An Economic Lesson from 9/11

How capitalism helped save lower Manhattan

Ira Stoll
Reason Magazine

…This week, I returned and took a walk around that Chambers Street block, along with a few of the streets one block in each direction. What a remarkable place. Food-wise, the options include at least two high-end Italian restaurants and two low-end pizza joints, sushi, “Tex-Mexican,” two French restaurants, a Puerto Rican restaurant, and the Pakistani Tea House, whose window displays, along with two brief New York Times write-ups, a certificate issued by the New York Press newspaper in 1998 naming it “Best Halal Cab Stand.” Chains, such as McDonald’s, Subway, and Starbucks, coexist with one-of-a-kind establishments.

What was in 2001 a vacant two-story building at the corner of Chambers and West Broadway has been replaced with a fancy 11-story hotel. One storefront offers Chinese traditional acupuncture; another, Brazilian waxing. Businesses catering to children and parents—a paint-it-yourself ceramics studio, the Tribeca Treats cupcake bakery, Gymboree—mix with bars, dry-cleaners, cellphone dealers, a health club, and a school of barbering. A sign advertises a multimillion-dollar duplex apartment for sale above a thrift shop.

At Zucker’s Bagels and Smoked Fish, the bulletin board bristles with advertising for yet more businesses, these mostly too small for storefronts—“At-Home Pilates,” “Marlene’s Cleaning,” “LSAT Tutor,” “Need Child Care?” “Learn HTML.” Someone is even trying to turn the poster business into a business—“Get paid to post flyers!”

Perhaps 60 percent of the businesses are newly created in the past decade. At least one, a grocer, has been there since 1885.

The contrast with ground zero, where a government agency was in charge of rebuilding and a decade later there are still no buildings complete or businesses open, is stark. Of course, the challenges of the ground zero site itself were and are much greater, including the sensitivities of victims’ families. And government provided some incentives in the neighborhood that surrounded the site as well. But the greatest incentives were the potential rewards that come to entrepreneurs who pursue their dreams in a free enterprise system…

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