There’s an old saying in New York City that it costs $20 just to step outside of your apartment building. An updated version of that proverb could instead say 20 euros (about $25.70) -- and still be true. Or so it used to be, until the euro got in trouble.
There was a time back in 2008, the darkest year of the U.S. economic collapse, when one euro was worth nearly $1.50. Manhattan store owners started posting “Euros Accepted” signs, because why not? The potential payoff was worth the time spent checking exchange charts and pecking away on a calculator.
But now that Europe’s economy is looking shakier than that of the United States -- ignore America’s “sequester” and the fiscal cliff and the mounting debt for argument’s sake -- those international-minded shops seem to be going the way of the common European currency's stability.
New York is a microcosm of the world, a melting pot, the place where “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses” are always welcome. But downtown Manhattan has become a de facto Little Europe. You can’t walk two blocks without being asked by a skinny-jeaned Brit for directions or overhearing a couple of German expatriates discussing last night’s Skaters show in thick accents.
One December day, this reporter was stopped on the Bowery by an elderly woman who had lived in Greenwich Village her entire life.
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“Do you speak English?” she asked, before proceeding to try to sell her political paintings. Let’s just say it’s a reasonable question nowadays, as Europeans both resident and tourist have flocked to the Village, SoHo, Little Italy, TriBeCa and the Lower East Side in droves.
And for that short, strange period a few years back, they didn’t even have to convert their euros to dollars, instead finding that they could make it through a business trip or a week in the city exclusively on their own currency.
That was the experience of a fashion outlet employee on Crosby Street, who said that when her boyfriend used to visit her from Milan, he could save on currency exchange fees by hopping among a litany of hotels, bars, eateries and stores that were known for accepting the euro.
But after stopping in at more than three dozen establishments across Lower Manhattan, this reporter found that the euro’s diminished luster seems to have led to the unceremonious death of the all-euro shopping, eating and drinking spree.
Balthazar, a veritable Mecca for European tourists looking to get a brunch their guides may describe as the best in SoHo, does not, however, take the euro, according to a manager there who asked to be referred to only as Andrew (employees of the high-end stores and restaurants that populate these areas are hostile to being identified by name).
He said any benefits that such a policy would bring are far outweighed by the effort it would take to actually accept other countries’ cash.
“We have so many menu items, so it would be very difficult to convert each one to whatever foreign currency,” he said. “And not to mention the aspect of making change; we’re not going to keep five or seven or however many types of currency here to do that. The exchange rates change from day to day and it would be very difficult to keep track of it every day.”
An employee of the home-furnishing store Ankasa on Bond Street said it too has a greenbacks-only policy.
“We accept dollars only,” she said. And if people insisted on euros? “We would probably send them down the street to the bank.”
East Village Wines on First Avenue used to accept euros in accordance with the daily exchange rate, but as the currency of 17 European Union states has fallen -- to $1.29 as of Tuesday -- the store has become less accommodating. It still accepts euros for payment, but at a very unfavorable rate for Europeans.
“Yeah, same as the dollar though, one dollar, one euro,” a concise cashier at the upscale wine emporium said. No word on whether customers from the euro zone are willing to eat the almost 30 percent loss just for the convenience of not exchanging their euros.
But some more international-minded businesses still accept the common currency, and even a host of other foreign currencies.
Javaid Bhat, co-owner of Carpet Culture at 95 Crosby St., said that when he worked at a different carpet store in Midtown, he accepted a total of 29 different currencies, including the Danish kroner.
And he would still take any money that a customer pulls out of his wallet.
“Why not? Any type of currency that is legitimate, I will take it,” he said. “I am a small business, I don’t care how the money comes. It can be any legitimate currency.”
But it appears that the euro party is over, as Bhat says American dollars and credit cards are the only forms of payment anyone uses at his shop anymore.
“For the last year or two years I have seen a lot of Europeans come through here,” he said. “One guy told me, ‘Do you take the euro?’ and I said, ‘Of course we take it,’ but he decided to go to the ATM and he got American cash instead.”