While the middle to high end dining scene in New York has been improving for decades the low-end dining scene has been getting worse as franchise operations have muscled out mom and pop delis and sandwich shops all over town. I'm not sure when it all began. Probably sometime between around the demise of the automat and the appearance of the first Blimpies in the '70's -but the trend is unmistakable. Nowadays, it's virtually impossible to get a bagel that doesn't have the texture of a kaiser roll and is half the size of your face. That NY bagels are still better than bagels elsewhere is testimony only to how bad the other stuff is, nothing more. (Don't get me going about bagels. I haven't had really good bagel since 1974, and believe me, I've looked for them.)
Those fabulous kosher delis on the lower east side with their barrels full of butter and cases filled with smoked fish and halvah are all but gone. These places were so fabulous that as a kid, I used to skip school and hop the Long Island Railroad into the city and ride the subway downtown just to catch up on my smoked whitefish studies. Now it's easier to get lousy Big Mac in Manhattan than it is to get a bag full of roasted chestnuts or a decent knish. The situation is not much better in the boroughs, with banal mass produced franchise food, vending machines and bags of junk hanging from display wracks like so much poisoned fruit in the garden of Beelzebub.
Of course the reality of the situation is more complicated than a simple situation of well-financed bad guys rubbing out the competition with superior marketing, out bidding on leases and adding addictive drugs to their crappy food :-). The market has changed as ethnic Europeans have died and moved out of the city to be replaced by folks who have different ideas about what constitutes a proper bagel or in an especially irksome case, pizza. In this recent NY Times article we read about how a neighborhood pizzeria on Brooklyn that is faced with the prospect of having to compete with a miserable but successful Papa John's that wants to move in next door A Neighborhood Balks at a Chain Restaurant.
Madonna mia, I hate it.