As Amazon prepares to build its new HQ in Long Island City, let’s all take a deep breath and remind ourselves: New Yorkers don’t need Amazon at all.
Since November, when New York was picked as the “winner” of a months-long tax-cut bidding war for Amazon’s new headquarters, New Yorkers have been dreading what Bezos’ behemoth will do to our city — like crowd our already-crowded trains, jack up our already-jacked-up real estate prices, and bring even more tech bros in Patagonia vests to our shores.
Even if every single New Yorker stopped shopping on Amazon, we still couldn’t save Long Island City. But at least here, unlike some commercially underserved parts of the country, we can thumb our noses at Amazon by shopping local.With retail conveniences like bodegas, courier services, and big-box mom-and-pop-shop Jack’s 99¢ store — the IRL answer to Amazon’s brand-ambiguous, endless assortment of cheap and sometimes sketchy products — we’ve got everything we could ever order online no further than a subway ride away.Your local corner store is likely your first-aid kit, occasional kitchen, and sometime secret keeper. But if Amazon were to erect the kind of pop-up experience that has become ubiquitous on the retail landscape, it would conjure an exact physical replica of Jack’s. Need-it-now New Yorkers have been snapping up discounted products from Jack’s since 1991, when a “portable” Macintosh computer weighed six pounds and Amazon Prime was just a twinkle in Jeff Bezos’s eye.”When you look at the retail landscape,” says Jeff Lenard, the VP of Strategic Industry Initiatives at the National Association of Convenience Stores, “the only numbers seeing growth are convenience stores and dollar stores. New York is the ultimate in convenience. I don’t know if somebody with the internet could get the items any quicker than a New Yorker could.”
Although countless mom-and-pop groceries, bookstores, and department stores have been elbowed out of the city by Amazon’s prices and two-day shipping, Jack’s three Midtown locations have managed to stay open. In fact, on a recent Saturday afternoon, the flagship store on 32nd between Sixth and Seventh is packed full of Christmas shoppers in their corporeal forms.It’s December 1, and the store’s entrance is decked in the Made in China holiday spirit: novelty-sized candy canes; Frozen stockings; red and green sweatpants; ornaments in the shape of tiny high heels with strings of rhinestone-securing hot glue clearly visible. Lindsay Sullivan, 22, and her roommates are in the Christmas section on an emergency shopping mission. The party they’ve planned for tonight has been nearly spoiled by a late Amazon delivery.”We’re throwing a Christmas rager,” says Sullivan, a sales intern at Rebecca Minkoff, “but the supplies I ordered got delayed and now we’re panicking. We’re here to find some last minute cheap decor.” She gestures towards the next aisle with the red tinsel in her hand. “But the Christmas stuff really shouldn’t be next to the clams.”Like other dollar stores, Jack’s makes its money on an indiscriminate and ever-changing assortment of discontinued, overstocked, or underperforming items. They buy in bulk, at deep discounts, and sell the product quickly to Midtown crowds.”There are a lot of people who are getting hurt by Amazon,” says Jack Franco, 60, the owner of the eponymous Jack’s. “They’re closing their businesses, they’re having all kinds of problems, and they’re looking to unload merchandise. We get the first phone call. There’s not many games in town at this point.”Not everything at Jack’s costs 99¢ (a nine-piece nativity scene is going for $7.99), but items are priced to move. The department store setup includes groceries, apparel, housewares, beauty, souvenirs, and party supplies. Jack’s has all the whosits and whatsits and household supplies you’d order from Amazon. A small army of minimum-wage associates criss-cross the store with big red carts to restock the shelves as quickly as they’re emptied.As Jack’s tweeted from @jacks99world to its 413 followers: “Why wait for 2-day shipping when you can get it now?”
