Amazon Enables Flourishing of Small Diverse Entrepreneurs

(p. A24) They are a religious community known for clinging to 18th-century fashions and mores — strict rules that keep men and women apart and constraints on attire, with men favoring black suits and formal hats and women in long sleeves and long skirts.

But when it comes to doing business, Hasidic Jews have become enamored with a distinctly 21st-century company: Amazon.

The ability to sell merchandise easily and relatively anonymously on Amazon has transformed the economies of Hasidic enclaves in Brooklyn, suburban New York and central New Jersey, communities where members prefer to keep to themselves and typically do not go to college, let alone graduate from business programs.

But Amazon allows Hasidim to start selling without much experience and without making the investments required by a brick-and-mortar store. It permits Hasidic sellers to deal with the public invisibly — almost entirely by mail, by email or through package-delivery firms.

“Amazon doesn’t ask for your résumé,” said Sam Friedman, a marketer who designs trade show exhibits and works with many Amazon sellers. “And your picture is not on your business. The investment is minimal. You can work out of your bedroom.”

. . .

If Amazon is fulfilling orders, the business may effectively be running on Sabbath and Jewish holidays, though how that is carried out is the subject of vigorous debate. With a Talmudic twist of logic, some Hasidic entrepreneurs take on a non-Jew as a presumptive partner, attributing profits made on the Sabbath to that person.

. . .

Mr. Friedman is . . . organizing a business, advertising and marketing expo in Brooklyn in December [2019] to help Hasidic merchants expand their online sales by contracting with experienced copy writers, web designers, videographers and other professionals whose occupations the Talmudic Sages never even dreamed of.

“We’re not college students,” Mr. Friedman said, “but the yeshiva makes us smart enough to figure things out.”

For the full story, see:

Joseph Berger. “Insular Hasidic Communities Embrace Selling on Amazon.” The New York Times (Thursday, October 17, 2019): A24.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 16, 2019, and has the title “How Amazon Has Transformed the Hasidic Economy.” The online version says that the article was on p. A26 of the New York edition. The article was on p. A24 of my National edition.)

“Misguided Regulations” Kill Ride-Hailing App

(p. B3) New York ride-hailing business Juno USA LP filed for bankruptcy protection, blaming its demise on minimum wage regulations and mounting lawsuits from drivers, riders and competitors.

. . .

Ride-hailing companies are grappling with efforts by several states to extend employment protections to gig workers. In the face of additional regulation, the ride-hailing industry has been consolidating and pushing back against government measures that could upend their business models.

Gett, which bought Juno in a $200 million equity-based deal, said the company’s demise stemmed from “misguided regulations” in New York City.

. . .

Juno generated $269 million of revenue last year, a 23% annual increase, according to court papers. But this year its costs escalated after the city put in place a pay floor for ride-hail drivers.

The wage regulation pushed customer prices up by nearly 20%, bringing Juno’s rides per day down to 25,000 immediately before the chapter 11 petition from 47,000 per day in 2017.

. . .

Juno also said it spent substantial money on legal fees to defend itself against lawsuits from drivers, riders and competitors alike that the company described as “opportunistic.”

Drivers have sued over unemployment insurance, saying they were employees rather than independent contractors, and over stock incentives.

For the full story, see:

Alexander Gladstone. “Ride-Hailing App Enters Bankruptcy, Blaming Wage Law.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 20, 2019, and has the title “Ride-Hailing App Juno Enters Bankruptcy, Blaming Wage Law.”)

“These Guys Are Selling Things to Better Their Lives”

(p. A20) The colorful bottles have popped up every summer in black and Hispanic communities — from the bodegas of Washington Heights to the stoops of Fort Greene — since the early 1990s. On beach boardwalks, at neighborhood basketball courts and block parties, New Yorkers are drinking nutcrackers, boozy homespun cocktails made from a blend of alcohol and fruit juices.

But this year, the New York Police Department is cracking down on the illegal drinks and the vendors who sell them, vendors and customers said.

. . .

But sellers and customers who believe there is a crackdown are alarmed, saying vital financial lifelines are threatened and raising the issue of which infractions police choose to focus on and which communities are scrutinized.

“It’s just another way to target us,” Dee said. “If I don’t sell nutcrackers, I can’t make my rent. I don’t have a choice.”

Most every Thursday in the summer, Dee clocks out from her job as an exterminator with the city and begins work on her illegal private enterprise.

