In the 1980s, I was introduced to a man who had worked various outdoor markets and planned to open a large magic/costume store in a prime Greenwich Village location. I found it a ludicrous concept, really, for such a limited clientele for the products in a very high-rent district of Manhattan. I was also not very impressed with this man overall. He was really quite crass, unsophisticated, and very oriented to making a buck. A huckster.
Of course, I was completely wrong, and the store was a huge success. I became one of his vendors, and since the shop was in the neighborhood where I live, I would visit occasionally, always privy to some conversation, typically tainted with vulgarity, racism or other unpleasantry. There was a wooden Indian figure on the street outside his door. On one occasion, when I visited the shop just before closing, I heard the owner say to his employee, "Bring in the f...kin' Indian and let's go home." It was almost as if he had disdain for his own crass commercialism but was compelled to do distasteful things anyway.
One of my most memorable visits was listening in on the owner's end of a phone conversation with a customer that went something like this:
"Yeah - we got shrunken heads. $19.95 and $99.95" [pause]
"The cheap one's got fake hair the expensive one's got real hair."
On yet another visit, he proudly showed me his new specials brochure. "What do you think?" he asked me. "It's like a Chinese menu - a little from column A and a little from column B." An absurd idea to me, but at this point I deferred to him, entirely knowing that he really did have great business instincts and the Midas touch - everything he did turned to gold. The cruder the idea, the better it seemed to work.
Every day, walking through the streets of New York City, I see restaurants PACKED, often with lines to get in, day after day, while others have wait staffs standing idly gazing at empty tables. I see businesses that are roughly put together but deliver what people want at good prices and are successful - places like Pearl Paint, Canal Rubber or Astor Place Haircutters. Some focus on the basics in their early years and then reinvent themselves in a grander, much more polished way, like B & H Photo. And yet, there are businesses started and operated by individuals with business education and acumen but fail miserably.
In Chinatown, hard work and low prices are the rule. The store in today's photo on the Bowery has no cachet and is not well known, glamorous, or special in any way. The name, Many Goods Corp., is completely unimaginative, likely only selected as a necessity for business incorporation. Like the magic/costume shop, these proprietors have an instinct. If I had to wager on who would be the survivor between a high-end SoHo retailer versus this shop in Chinatown, I'd say Don't Bet Against Many Goods :)
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