Phil Chang is doing it for New York

Behind the zine featuring New Yorkers and their favorite local businesses.

 If I had to trace my obsession with New York City back to one thing it would probably be the short-lived but beloved HBO series How To Make It In America. The show highlighted what I now believe to be a slightly fictionalized version of NYC, far from a fairy tale land like in Girls, but one that said “Hey, if you grind and mad shit falls into place, you MIGHT make it.” After that I began learning about the city and what fascinated me most was the walkability and amount of local businesses. I plan on moving to the city in the next year, but one of the things that bums me out the most about the move is white people wildin’ gentrification. Every week I open Twitter to see that a local institution has closed to be turned into a Starbucks or CVS Pharmacy.

Insert Creative Director of small business lender Bond StreetPhil Chang. Last summer, Phil and Bond Street launched For New York, an online zine featuring New Yorkers bigging up their favorite local businesses. They’ve featured a ton of cool people from NYC legends like Angie Martinez and Patrick Ewing to the next generation of greats like The Kid Mero and ItsTheReal.

I sent Phil a word doc of questions and he was kind enough to send back answers. What a guy!

Photo by Megan Collins of Stylegirlfriend.com.
I‘ve heard a variety of answers to the question “When do you officially become a New Yorker?”. It’s ranged from “You gotta spend X amount of time here” to more socioeconomic concerns, like taking on the values of the community you’re from/move to. What’s your answer?
I think this is true of any place: if you move somewhere to simply exist there, you’re extracting value from a preexisting local community that depends on the health of that city’s economic, cultural, social, political, and environmental ecosystems. In other words – you’re taking shit without giving back.

Living in the greatest city in the world is a privilege that’s earned.

As it pertains to New Yorkers – it doesn’t really matter to me how long you’ve lived here. I was born here and I feel like people who’ve spent less time than I have in the city are, in many ways, truer to it than I am. What I think distinguishes New Yorkers from people who aren’t is whether you’re of the city versus simply being in it. Are you contributing to New York City’s well-being? Are you respecting what and who was here before you showed up? Or are you one of those herbs who watched the chopped cheese video from earlier this year and went “Oh, boy! Finally – a real reason to explore uptown! #Umami!” Living in the greatest city in the world is a privilege that’s earned.

Bond Street is all about helping small businesses, which is awesome for obvious reasons, but the execution of For New York has been so dope to watch. What was the inspiration to do this as a zine?
Thank you! That means a lot, man. It was kind of a confluence of motivators:

1) There was a lot of urgency at Bond Street this past June to figure out communications that resonated with local, independent businesses and New Yorkers as a general audience. However, there wasn’t a lot of time and, as ever, not a ton of resources to get that something out the door. It needed cheap mlb jerseys to be “scrappy”; zines categorically define “scrappy.”

2) I was really bummed about the accelerating rate of closure for establishments like Pearl Paint, Lee’s Art Shop, and countless other NYC institutions. As we can all see, Manhattan and Williamsburg have devolved into haute garbaggio strip malls…that has as much to do with New Yorkers not standing behind their favorite spots as it has to do with external forces applying pressure on the city. I thought it’d be nice to give people a forum to big up businesses that are significant to them and explain why.

3) My strategy going into any project is thinking about who the necessary parties are and how each of them should benefit from the output. The only real metric for success I’ve ever weighed any project against is that everyone who touches it (end audience included) feels like they gained equitably from participating. I saw how the zine would accomplish this, so once that was clear it was all systems go.

In For New York, you typically ask your subjects to talk about 3 of their favorite local businesses. What are your 3 and why?
Everyone’s been like “shit. Three? I can’t choose five? Wait, I have like ten.” I’m no exception. But if I had to go with three, they’d be:

Faith Art Gallery – I’ve been living in downtown Brooklyn for four years now, and I’ve been taking art to Tony at Faith since I moved here. He’s easily the best dude who ever lived. Bring any piece to the shop and he’ll frame it for the ultra low (you can negotiate even further if you become a regular) while you go eat lunch. You read that correctly. This dude will beat any other framer’s usurious prices and finish the job in mere hours. Museum glass, UV protection, letterboxing, custom mats, whatever you want. Godbody. I just sent Jillionaire there and Tony is over the moon because “Lean On” is my man’s summer ANTHEM.

Forbidden Planet – Everyone seems to have elaborate reasons for why their comic book shop is the best – I don’t really have one. Forbidden was just the first place I walked into when I moved back to the States. And I guess I never stopped going back. This is when it was still on the corner at 13th where the goddamn Zumiez is now. The new joint has AC, though, and is only a block down from the OG, so…not that tragic as far as relocation stories go. If people are trying to find me on Wednesdays (new comic day), they’ll just walk into Forbidden rather than call me. Chances are I’ll be buried deep in new Image releases (probably by Rick Remender) in the back.

