New York Daily Photo Analytics

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

One Screw

I knew times had changed when hardware stores stopped selling screws one at a time and began packaging them. No matter that you don't want or need twenty pieces of a #8 x 3/4" machine screw - you're getting them all anyway. Now, we are happy just to find a hardware store.

On the corner of 7th Street and Avenue A, abutting Tompkins Square Park, you will find an outdoor bike repair shop with parts, tools, and bicycles in various states of repair spread curbside on the street. The Bike Man has plied his trade, off and on, in the East Village since the mid-1970s. (He is not alone, however. Natividad Zirate, who hails from California and is homeless, repairs bikes at 2nd Avenue and Houston Street.)

There are many unanswered questions in New York City, and talking to the Bike Man raises many more. The Bike Man, aka Peter Corbin, is not eager to share many details of his life or background. The New York Times was able to glean a few:

"At 51, Mr. Corbin is likewise a lifelong bike tinkerer, a vocation that began with his first bike, which he rode for a delivery job when he was a teenager in Springfield, Mass. Unlike Mr. Zirate, he is married, not homeless and claimed to be unaware of any rival shop nearby. His wife Charlotte helps him move his substantial number of spare parts, tools and half-completed jobs to and from their $450 a month apartment on Avenue C to his corner on Avenue A. 'She works pretty hard,' he said."

Technically, someone like the Bike Man should not be vending without a permit. But permits are virtually impossible to get. There is currently a cap of 853 permits for non-food vendors. The city has a waiting list and is not taking any more names.

There is often a tolerance and sensitivity by the police in New York City to the character of a community and commonplace activities there. When someone is in violation of the law and the "crime" is essentially victimless, particularly where there is a history of a type of activity, the police may turn a blind eye. And there is great sympathy when someone is working hard and trying to earn a livelihood. Who wants to take someone's job away?

A retail shop, paying substantial rent and taxes, is not going to be enamored to compete against street vendors who sell the same goods opposite them, paying no rent, charging no sales tax, and reporting no income. However, New York City has lost many essential services. Who wants Peter Corbin's work and who can afford to provide it? Who's going to sell you that one one screw?

Note Regarding Vendor Permits from the New York Times: "Veterans are exempt from the permit cap; there are currently 1,678 licensed veteran vendors, according to the city. There is also a First Amendment exception to the licensing process for selling books, art and other speech-related items." See my story of the Bubble Man here.


Mary said...

Pretty big opeation he's got going there.

Anonymous said...

All of this topics are better than al of the common travellin books and gives me a glimps of the real life in the city bevore I go to NYC for the first time next week.

Thanks from germany

Thérèse said...

Real Life.
I like everything in the top picture.

Sabina Knox said...

Photos are brilliant particularly the top one, its the colors that do it for me.

Mirela said...

What an amazing graffiti on the wall behind that man! We have a few hardware stores left in the city, most are a part of a large chain of stores, and everything else can be found in DIY department stores (Bauhaus, Baumax). You can buy screws packaged in dozens or more, but also weigh them (so technically, you can buy just one screw). All in all, as you mentioned, those old times are gone...