will spoil in a matter of days, your investment is lost. A can of beans will keep for years. Even bags of potato chips have a shelf life of months. Bodega owners in Harlem and elsewhere simply are not ready to stock items that their experience tells them are not in demand, particularly ones that quickly spoil."

Wolf really nails the supply and demand issue here, and he understands that simply increasing the visible supply of produce won't really have the impact that the mayor envisions; but it will erode the business that the local stores who do supply fresh produce are providing the community: "Now even in these "underserved" neighborhoods, some bodegas stock greens, and there are some green grocers and supermarkets to be found as well. I suspect that these are located to meet demand, and that if we unleash hundreds of vendors on the streets, they will gravitate to these very same areas. It is not hard to see why these businesses, for the most part "mom and pop" operations, are concerned over this new competition. And it is hard to see how hundreds of vendors selling lettuce will increase demand."

So, as Wolf suggests, the mayor is simply projecting his own nutrition preferences on others, and Mayor Mike has very little if any concerns about the impact his experiment will have on the small business owner-in six years he never has.

Wolf then goes on to make the following suggestion: "Maybe the mayor should invest some of his own money into buying fruits and vegetables that he will offer to stores on a consignment basis. If the produce sells, the bodegas and the mayor share the profit. If it doesn't, it will be the mayor who will absorb the loss. I suspect that such an arrangement wouldn't last, and the mayor's foray into fresh produce would quickly come to an end."

Mayor Mike is both rich and powerful, but even with all of his resources he will not be able to repeal the laws of supply and demand; he will, however, be able to hurt the existing store owners who certainly deserve better nurturance and protection from a city that relies on them to keep our neighborhood economies vibrant.