Is the american dream still achievable? That's the question underlying Around the Block: The Business of a Neighborhood (Harcourt Brace & Co.), Tom Shachtman's account of a year in the life of one group of New York City businesses, beginning April 13, 1993. The protagonists are not Fortune 500 CEOs but, rather, local dry cleaners, shop owners and the like. In this excerpt, Shachtman writes of one former high school science teacher who gambles his life savings to become an eyewear entrepreneur, and a pair of struggling restaurateurs who hope their newly retooled establishment will pull in more neighborhood patrons. It's the stuff of real-life, nitty-gritty entrepreneurship--and dreams.
1993--Sight on Seventh, scheduled to open May 15 on the east side of Seventh Avenue, is the brainchild of a former Long Island science teacher. Myron Michaels retains the studious and inquisitive air of the science classroom, leavened with ebullience and energy. Middle-aged, with thinning hair, Michaels wears crisp shirts and, of course, very stylish eyewear. Before signing his lease, he recalls, "I went down to the Bureau of Records and worked the computer, calling up demographic data, foot-traffic patterns, that sort of thing." The results of his research excited him: The residents in the area were for the most part middle class, relatively young, but with significant disposable income. To be just a few steps from [clothing store] Barney's, he believes, will mean many potential customers already primed to buy quality, stylish merchandise.
There is competition two blocks south, a branch of a four-unit chain called Myoptics, but Michaels considers it far enough away so as not to detract from his own business. His customer base, he believes, will come from the many apartment buildings and businesses around here. He reminds a listener that the American population is aging and that older people need eyewear and that younger people are also spending more money on eyewear, conceiving of it as a stylish clothing accessory.
Only time will tell whether Michaels's assumptions about his location and the population he can serve are right or wrong, but at the outset, Michaels is upbeat and has a specific reason for optimism: He is on an approved-provider list of the Traveler's, the insurance company that covers many Nynex employees--and a Nynex facility is right across the street.
"You have to have certain minimum spatial requirements to properly measure how a patient reads the letter chart," says Michaels. The smallness of his space has been an intriguing design problem. It's been a challenge to fit in the examining area for the optometrist who will come in one day a week, the display counters, the storage space for frames, and still have enough room so customers won't feel crowded.