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Empty Storefronts in My Town 2009


Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge MA 02138 - Sept 2009

Click here: Pictures of Empty Storefronts Slideshow]

Why pictures of empty storefronts?  It’s simple.   Every day, weather permitting, I walk to work. I go from one of the wealthier parts of the Boston area – Coolidge Corner Brookline Mass (birthplace of JFK, home to many doctors, professors, and other upper income folk) through Allston (a less well-to-do  neighborhood) to my offices at NBER near Harvard Square, home of the world’s wealthiest university. NBER is the economic think tank that declares when the US is in recession and when it is in recovery and boom.

This winter and spring as I walked I noticed something that I had never seen before in all the years I have worked at Harvard and NBER. Every week or so I would notice another empty store. Sometimes there would be two or three stores in succession with for rent signs. Sometimes just one store surrounded by stores with signs proclaiming sales. Often one side of the street would have the empty stores and the other would not, perhaps by chance, perhaps for some reason. I began counting … 1,2, … 7. The numbers got higher as the months went on. The Great Recession seen daily through one person’s walk to work.

The press talks about the too big to fail banks and big financiers with huge bonuses that our tax moneys have bailed out. Behind each of those closed stores there is a story about what the bankers did to ordinary American business-folk and their employees that somehow does not make that much press.

You won’t see the empty storefronts on the Google geography, Those pictures were taken in 2006 before the Wall Street bankers screwed the US economy and destroyed so many small businesses and their employees.

When people ask me, how is Boston doing, I do not give them the standard economic figures: unemployment is about the national average, the housing market is nowhere near as bad as in some other parts of the country, etc. Instead I tell them about the empty store fronts along major shopping streets.

When people ask me, how is Harvard doing, I do not tell them the latest scoop on Professor Gates vs the Cambridge police. Instead I tell them about the empty store fronts in the Harvard Square area.

So the  purpose of this blog is to document with pictures what this Great Recession has done to one of the best parts of American capitalism:  the small businesses or stores and their owners and employees.

The economic stimulus will hopefully soon bring about a recovery in the US economy. NBER will  declare that the recession ended as GDP grows enough to fit its technical definition. But not until I see the storefronts here open with businesses, providing jobs for normal workers, and services and goods to consumers will I believe we will truly have recovered. I will take pictures of the same stores when that occurs.

ADD YOUR PICTURES AND VIEWS:   Post pictures of empty stores in your neighborhood and city.  Give your thoughts and experiences in this Great Recession.  Documenting what has happened in this way may do more to remind the country and our leaders of what happens when they let the financiers run wild than the dry statistics of national income accounting.   And when the storefronts are no longer empty, we will have a real metric  of the resilience of our economy and the benefits of the economic stimulus.

Pictures of Empty Storefronts

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