Friday, August 31, 2007

Market forces, my ass

My dear friend Marcus, who hails from Ireland and is a recent transplant to NYC, is flummoxed by the proliferation of nail salons in this city. In no other important world capital, certainly not Berlin, Paris, or London, does one see a nail salon on every block, sometimes even more.
"There is an obsession with nails in this town!", exclaims Marcus, and I am quick to point out that more than an obsession with nails, we have been invaded without prior consultation, as is usually the case with invasions.
Two people have patiently explained to me (when I threatened to write Mayor Bloomberg a letter) that this is capitalism: "it's what the market wants". Well, I do not buy this explanation. And frankly I am tired of hearing that endless amounts of unnecessary crap exist because the customers demand it. When did we all raise our collective voices and started demanding nail salons? I wasn't there that day. Everybody blames the customer. It is simply not true. Endless amounts of crap exist because companies make it in order the increase market share and then try to persuade us that we need it, not because we ask for it and can't live without it.
We do need some nail salons in NY, but certainly we do not need 2 nail salons in every block, just as we don't need five banks and two Subway sandwich stores in a two block radius or eleven Duane Reades in one neighborhood. Who says that this is what we want? This is what the high rents bring. In the case of banks, uglyass pharmacy chains or franchises, they are all big businesses that can afford to pay the steep rents. In the case of nail salons, ah, that is more mysterious.
True, the New York walking culture requires more pedicures. I didn't see that many women in Paris sporting nail polish on their toes. Here it looks bad if you don't. Men here are also increasingly prone to taking care of their nails. But this cannot account for the infestation of nail salons everywhere. We cannot all be clamoring for manicures and pedicures at such an alarming rate. So what is it?
My instinct, which is based on absolutely no proof, as instinct usually is, is money laundering operations. Of course, not every nail salon is sinister. The reason why they may be profitable is probably because they rely on very cheap labor. I bet the poor men and women that paint your nails and massage your calves are not getting richly compensated. In some places they barely speak English. But how many treatments do you need to sell to pay a Manhattan commercial rent? Who are the owners of these proliferating nail emporia? Something smells like smelly feet to me, that's all I'm saying.

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