Ganso – So, in a CASH few years, with City Point nearing completion and a 73-story supertall going up over Junior’s (¯_(ツ)_/¯), my neighborhood will become the most congested hellhole in the entire borough. But, in the meantime, there aren’t too many options for good food unless you head into Fort Greene proper or Cobble Hill. The Ganso guys placed their bets super early and capitalized on that void. They started out as a sleeper hit ramen joint tucked away on Bond Street (no relation) off Fulton Mall. By steadily providing employment opportunities to locals and making great Japanese food accessible to the community, they’ve become this completely beloved downtown BK hangout. Earlier this year, they opened a new location closer to BAM that’s more a proper izakaya and sushi spot than it is a ramen-ya. Equally great food, though. I’m usually at the original location on weekends eating tonkatsu and reading a book.

What was the most surprising place anyone has picked?
I gotta give it up to Tamara Santibanez for taking me to Flower Power, an apothecary run by true life witches, and Eric Hu for showing me that hot pot can be redeemed slash has a bright, life-changing future in Thriving Steam Pot (Flushing stand up). I’ve taken at least fifteen people there, since. Also Dave 1 chose Ricky’s and said they should be the next brand Supreme does a collab with. I wholeheartedly agree.

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Tamara Santibanez at Flower Power.

What was your favorite local spot that’s been closed down and replaced with a major chain?
For people my age, chances are that Spoonbill & Sugartown was the first cool bookstore you bought something from in New York (The Strand doesn’t count). They’re not necessarily being shut down, but they’re moving east and rethinking the operation as a ceaseless torrent of calamitous, warm diarrhea splatters itself across the neighborhood formerly known as Williamsburg. If the original location ends up flipping into something big box and corporate…Jesus. That’ll be as grim as Max Fish passing away (at least that space got saved by John and the Sweet Chick crew, who are all Manhattan locals).

You’re moving to another part of NYC. What’s essential for you when choosing a new neighborhood? (ex: dope bakery near by, good neighborhood bar, etc.)
A big thing for me is checking if developers are providing low income housing options in the area, particularly if there are a lot of high rises going up. How are they counteracting the displacement of communities that already live in these neighborhoods? Gentrification, by definition, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What fucks everything up is relentlessly changing the composition of a neighborhood without empowering local, low income families to participate and share in middle class opportunities. Also, proximity to a movie Staying theater and at least one good dessert or pastry situation.

Gentrification, by definition, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What fucks everything up is relentlessly changing the composition of a neighborhood without empowering local, low income families to participate and share in middle class opportunities.

I’m sure you saw my last question coming from a mile away: Why is it important to support independent businesses?
Macro reason: the ongoing, demonstrable viability of independent businesses is the best argument against the idea that growth is the only metric for success in America. Our country is completely lost in its obsession with limitless growth – this is not a pursuit that is healthy or sustainable. It encourages young people to start businesses that are fundamentally predicated on extracting real value and converting that into ever-inflating, abstract returns for their Lomography investors and shareholders. I’m all about guapping out, but no one benefits from that model besides dick warts who don’t care about anyone besides themselves. And even they won’t benefit in the long run (which is why everyone demands an exit tomorrow), so, can we all please be fucking cool. Micro reason: Amazon Prime Now is my shit because I’m a lazy, hypocritical trash human. But there’s nothing like getting a recommendation or the homie discount from a business owner you’re friends with, not being judged for loitering in their spot for the entire day, and seeing (often literally) how your dollar helps that business do what it does better. I’ll pay extra every day of the week if I know I’m supporting real people who put a ton of effort into providing a service or goods for their community.

Phil also had some shoutouts:

  • David Haber, co-founder and CEO of Bond Street, for letting us bring this project to fruition.
  • Michael Jones, director of content at Bond Street, who I couldn’t have done this without.
  • Sam Novick, Mike’s right hand, who has been connecting the dots between everyone featured, Bond Street, and all the businesses mentioned since the project started.
  • Peter Vidani, Jackson, Anh-Thu Huynh, and Forrest Scofield for building the entire CMS/site and putting up with Mike and my bullshit.
  • David Brandon Geeting and Dorothy Hong for doing me huge favors and being incredible guest photographers.
  • Everyone who helped me connect with people who we wanted to highlight in the zine (esp. Jodi Sweetbaum, Christine Chu, Karen Wong, and Joy Yoon).
  • Everyone featured in the zine for offering up your time and thoughts.
  • Every business mentioned in the zine for keeping New York 100.