After spending $600 or so at the liquor store nearby, she will lug her ingredients — cases of vodkas, rums, tequilas and cognacs — to her two-bedroom public housing apartment and into a dim, cramped back room where she will get to work making batches of her best sellers like Tropical Punch, Henny Colada and the Fort Greene Lean.

Dee’s concoctions will be poured into dozens, sometimes hundreds, of stubby plastic bottles and peddled all weekend to her longtime customers: old-timers playing dominoes in Bedford-Stuyvesant, basketball tournament crowds at Gersh Park in East New York, neighbors and friends in her old Flatbush neighborhood. They will all be waiting for her, she said.

On a good weekend, Dee will earn around $1,400 from nutcracker sales, enough to cover her rent, which has risen nearly $700 since 2015, she said.

. . .

“They always trying to beat us down,” said Jay, another nutcracker seller who preferred that his last name be withheld. Jay said he decided to venture into the business this summer as a way to get his music management business off the ground.

“This is going to buy studio time for my artist,” he said, nodding to the cooler he wheeled down the Coney Island boardwalk at sunset. “Ice-cold water,” he said loudly to passers-by, followed by a softer, more subtle “(Nutcrackers.)”

“Ice cold water!”

“(Nutcrackers).”

“These guys are selling things to better their lives,” said Sandra Anguiz, 30, after buying a cream-soda-flavored nutcracker from Jay. “Why are police worried about that?”

For the full story, see:

Aaron Randle. “Cracking Down on the Sweet, Boozy Staple of a City Summer.” The New York Times (Saturday, August 17, 2019): A20.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “Banned on the Beach? It’s Still Nutcracker Summer.” In the passages quoted above, the sometimes slightly longer online version is followed.)

New York City Regs Force Arthritic Woman to Push Cart to Laundromat Instead of Using Her Laundry Room

(p. A1) When Jean Harrow got a ticket in 2016 for unauthorized renovations to her Queens home, she thought it was a misunderstanding. Yes, she had put a powder room in her basement without realizing she needed a permit. But surely, she said, she wasn’t responsible for the washer and dryer a previous owner had installed downstairs — illegally, according to the $1,600 citation. She would simply explain that at her hearing.

As she waited to do just that, Ms. Harrow got a second ticket — for “failure to comply” with the first. In the 14 months after the original citation, she received five others for the same issue: $15,600 in additional fines. Each meant another hearing, and although she never missed a court date, the tickets kept coming.

Thousands of small property owners in New York City have been hit with a similar pileup of fines, an unintended result of a decade-long crackdown set off by fatal construction accidents. In recent years, the city’s Buildings Department has hired hundreds of new inspectors and doled out harsher penalties for violators. But rules introduced as a safeguard have become a costly trap for ordinary people, The New York Times found.

. . .

(p. A23) Ms. Harrow admits she made a mistake: She should have sought a permit to install the toilet and sink that piggybacked on plumbing already in her laundry room. But, she said she told the inspector, “I didn’t run those pipes — I bought it like this.”

To correct the violation, Ms. Harrow needed to have the unauthorized plumbing removed. Before she could get the permit, however, she had to pay a $1,500 civil penalty.

Pulling the money together took months. The receipt for the payment was lost, then found. Her permit request was rejected several times, because of errors a plumber had made on the application. She received another fine during this period.

At Ms. Harrow’s final hearing, the agency lawyer reduced two fines imposed after the permit came through. But Ms. Harrow was on the hook for the rest. Besides losing the bathroom, she would be out $13,100 in fines plus interest, as well as permit costs, plumbers’ fees, two taxi fares, and a washer and dryer. A different permit would have allowed her to keep the laundry room, but the process would have been even more expensive.

“Now I have to be pushing a cart to go to the wash,” she said. “I have rheumatoid arthritis.”

Ms. Harrow said she tried to put $50 a month toward the fines. “But sometimes, to tell you the truth, I can’t make it.”

For the full story, see:

Grace Ashford. “Snowballing Tickets Bury Homeowners in Debt.” The New York Times (Monday, September 9, 2019): A1 & A22-A23.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “The Law Was Aimed at Deadly Machinery. It Hit Her Washer.”)

Chester Arthur Reformed Civil Service After Reforming Himself

(p. A15) One of America’s obscure vice presidents was Chester A. Arthur, a machine politician from New York. No one thought of him as presidential timber, least of all Arthur himself. He was chosen as the Republican vice presidential candidate in 1880 only to pacify the corrupt yet powerful boss of the New York Republican Party, Sen. Roscoe Conkling, who had fought against the nomination of reform-minded James A. Garfield for president.