Indeed, the store as a whole gives the impression of an Amazon “Saved for later” cart come to life. Around the corner from the Christmas section, 12-packs of Pleasure Ribbed Lifestyles Condoms are merchandised across from Rite Aid-brand Plantar Faciitus [sic] Cold Wraps. In the toiletries aisle, a Listerine bottle in Malay promises “Melawan 99% kuman penyebab bau mulut dan plak.“Part of the thrill of shopping IRL is the surprise of the selection — for better or for worse. “Here, you’ll come in for one thing and leave with seven others,” says Vanessa Lopez, a sales assistant from Brooklyn who’s been lingering over some mugs. “That’s what’s fun about Jack’s.”When you search “mug” on Amazon, the algorithm offers up an approved assortment of sponsored and SEO-optimized results. Add “Asmwo Color Changing Heat Sensitive Magic Funny Art Mug Large Coffee Tea Plum Blossom Porcelain Mugs for Women Mom grandma Gifts 16oz Black Change Glow Red Cups” to Cart? It’s $14.99, and Prime members can have it delivered by tomorrow if they order by 2pm.But if you buy a mug at Jack’s, you can have it today, for 99¢. While you’re there, you can also find things you didn’t even know you needed. The physical space allows you to browse, touch, smell, laugh at a truly heinous painting of a woman and a lion, decide if you want to swing the 99¢ for lime lip balm or microfiber cloths or Nag Champa-scented incense.”When you’re a retailer,” says Franco, “you’re in the entertainment business. If you entertain them, they leave feeling happy. It’s an ambiance that goes through them, and then they walk out with a bag.”Aracely Leiva, 40, is being entertained in the kitchen aisle, where she’s considering a gray plastic dishpan. “I would have never bought this on Amazon,” she says. She decides to put it in her shopping basket. “Jack’s is one of the stores I like to check in on. Is it still here? It will inevitably disappear. New York is always changing.”One thing that never changes? New Yorkers’ need to have everything close, cheap, and now. Amazon can beta-test all the drones they like (actually, please don’t), but they’ll have to pry bodegas and corner stores from our cold, dead, crippled-by-swipe-induced-arthritis fingers.That light and sweet coffee just wouldn’t be the same if it was brought to you by the dark machinations of Bezos instead of the deli guy who knows your dog’s name and how much you like Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.”Most of my customers are regulars,” says Miriam Santiago, 27, the store manager of the Bridges General convenience store at 11 Madison Avenue. “When I see them, they make my morning.”Although data from Proper Insights & Analytics shows that 43% of US consumers now have a Prime membership (up from 20% in 2013), Amazon just can’t seem to get us to give up our bodegas. According to NACS, the number of convenience stores nationwide rose 0.3% in 2018, continuing the growth that’s been trending since 2010.
“There’s still the human connection,” says Lenard. “Simply walking into a store and using those vocal chords is refreshing. Local stores are working in the community. They’re giving back to the community. They’re a place to gather, a place to check in, to feel engaged and involved. If your power goes out, you’re going there. You’re not going online.”If you still can’t bear to speak to a stranger or have someone see you in your sweatpants, you can always use one of the many delivery services that let you shop local from the glowing comfort of your phone.Postmates, a courier startup founded in 2001, lets local businesses — including Jack’s 99¢ store — use its delivery infrastructure to compete against Amazon. “By putting tools in the hands of these merchants,” reads a blog by Dan Mosher, Postmates’ Merchant Lead, “our on-demand marketplace is able to grow the brick and mortar businesses in our towns at a point in history when e-commerce goliaths threaten their existence.” When you order from Jack’s on the app, a box instructs you to “Order Anything: Tell us what you want and we will send a Postmate to get it for you.””The original intention for Postmates was always to enable local merchants to better compete against internet retailers,” says a Postmates spokesperson, “so by focusing on e-commerce, we’re better able to serve local and national merchants by getting our customers exactly what they need in a very short amount of time.”
The items that New Yorkers order most on Postmates are things they just can’t wait two days for, like Advil, 5-hour Energy drinks, AA batteries, toothbrushes, tampons, toilet paper, and pregnancy tests. “If you run out of toilet paper,” says the spokesperson, “time is of the essence.”On the other hand, leaving your house to pick up some toilet paper really isn’t that bad, in the grand scheme of 2018. You might have to talk to someone, but that might even feel… good. Sure, putting on pants and walking a block is a little less convenient than pressing the Amazon Prime Charmin Dash button you keep next to your toilet. But is pressing your toilet button really worth your humanity, or New York’s? Maybe optimizing convenience to its absolute limit isn’t the path to happiness, after all. As Jeff Bezos readies his helicopter to land in the LIC helipad New Yorkers are paying for with his 1.5 billion tax break, remember that New York already has everything you could ever want and need — and even some stuff you don’t.When asked whether New Yorkers need Amazon Prime, an Amazon spokesperson referred to the 2018 “Best of Prime” press release, which boasts that one of the fastest Amazon Prime deliveries was in Seattle, Washington; a bottle of pinot noir in nine minutes. As in, more time than it takes to get to your local liquor store and back.As for Jack Franco? Well, he’s not totally convinced you’ll make it out of your house. “Jack’s has a number of things that are going to be happening in the online world,” he says. “I’m not sure that anybody can survive on brick and mortar alone anymore.” He laughs. “I’m guilty of shopping on Amazon, too.”So consider this: Delete your account. Take a refreshing swig of some Indonesian Listerine. Step away from your computer and into the world. Allow yourself to be surprised by what you find.Sign up here for our daily NYC email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun New York has to offer.
