Like the 25 cent Peep-O-Ramas that used to pepper 42nd Street, roll-down store grates will soon become a thing of the past.
First there was cigarette smoke. Then there were sugary foods. And now the city council is zeroing in on a new target it deems to be a blight worthy of extinction: roll-down storefront gates.
The creaking, often graffiti-tagged gates that mark the beginning and end of the workday – the ones that open and close like a garage, protecting the merchandise inside -- may soon be gone forever.
Well, not soon, exactly. It'll be, oh, about 17 years.
The city council voted earlier this week to ban the steel curtains that guard stores' wares from potential robbers and thieves by hiding what's inside, thus giving them less incentive to break in. However, gates that allow passersby to see inside the store will still be permitted,, according to The New York Times, and owners will have until 2026 to build new gates according to the acceptable model.
The vote to ban the roll-down gates was an unanimous 45-0. The goal? To minimize surfaces where vandals may be inclined to spray graffiti and provide quicker access should fire personnel or cops need to see inside to assess emergencies, reports the Times.
A vast number of small businesses – from banks to barber shops to salons and retailers – must comply with the legislation, which requires the installation of security gates that allow 70 percent of the area they shield to remain visible, reports the Times. Any new gates put in after July 1, 2011, must also abide by the new legislation.
Speaker Christine Quinn says the council voted to enact the legislation in 2026 to give small business owners plenty of time to make the changes.
“We took great pains in this bill to make sure we balanced quality-of-life issues and graffiti eradication with the real-life financial challenges small businesses are facing in this recession,” Quinn told the Times. “That’s why the bill has a lengthy time frame.”
There are probably tens of thousands of roll-down gates in the Carroll Gardens section of Brooklyn, but store owners in the area had no idea the council had voted to get rid of them, reports the Times. When informed, some managers said it was fine as long as the state paid for a new gate. No one in city council said anything about the government footing the bill, however.
Other owners argued they kept the steel gates for a good reason. They were fearful someone would smash the glass and steal what's inside – a mentality dating back 30 years to when concern over unchecked crime ushered in the emergence of window shopping.
So will the city's desire to eradicate graffiti usurp its responsibility to protect small businesses and their owners? Will the new bill invite a fresh wave of crime carried out by robbers intrigued by what they see in the windows? Or will graffiti artists, frustrated by the elimination of one of their most tried-and-true easels, seek other surfaces on which to scrawl their trademarks and initials – maybe City Hall?
We won't even start to find out until 2026. By then we may forget why we cared.