New York City police claim to have seized $25 million of fake Chinatown gear this year. "Easy and sleazy money," to use Mayor Bloomberg's phrase. The latest raid came in what he called the "counterfeit triangle" down between Canal, Walker, Baxter and Centre streets, a hypercongested market mecca frequented by nearly every 30-and-under NYC visitor, and many of its dwellers.
Thirty-two storefronts now shuttered -- plain aluminum planes in a teeming tide of people, many of them customers. Just two years ago, police raided "counterfeit alley," and it's hard to imagine the latest raids will have any more lasting effect. Fake designer bags from Chinatown are as American as apple pie; the demand is basic and eternal, even innocent. From the first random internet piece returned by "chinatown bag crackdown":
I went to china town yesterday because my friend wanted to get a chanel purse and all of the stores said that they didnt have anything anymore wich i thought was wierd because usually they had tons of stuff and then i went to Crystal mall near metro and the girl who owned one of the stores there said there was a huge police crackdown and almost all the stores had to get rid of there merchandise shitty deal because i always went down there to get bags n stuff.
Supposedly that impulse has cost the city $1 billion in sales tax, or a palpably preposterous $12 billion in sales. Nobody with a shred of common sense could believe that $35 bag buyers would throw down $600 for the real. Who knows whether Bloomberg believes, or if was foisted on him by the police, or by campaign-friendly designers and high-end stores, or -- inexplicably -- NBC.
Equally unknown is the fate of the now-busted Chinese people who worked the storefronts; stories don't seem to talk much about them. But the supply has already adapted: hushed transactions down side streets, under scaffolding, Louis Vitton logos peeking out of garbage bags. This probably doesn't bode well for the Mayor's second justification, that the trade produced "money laundering and bloody turf wars." Whoever survives the latest disruption will probably be more ruthless than their predecessors. Evolution in action.
For the moment, though, sales will probably fall. And a dash of scarcity will add luster to the fakes, in turn making the real versions more desirable. A feedback loop of brand valuation, optimized when there are just enough fakes -- not too many, not too few -- directing the evolution of its own particular species: designers of garish, tactless handbags.
Or maybe officials really do believe the $1 billion crap. On that note, time to watch the final The Wire.