As spring makes its way through New York City, not only do we get to enjoy beautiful weather, stunning cherry blossoms, and cool activities priced at $Free.99, but it’s also the perfect time for some limited-edition desserts.
With Easter fast approaching, bakeries are filling their shops with tons of chocolate eggs, carrot cake-flavoured everything and all types of flavours that offer both nostalgia and innovation within the city’s dessert landscape. After you’ve picked up a cake from the city’s best new bakeries, from Easter Bunny Churros to Carrot Cake Macarons, here are 8 Easter desserts to try in NYC right now.
Throughout April Various locations
There’s great news for devotees of Magnolia Bakery’s Classic Banana Pudding: For Easter, the spot is mixing up the iconic dessert’s vanilla pudding with some carrot cake. The Carrot Cake Pudding is filled with freshly grated carrots, coconuts, pineapples, raisins, and walnuts. And if both bananas and carrots aren’t your thing, they’ll be offering their Classic Vanilla Cupcakes in pastel colours with a Cadbury chocolate egg hidden inside.
Through Easter Sunday NoHo and Seaport
Known for their celebrity face and meme-worthy decorated cookies, fans of Funny Face Bakery know that a new fun design is always just around the corner. For Easter, they’ve created the adorable Hoppy Easter decorated cookie that resembles a classic box of marshmallow Peeps. Along with that, they also have the return of their fan-favourite Caramel Pretzel Chip cookie flavour, plus a set of three mini-decorated cookies perfect for gifting.
Friday, April 7 through Easter Sunday West Village
With the ever-changing flavours at The Doughnut Project, it’s super easy to miss out on trying out a new debut. But this Easter weekend, there will be two new flavours available. One is of course, a carrot cake doughnut topped with a cream cheese glaze, and the other is known as the Doughnut Nest-a French cruller “nest” with a cream-filled doughnut hole “egg” in the centre.
Wednesday, April 5 through Easter Sunday East Village
For stellar vegan desserts this holiday, head to The Fragile Flour, a plant-based bakery and dessert wine bar. They’re known for going all out for each holiday with a variety of new pastry options that you can pair perfectly with a glass of wine. This Easter, they’ll have a whole dessert menu that’s both delicious and gorgeous for posting on IG. The menu includes Stuffed Carrot Cake Cookies, a Lemon Cake (whole or by the slice), some festive cupcakes, and specialty macarons.
Through mid April Midtown
For a luxurious take on Easter chocolates, browse the selections available at Kreuther Handcrafted Chocolate. You can even pick the Easter Signature Chef’s Selection for a special box curated by award-winning chefs. For something other than chocolate, choose between the Carrot Cake Macarons or the cake flavored Easter Marshmallow Trio, both of which are almost too cute to eat.
Throughout April Nolita
This churro-centric spot is putting the cutest Easter spin on their crispy cinnamon churros by twisting them up into bunnies and bunny ears. At Churreria, choose from a Bunny Churro Lollipop topped with your choice of chocolate or dulce de leche and sprinkles, or the bunny ear churros in the Ube and Matcha ice cream sundae or the Ube Milkshake, both of which are made with ice cream from il laboratorio del gelato.
Throughout April NoHo
You’ve surely seen this croissant tons of times while scrolling through IG or TikTok, whether it’s the Pain au Chocolat one or the latest of the month. Known as Suprêmes, these filled croissants went viral and continue to live up to the hype each time a new flavour comes out. April’s flavour-sour cherry amaretto with a Luxardo custard and toasted almonds. While you’ll have to be super early and wait in line during one of their three drops of the day to get a taste, we promise you it’ll be worth it.
Seasonal Various locations
We all know the iconic cookies from Levain-they’re gigantic, perfectly crispy and chewy, and well worth the long lines. For spring, the shop is launching a new flavour: Caramel Coconut Chocolate Chip. Filled with gooey caramel chips, fresh shredded coconut, and melty dark chocolate, it’s one you’ve got to try while it’s still around. To further celebrate the new season, all of Levain’s storefronts will be decked out in spring floral displays, serving as the perfect backdrop for pictures.
Alaina Cintron is an Editorial Assistant at Thrillist. Her work can also be found in Westchester Magazine, Girls’ Life, and Spoon University. When she’s not at her desk typing away, you can find her exploring a local coffee shop or baking a new recipe.