Monday, August 24, 2009

More Fruits and Nuts

The NY Times had a short piece last week that, once again, attempted to extol the Green Carts program-this time in Jamaica. But the information we glean from the story creates a great deal of unacknowledged skepticism: "It’s not as if there’s nothing to eat along the bustling stretches of Jamaica Avenue: There are street vendors plying candies, nuts and chicken gyros; fast-food chains advertising value meals; and a food hall serving plates of chicken teriyaki. But the question has been where to buy a simple banana. Now fruit lovers have an answer."

But this so-called answer really raises more questions about a program that is, as we have said, a bad idea based on a false premise. Because, in the case of this "bustling" stretch of Jamaica Avenue where Rosa Prieto has plunked her cart, there was always a place to buy bananas; as the Times itself points out: "But not everyone is a fan of Ms. Prieto’s. Her presence has clearly angered Abdul Salam, who has operated a larger fruit stand tucked away across the street in Jamaica’s food hall for the past 10 years. He said that Green Carts like Ms. Prieto’s had hurt his sales and created “too much competition.” “Business is too slow,” he said."

But instead of exploring this avenue of inquiry, the Times simply coos on about Rosa the Rutabaga. But, how well is Rosa doing? And, is the field of dreams theory of the late unlamented Dr. Frieden actually working to generate heretofore unmet demand? Well, not really: "So far, Ms. Prieto’s profits have been modest enough that her brother says the business feels more like a hobby. But the siblings are determined to stick with fruit selling, which is the family business back in Ecuador, where their mother ran a stand in the markets."

Which seems to tell us that Mr. Salam is being forced to compete in a zero/sum environment with a vendor who has few of the same overhead and expenses that all small store owners have. At the end of the day, both produce sellers are likely to fall victim to the neighborhood's finite demand for their wares-and at a time when small retailers are hemorrhaging red ink this potential Green Cart program outcome is indefensible.

So, where is the oversight that the city council promised when this silly, but dangerous initiative was passed? And be forewarned: any evaluation that fails to consider the collateral damages to the city's Abdul Salams isn't worth a bucket of warm spit. We await-probably in vain-an honest accounting.