American Sociological Association

Shopping Streets and Neighborhood Identity: Retail Theming as Symbolic Ownership in New York

As the economies of production and trade have dwindled in Western cities, urban locales have had to capitalize on other opportunities for growth. Middle and upper class consumers are now sought after resources for cities and neighborhoods once supported by manufacturing. This article considers the role of local retail actors in shifting neighborhood identity towards luxury consumption. Important in this transformation is the process of theming by which business owners rely on cues from the neighborhood's identity and institutions, incorporate these cues into decisions for their own businesses, and thereby reify or change neighborhood identity. By tracing changes on shopping streets in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Manhattan's Lower East Side, I show how retail theming interacts with neighborhood identity. Interviews with storeowners and archival retail data illuminate how choices made by entrepreneurs or coporations contribute to dramatic aesthetic changes on the street. As the neighborhood identities change, existing long‐term residents and less wealthy visitors become excluded from the local shopping streets and lose ownership over neighborhoods.


Sara Martucci





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