The posters went up at midnight, with the deli quiet and traffic along Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn slowing to the occasional truck or car service. By morning, as neighbors wandered in for coffee and newspapers, the change was complete. Twenty-five years of sun-faded advertisements were replaced with dozens of bright new signs, announcing a price hike and the store’s now notably artisanal offerings. Silhouetted on fields of cyan, magenta, and process yellow, everyday products like potato chips and bacon became “Kettle Crisps” and “Brunch Meat.” The chicken cutlet sandwich was now boastfully “Hand-Fried,” the hoagie “House-Made,” and the Budweisers “Air Chilled.” Everything in the store was also two-and-a-half times its original price, a nod to an impending rent increase that would send the store’s monthly payments skyrocketing from $4,000 to $10,000.
Jesse’s Deli has been a fixture of Brooklyn’s Boreum Hill neighborhood since 1984. Owner Jesse Itayim moved the store to its current location at the corner of Bond St. and Atlantic Ave. in 1989, and now operates the business with his sons, doling out coffee, candy, and his famous breakfast sandwiches. When locals learned a rent increase would force the deli’s closing, they mobilized, collecting 1,200 signatures in support of their beloved bodega, but landlord Karina Bilger returned the petition unopened. As Itayim prepared to shutter the family business, two customers with a background in advertising stepped in to help. The posters soon followed.
“We wanted to make a statement, but also get people talking,” says designer Tommy Noonan. Together with Doug Cameron, creative director and founder of the small ad agency, DCX, the duo set out to bring attention to the situation at Jesse’s Deli. After considering other options with a higher production value, they settled on the “Artisanal Landlord Price Hike Sale,” and got to work designing a series of mock advertisements to plaster across Itayim’s storefront. Inspired by the Situationists and the Occupy movement, for Noonan and Cameron, the posters were part campaign, part spectacle.
Noonan started with a schematic of the deli, planning out 30 ads in two sizes. “We decided to take the graphic language of old supermarkets—the big starbursts, the hot colors—and marry that with artisanal copy,” says Noonan. They wrote the copy together, channeling the hyperlocal and handcrafted trends in the urban food movement. They tried to imagine the kind of store that might take the place of Jesse’s Deli, but from the perspective of an authentic New York bodega.
The products, all real items available in the store, were shot by Noonan on his fire escape “with a good five o’clock sun hitting just right.” Set in Avenir Next, the typeface was chosen for its “personality and chunkiness,” and also because its bold forms worked well for headlines and prices. The pair then called in a lot of favors to get the signs printed. Extreme Digital Graphics produced the larger 24 x 36-inch size, and Greg Harpold, a local printer and longtime customer of Jesse’s Deli, donated his time and resources to print a limited-edition set sold at the register. Priced at $29.99, the proceeds go directly to Itayim’s move, which is set for July 31st unless a resolution can be reached.
“We’re at a moment in history when a lot of people are feeling anxious about the rampant rent hikes, and the city’s loss of cultural and socioeconomic diversity,” says Cameron. “We wanted to draw attention and then have people smarter than us speak out on what sort of legislation might help,” he says. “And it worked.”
After several news outlets picked up the story and #JessesPricedOut gained traction on Instagram and Twitter, awareness quickly spread beyond the immediate community. The focus is now on the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, a bill created to help local businesses navigate commercial lease renewals more fairly. The measure is supported by Take Back NYC with a petition nearing 5,000 signatures.
“What Jesse really wanted was for the price-hike sale to help other delis and small businesses who find themselves in the same position,” says Cameron. While the future of Jesse’s Deli remains uncertain, the campaign has solidified the relationship between the store and its surrounding community. The posters have been selling briskly and passersby now linger outside snapping photos. “Anybody with a creative idea could do this sort of thing,” urges Cameron, who views the campaign as a way to enter the city’s politics and public discourse. See how locals are reacting in this Brooklyn Independent Media spot, or pay a visit to Jesse’s Deli in the wild at 402 Atlantic Avenue.