24 Jun 2008 7:35 am   //   Filed under: Food & drink, New York is different

The sidewalk economy

I work in a big office building in the East Village, a few blocks below Union Square. On a nice day, it’s impossible to walk around the neighborhood without being accosted. There are two kinds of distractions:

  • People who want money.
  • People who want to give you something for free.

The people who ask for the most money are with the United Homeless Organization, a dubious outfit whose supporters set up tables with blue water bottles and say, “Even a penny will help!” Second place is Greenpeace, which dispatches young and enthusiastic volunteers to humiliate themselves by flagging people down on the sidewalk to sign them up for contributions. Third place is people with pets and cardboard signs… Some may or may not be homeless, some may or may not be associated with animal shelters.

Only slightly less annoying are the “street teams” that give away free samples. Energy drinks, energy bars and other miracles of food science are common freebies. Yesterday I was handed an entire bag of free samples and coupons by one of the city’s big drug store chains. It contained:

  • Advil.
  • A Soyjoy bar.
  • A tablet of guava leaf extract marketed as a hangover cure.
  • A 2-ounce plastic bottle containing an “energy shot” fortified with vitamins and caffeine (but merely 8 calories).

I can imagine the marketing brief: We’re trying to target influential, busy, exhausted young people with discretionary income. Recommended location: East Village. What are they, drug dealers?