Inflation and the Price of a Slice – The New York Times

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Dollar-slice pizzerias face an existential crisis as prices soar for everything from pepperoni to pizza boxes.
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It’s Wednesday. Today we’ll look at a very New York-centric indicator of inflation, the price of a slice of pizza. We’ll also look at the difficult decisions facing Mayor Bill de Blasio and his successor, Eric Adams, as coronavirus case counts climb.
Inflation has become a worry this year. New Yorkers know this, and not because the Federal Reserve said so. Not because they’ve been shopping for used cars, consumer electronics or furniture, all of which suddenly cost more. New Yorkers know this because of a different economic bellwether, at least in the five boroughs: the dollar slice of pizza.
It is becoming harder to find.
Why? Inflation, which has infiltrated nearly every category of the economy, has been especially menacing for pizzeria operators. Their profit margins were already as thin as a classic New York crust. They were getting by on volume and cost management.
Now their expenses — for flour, oil, pepperoni, even cardboard boxes — have skyrocketed. And their business model has been thrown off in the work-from-home, stay-at-home world. Unable to count on the office workers and tourists who once sustained them, some have closed locations, in part because they could not pay the rent. Others did the unthinkable: They raised prices.
[The $1 Pizza Slice Becomes Inflation’s Latest Victim]
That created an obvious problem for 99 Cents Hot Pizza, a chain that had long charged $1 a slice. Abdul Batin, the owner, raised the price of a cheese slice to $1.50. He had already closed three of his nine stores during the pandemic. He is considering closing three more, with a total of at least 20 layoffs.
“Nobody can do it for a dollar a slice anymore,” said Batin, who opened his first dollar-slice shop in 2009 after immigrating from Bangladesh.
That fits into the larger economic picture. Restaurant prices in the New York area had their largest year-over-year increase since 1987 last month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The one bright spot for pizzerias? Cheese, typically their biggest food cost. Average prices for block cheese are down from last year, when they were propped up by government programs meant to help dairy producers. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture is forecasting that block cheese prices will rise in 2022.
If that happens, it will be “the straw that breaks the camel’s back with respect to the dollar-pizza business,” said Eli Halali, an owner of 2 Bros. Pizza, a chain that is credited with pushing the dollar slice into mainstream popularity and spawning countless imitators in the 2010s.
As my colleague Nicole Hong explained, dollar pizzerias appealed to everyone from construction workers to students to late-night partyers — anyone who needed to fill up for cheap in a notoriously expensive city. But pizza’s role as an economic indicator has changed.
Twenty years ago, the cost of a subway ride seemed tied to the price of a pizza slice. “As Inevitable As Pepperoni: Higher Fares” was a headline in The New York Times in 2002. Clyde Haberman, who wrote The Times’s NYC column from 1995 to 2011, told me he believed the arrival of the MetroCard, with its discounts for monthly purchasers, broke the seemingly magnetic force that had long propelled pizza prices and fares upward together.
Maybe Clyde’s theory helps explains where we are now. As the $1 slice became a victim of inflation, the agency that runs the subways and buses in New York City said a fare increase was “off the table” for at least six months, thanks to the federal infrastructure bill.
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New York Covid Briefing
Mayor Bill de Blasio and his successor, Eric Adams, are weighing difficult decisions as the city faces the latest troubling wave of coronavirus cases.
That wave is being driven by the Omicron variant. It now makes up 92 percent of new cases in an area that includes New York and New Jersey, according to a C.D.C. estimate released Monday. City officials said they would open 23 testing sites by week’s end, hoping to meet demand as people scramble to learn their status and bringing the total in the five boroughs to 112.
But the local testing infrastructure is being strained. CityMD, a privately owned chain of urgent-care clinics, said on its website that it was temporarily closing 19 of its 150 locations in New York and New Jersey starting Wednesday “to preserve our ability to staff our sites.” The company did not respond to requests for additional information.
[How to Find a Coronavirus Test in New York City]
Adams, who takes office on Jan. 1, had planned a swearing-in ceremony at Kings Theater in Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood, a location he chose as a tribute to his roots as the son of a house cleaner. On Tuesday, he canceled the event, saying he did not want to put people in a dangerous environment indoors.
“I don’t need an inauguration — all I need is a mattress and a floor to execute being the mayor of the City of New York,” said Adams, who, as Brooklyn borough president, famously lived in his Borough Hall office during the pandemic.
The explosion of cases has raised other questions for the mayor and the mayor-elect: Can the New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square go on as planned? Will schools fully reopen in January? How can the city avoid another broad shutdown or shortage of hospital beds?
De Blasio and Adams are Democrats and political allies, and Adams has said he agrees with de Blasio’s approach to the pandemic. De Blasio, who is considering a run for governor next year, reiterated on Tuesday that he did not want to shut the city down. He said he would make a decision about the New Year’s Eve celebration soon.
The mayor, who announced a new $100 incentive for those getting booster shots, said he would “spend whatever it takes” to make boosters a priority. More than 5.47 million adults in New York City are fully vaccinated — 82 percent — but only about 1.7 million have received a booster, city officials said.
Adams has made a flurry of appointments in recent days, but he still has not said publicly whom he would name as health commissioner, a key role leading the city’s pandemic strategy.
While he has said he likes Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, the current commissioner, Politico reported late Tuesday that Dr. Ashwin Vasan, the president of Fountain House, a mental health and public health charity, would take over the job in the spring.
Mayor-elect Eric Adams filled six key posts in his administration, appointing five women as deputy mayors and naming a departing City Council member as the next transportation commissioner.
A California man was sentenced to three years in prison for threatening journalists and politicians who had said that former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election. The office of Representative Hakeem Jeffries, Democrat of Brooklyn, said in January that he and his brother had been targets.
Which library books were checked out the most in New York City this year? Here’s a list, Gothamist reports.
Grub Street reports on how workers at Balthazar, a restaurant in SoHo, are saying that not enough is being done by the restaurant to protect them as Covid-19 cases rise.
Shaun Eli Breidbart was a Wall Street banker for 19 years but he quit his job to become a stand-up comic.
Metropolitan diary
Dear Diary:
It was a typical Wednesday. I took the Raritan line into the city from Central Jersey for a midmorning audition. Afterward, I was meandering toward TKTS in hopes of getting a ticket for a matinee when my cellphone rang.
A minute later, I was standing in deep contemplation on the sidewalk pondering a newfound dilemma that demanded immediate resolution: fabric store? a hardware store?
I spotted a dry cleaner. I went in, waited my turn and stepped up to the counter when it came.
“Could you measure my head?” I said to the man there.
Without saying a word, he reached under the counter, pulled out a tape measure and wrapped it around my head.
“Twenty-two inches,” he said. “You in the market for a new hat?”
“Sort of,” I said. “I’m graduating next month, and the college needed to know what size mortar board I needed.”
— Janice Craft
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.
Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.
Melissa Guerrero and Olivia Parker contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].
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