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Finally! An Umbrella-Sharing Service!
Folks caught in the rain can now rent umbrellas on demand
Welcome to Issue #13 of CAFÉ ANNE!
Zowie! Readers really loved Captain Bayonne, the superhero profiled in Issue 12.
Will in Texas wrote to ask, “Any chance Captain Bayonne would be open to sharing his postal address so that fans could write him letters to telling him how inspiring he is?”
The Captain welcomes your correspondence. Please direct letters to:
Columbia University Undergraduate Admissions
1130 Amsterdam Avenue
212 Hamilton Hall MC 2807
New York, NY 10027-9703
In other news, last week I rented an umbrella. Yes, there is now a thriving umbrella sharing service in NYC. It’s about time! Please see this week’s mini-feature, below.
IN THIS WEEK’S ISSUE…
• Call to Action: A New Logo for NYC
• Amateur Photographer: Clare Veniot
• Feature: Finally! An Umbrella-Sharing Service
CALL TO ACTION
New York City Needs a New Logo
New York City’s new mayor, Eric Adams, has a lot on his plate. But before he tends to crime, housing and transportation, he really ought to do something about a larger issue—our city’s awful, awful logo. My thinking: take care of the logo and the rest takes care of itself.
Take a look at the current official logo, which is plastered on everything from taxis and web pages to city visitor centers:
Does this logo say, “Greatest City in the World”? No. It says, “I will break your fookin’ head off and shove it down your throat.”
It was designed in 2007, back when Bloomberg was mayor, by branding firm Wolff Olins. In a statement, the firm explains,
“We made sturdy letterforms that are thick, rugged – a little on the tough side – just like a New Yorker. The mark is durable and functions as a window. It reveals images of a range of cultures, professions, brands and activities.”
I am sure there are many designers among CAFÉ ANNE readers—amateur and professional—who could come up with something better. Please send your NYC logo designs to email@example.com and I’ll feature them in a future issue. I’ll create something too. And then we can send them off to the mayor!
My favorite photographers are amateurs who share my sensibilities—I love pictures capturing the color and weirdness of city life.
Among them is Clare Veniot, a 63-year-old Brooklynite who works in publishing and posts great shots on her Facebook page, mostly snapped in her neighborhood, Bay Ridge.
Ms. Veniot spotted this resigned-looking doll in the window of a dry cleaner on Fourth Avenue.
“I love it,” she says. “It’s just absurd. I don’t know, there’s some wacky stuff out here…I love storefronts, especially old ones, and their displays. She’s got the candle and the hat and the new, modern, purple-handled iron. She’s working!”
Ms. Veniot took the three shots above in one afternoon at Balady, a Bay Ridge grocery store known as the Whole Foods of Middle Eastern food.
“It was spring or early summer,” she says. “The place was overflowing with wonderful fruits and vegetables and people!”
The woman above is Ms. Veniot’s late friend, Philly Abe. She took the photo soon after Ms. Abe was diagnosed with terminal cancer. They were planning to meet one afternoon at the Delancey train station in Manhattan to do some errands; Ms. Veniot spotted her friend sitting alone, staring at the exit sign.
“I knew her in Canada,” says Ms. Veniot, who is from New Brunswick and sang with the electro-pop band 46Bliss back in the 90s. “We came here together. She was one of my oldest friends in New York. She was a downtown, East Village icon.”
I love this shot! Note the QR code in the foreground. Ms. Veniot snapped it on All Saint’s Day at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Bay Ridge, a place overseen by a famously renegade former Catholic priest.
“It’s a beehive in there,” she says. “It’s positive, beautiful energy—I was drawn in.”
Ms. Veniot started snapping photos when she got her first cell phone: “I started just seeing these little vignettes that blew me away…The city is constantly changing and there’s something about being able to capture little snippets of it that I love.”
Finally! An Umbrella Rental Service!
Last week I did something I’ve wanted to do my whole life: I rented an umbrella.
I’ve often thought of starting an umbrella sharing service myself—it’s a great idea! But you know, I’m busy. Finally, someone else did it. Startup Rentbrella launched late last year in New York City. It has 35 kiosks offering a fleet of 3,500 umbrellas—largely in Manhattan office and apartment building lobbies.
Cofounder Freddy Marcos says it wasn’t his idea. The adventure started when his business partner Nathan Janovich got off the subway and saw a big crowd huddled at the station exit, waiting for the rain to stop. Why was there no place to rent an umbrella? He called Mr. Marcos.
“My first reaction was, ‘What a stupid idea!’” says Mr. Marcos. But he kept thinking and added a twist: what if they could get companies to buy advertising on the umbrellas?
The company launched in 2018 in San Paulo, Brazil, where it has more than 400 locations and is profitable thanks to a single big sponsor, health insurance company Unimed.
Mr. Marcos says Rentbrella chose New York for its U.S. launch because it’s a densely packed city, and plenty rainy. It gets 47 inches of rain every year compared to the U.S. average of 38.
Last week, I downloaded the Rentbrella app, entered my payment card info and searched for the nearest rental location. There was a kiosk one just two blocks away, at 16 Court Street in Brooklyn, across from Borough Hall. It turned out to be an office building.
I approached the security guard. “Is there an umbrella rental kiosk here?” She pointed me past the elevators. Sure enough, there was a Rentbrella stand at the end of the lobby.
I scanned the QR code displayed on the kiosk screen and entered the six-digit code that appeared on my phone, which unlocked an umbrella.
I was surprised to extract a full-length umbrella rather than the purse-size variety I anticipated. It was like requesting a knife from the waiter and being handed a sword.
When I got home, I showed the umbrella to my doorman, John Santiago. “I just rented this umbrella,” I told him.
“Oh shit!” he said.
I told him how it works: the first day is free. You pay $2 for each additional day—weekends and holidays excluded. If you keep it past three days, the system charges you $16 and the umbrella is yours.
“That’s cool as hell!” said Mr. Santiago.
I was excited when it started raining the next morning. I ran out at 6 am to test the umbrella. I am pleased to report that it not only kept me dry, it has excellent sonics: it generates a satisfying THOONK when opened, and a loud click when snapped shut.
The drawback—its cobalt, mint green and mustard yellow hues coordinate with no outfit ever worn in human history.
But borrowers can’t be choosers, and hopefully whatever company advertises on the umbrellas will come up with something elegant.
Mr. Marcos says he will pursue sponsors once he has 100 New York locations, including, he hopes, city subway stations. Advertisers will be charged based on number of kiosks.
For now, the system isn’t generating much revenue. The company says 98% of NYC users return the umbrella within 24 hours, 1% keep it for two or three days and 1% keep it forever, paying the $16. About 80% return their umbrella to the same station they rented from.
If it succeeds, Rentbrella will be the first. In 2016, a startup employing a similar business model lost most of its 300,000 umbrellas shortly after launching in eleven cities in China.
Later that day, back in the Court Street building lobby, I told the security attendant I was returning my umbrella. “That’s smart!” she said. “You know they charge you if you don’t!”
Turns out she had just rented an umbrella during her lunch break. She was impressed by its performance in the crazy wind.
The service has been popular with building tenants since the kiosk was installed two weeks ago, she said: “It’s smart for those who forget their umbrellas at home. And then, you know, we’re not meteorologists so you never know what the weather’s going to do!”
CAFÉ ANNE is a free newsletter created by Brooklyn journalist Anne Kadet. Subscribe to get the latest issue every Monday!