For over 20 years, I've been going to Katz's deli on the Lower East Side. I go because I love the atmosphere, the history, the aroma. I get hot dogs, mostly, and egg creams. I go alone and I go with friends. But, lately, I don't go at all. I can't get in the door.
There are too many tourists. Way too many. Sure, tourists have always filled Katz's, but now it's out of control.
They line up down the block, keeping New Yorkers from easily accessing this local treasure.
The last time I tried to get into Katz's, I thought maybe the line was from a tour, waiting to go in as a group, so I walked in the door. The bouncer--yes, the bouncer--stopped me and told me to get in line. No, thanks. I left.
I'm not sure if I'll ever get back inside. It's like this every day.
And now that the Carnegie Deli is gone, the tourist hordes will only get worse at Katz's. No
longer content to stay in tourist-centric parts of town like Times
Square, they are spreading outwards, finding all our local joints, and
making them inaccessible.
A symptom of globalization, mass tourism is a worldwide pandemic. It's a trend increasingly referred to as "overtourism."
“A rapacious tourist monoculture threatens Venice’s existence,” wrote Italian art historian Salvatore Settis in the Times in 2016, “decimating the historic city and turning the Queen of the Adriatic into a Disneyfied shopping mall.”
In cities like Barcelona, Reykjavík, and Amsterdam, leaders are taking steps to slow the influx of tourists, and city dwellers are doing their part. In his book Coping with Tourists, Jeremy Boissevain observed Europeans engaging in “covert, low-key resistance” to tourists, i.e., “sulking, grumbling, obstruction, gossip, ridicule, and surreptitious insults.”
In Berlin, the anti-tourist outcry has been especially fierce, with protests and graffiti slogans that say “Tourists Fuck Off” and “No More Rolling Suitcases.” In a backlash to the backlash, tourist sympathizers argue that tourists are just like immigrants or refugees, and that anti-tourist sentiment is the same as xenophobia, casting the protesters as fascists. This is a false equivalence. Tourists and immigrants/refugees occupy very different positions of power, and people on vacation do not come to cities seeking sanctuary. They come seeking selfies and souvenirs.
A little while ago, Jake Dell, the fifth-generation owner of Katz's, penned a heartfelt goodbye letter to the Carnegie Deli. In it, he wrote: "Here in the 'city that never sleeps' we cherish the bold and beautiful bustle that makes New York the greatest city in the world, yet agonize over the nonstop gentrification when we lose too many of our classics."
Nonstop gentrification also brings mass tourism--which brings "tourism gentrification" in turn--and that inflicts its own negative impact on a city's treasures. What is New York if it can't be enjoyed by New Yorkers? A place lost to tourism is also lost.
I have a suggestion. Tourists get special deals--why can't New Yorkers? Our IDs, with their local addresses, should be our "city passes." These could get us into museums and other popular places ahead of the tourist lines. We don't need City Hall to get such a program started. We could start it right now, with small business owners.
So Katz's, how about it? Give a thank you to the local folks who've kept you going all these years and be the first to institute a "Local Priority" policy--let anyone with a valid NYC ID in the door ahead of the tourist line.
We will love you even more for it.