Then Garfield was assassinated soon after entering the White House and the machine hack was suddenly President of the United States.

. . .

But reform was in the air. Rutherford B. Hayes, elected president in 1876, had run on a platform promising to overhaul the civil service. He ordered a 20% staff cut at the Custom House, followed by an executive order forbidding “assessments” and barring federal workers from performing political work on or off the job. . . .

When Arthur unexpectedly became president, nearly everyone expected that the federal government would soon return to business as usual. It didn’t. Conkling wanted Garfield’s Custom House appointee fired and his own man put in, so he could use the patronage to fuel his political machine. Arthur refused. “For the vice presidency I was indebted to Mr. Conkling,” Arthur explained. “But for the presidency of the United States, my debt is to the Almighty.”

Mr. Greenberger also highlights the remarkable role that a perfect stranger played in Arthur’s transformation. Julia Sand, a semi-invalid living with her family on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, wrote Arthur a series of letters encouraging, warning and criticizing him, consistently urging him to overcome his corrupt past. He visited her only once, unexpectedly, but carefully preserved her letters even though he burned most of his other papers.

Her encouragement had its effect. In his first annual message to Congress, Arthur called for civil service reform and the reactivation of the moribund Civil Service Commission. In his second message, he called on Congress to pass laws banning assessments and requiring competitive examinations for civil service positions. Under public pressure, Congress quickly complied.

. . .

Even Mark Twain—no apologist for politicians—wrote that “it would be hard indeed to better President Arthur’s administration.”

“The Unexpected President” is popular history, dependent on secondary sources, especially Thomas Reeves’s magisterial biography of Arthur, “Gentleman Boss.” But it generally avoids the pitfalls of the genre, such as assuming facts not in evidence in the sources. Above all, Scott Greenberger’s slim, well-written biography is a worthy tale of redemption—of a wandering man who, suddenly finding himself president, rose to the occasion and did his duty.

For the full review, see:

John Steele Gordon. “BOOKSHELF; Growing Into the Office; Chester Arthur was a product of the New York patronage machine. Then Garfield was killed, and suddenly the political hack was president.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 27, 2017, and has the same title as the print version.)

The book under review is:

Greenberger, Scott S. The Unexpected President: The Life and Times of Chester A. Arthur. New York: Da Capo Press, 2017.

“He Wrote Simple Declarative Sentences That People Could Read”

(p. B16) Steve Dunleavy, a hell-raising Australian who transfused his adrenaline into tabloid newspapers and television as a party crasher to American journalism, died on Monday [June 24, 2019] at his home in Island Park, N.Y.

. . .

He was said to have been the model for Wayne Gale, the manic Australian reporter played by Robert Downey Jr. in Oliver Stone’s 1994 film “Natural Born Killers.” But he gravitated closer to the Runyonesque characters in Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s play “The Front Page” from 1928.

. . .

After the actress Ava Gardner rejected his invitation to be interviewed at a nightclub and threw a glass of champagne in his face, he wrote an article that began: “Last night, I shared a glass of champagne with Ava Gardner. She threw it; I wore it.” Continue reading ““He Wrote Simple Declarative Sentences That People Could Read””

Regulators Allowed New York City to Exploit Taxi Medallion Buyers

(p. A1) . . . The New York Times published a two-part investigation revealing that a handful of taxi industry leaders artificially inflated the price of a medallion — the coveted permit that allows a driver to own and operate a cab — and made hundreds of millions of dollars by issuing reckless loans to low-income buyers.

The investigation also found that regulators at every level of government ignored warning signs, and the city fed the frenzy by selling medallions and promoting them in ads as being “better than the stock market.”

The price of a medallion rose to more than $1 million before crashing in late 2014, which left borrowers with debt they had little hope of repaying. More than 950 medallion owners have filed for bankruptcy, (p. A20) and thousands more are struggling to stay afloat.

For the full story, see:

Niraj Chokshi. “New York’s Top Lawyer Begins Inquiry Into Reckless Taxi Loans.” The New York Times (Tuesday, MAY 21, 2019): A1 & A20.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 20, 2019, and has the title “Inquiries Into Reckless Loans to Taxi Drivers Ordered by State Attorney General and Mayor.” Where the online version includes a few extra words, or slightly different wording, the quotes above follow the online version.)