I first noticed a pizza place advertising a 75 cent slice walking down 6th Avenue near Penn Station a few months ago. I don’t know if the 75 cent pizza itself is bad, I mean it says bad things about the state of the city’s economy. I’m all for cheap food, but this scares me a little. I can’t ever remember pizza being under a dollar a slice in my lifetime and I’m no spring chicken. As far as I know, the price of flour, sauce, and cheese are more expensive than they were in, say, 1988. So, how can one possibly squeeze out a profit on that?
According to owners of the two spots doing it, you can’t, or at least they both claimed so in this New York Times article. Apparently the whole thing is a just a stubborn feud between two neighboring pizza places that formerly sold 99 cent slices, and not part of a widespread pattern. It still seems mildly disconcerting in a city that seems more divided than ever between have and have-nots. The working and lower middle class are feeling so squeezed that they are happy to save a quarter on a slice of pizza. And the people who are selling cheap pizza are so pressured by competition that they’ll try to scramble together a living on what cannot be a large profit margin. From the outside we must all look like ants scurrying after crumbs while, gasp, the rich get richer (as an aside, most depressing line from that linked article: “The average income of the vast majority of taxpayers in 2010 was just a smidgen more than the $29,448 average way back in 1966”).
Another place in the cheap food pantheon where prices have dropped in the last 10 years has been hot dogs. Around the beginning of the last decade, it became almost impossible to get a hot dog for a dollar anymore. Most street vendors sold them for 1.50, some charged 2.00 or more if they were in a tourist heavy area.
Then suddenly, the city became flooded with Halal carts selling mostly processed lamb gyros or chicken over rice. These carts themselves have been around for a while, but they weren’t many of them, no more than one in a few block radius and not in every neighborhood. I remember one by NYU, one by 28th and Park, and the one on 6th ave in the 50’s that is now somehow become a famous foodie destination. Most of them were lunchtime carts that went home when the office day ended.
But, in the last 5 years or so, these carts have started popping up anywhere there was nightlife. Some carts just stayed in the same spot day and night, seemingly never moving at all. When they first appeared, it seemed like these cars existed more for people who ate Halal food, like say, most cabdrivers, than for drunk people. Then, I think the Halal cart people realized there was gold in them there hills, and started happily adding cheesesteaks, hamburgers, and hot dogs to their menus. At some point in the last few years, as the number of these carts multiplied, especially in nightlife heavy areas, the hot dog price dropped to 99 cents. New York had become a town of 99 cent slices and 99 cent hot dogs.
A few months ago on Broadway just south of Houston, I walked by an area that has mutiple Halal carts on weekend nights. Imagine my surprise when I see one of them advertising 89 cent hot dogs. Again, no one loves cheap street food more than me, and I love saving money, but this just seems sad. Is this where we’re all heading? The gulf between the rich and poor gets wider and wider and the majority of us on the wrong side of that divide literally nickel and dime each other to death? More importantly, what other formerly dollar items will end up in the bargain basement category? There is a deli near me that is selling cans of Coca Cola at two for a dollar. Hmmm…