Two decades before crazytown on Pennsylvania Avenue, there was Nike Town on East 57th Street.
Crazytown involves Donald Trump at his pathologically mendacious and petulantly childish worst, so quick to anger that many of us were puzzled by his muted initial reaction when Nike announced it was launching an ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick.
“I think it’s a terrible message,” Trump said, but then added, “Nike is a tenant of mine. They pay a lot of rent.”
The rent being for the site of Nike Town, built in 1996 adjacent to Trump Tower, and likely the explanation for the mystery of Trump’s oddly reasonable response this week to the company’s implicit endorsement of the football player who first went on a knee during the National Anthem.
The Nike Town project was a rare example of Trump actually being the kind of savvy real estate developer he describes himself as in “The Art of the Deal.” Other Trump deals were artless with tax dodges or undocumented workers or wise guys or reckless financing or broken promises or groundless lawsuits or bankruptcies. The agreement that Trump swung with Nike and the owners of the ground leases of two buildings he had acquired while securing the site of Trump Tower showed some genuine art for once.
And for Trump, the deal took on a significance beyond the millions Nike paid him in rent in addition to footing the full cost of demolishing the existing buildings and constructing the new flagship store.
Some of the snootier personages of Manhattan saw the arrival of the sneaker company as proof of a social decline that had begun with the erection of gaudy Trump Tower.
"Fifty-Seventh Street is going downscale," a retail consultant named Alan Millstein was quoted saying. "And Trump Tower is becoming the Coney Island of 57th Street."
"It's a wonderful idea,” Trump was quoted saying of Nike Town. “It’s one of the great locations in the world.”
One of the two buildings Nike took over had previously been occupied by Bonwit Teller, a tony department store that had gone bankrupt. The site had then been occupied by an even tonier French counterpart, Galeries Lafayette, which had been unable to make a go of it there. Nike, at least, would be good for the rent.
"And there's something for everyone,” Trump was quoted saying at the time. “I like that better than just upscale stores."
He was aligning himself with Nike and giving a hint of the faux populism that would make him president, 20 years almost to the day after the opening of Nike Town on East 57th Street.
Nobody should be surprised that Trump’s behavior as he reached the White House and turned it into crazytown turned the sneaker company off the Nike Town location. The word “TRUMP” over the tower entrance around the corner on Fifth Avenue increasingly clashed with those inscribed on the flagship store’s façade.
“HONOR… VICTORY… COURAGE… TEAMWORK.”
Late last year, Nike announced that it was quitting that site and building a new Nike Town a short stroll down Fifth Avenue, by chance across the street from the building that Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner bought in one of the worst real estate deals in city history.
“NIKE NYC OPENING HOLIDAY 2018,” read twin signs at the new site.
The previous site on East 57th is darkened and deserted, the plate-glass windows at the entrance covered with brown paper. But Nike still holds the lease there and is expected to sublet it at least for a time to upscale Tiffany’s as the jeweler redoes its headquarters next door, an arrangement that would have caused the snoots of decades past to sputter.
In correctly reporting that Nike pays him rent, Trump failed to mention that Nike Town has quit the site of his artful deal.
Despite the move, Trump still seems to feel a kind of bond with the sneaker company that the snoots lumped him with as downscale. He started out telling the Daily Caller that Nike’s decision to mount a Kaepernick campaign is “a terrible message that they’re sending.” But he then became weirdly close to reasonable.
“Maybe there’s a reason for them doing it,” he suggested. “As much as I disagree with the Colin Kaepernick endorsement, in another way—I mean, I wouldn’t have done it.”
He went on, “In another way, it is what this country is all about, that you have certain freedoms to do things that other people think you shouldn’t do, but I personally am on a different side of it.”
On Wednesday, Trump seemed on the way to recovering himself. He tweeted:
“Just like the NFL, whose ratings have gone WAY DOWN, Nike is getting absolutely killed with anger and boycotts. I wonder if they had any idea that it would be this way? As far as the NFL is concerned, I just find it hard to watch, and always will, until they stand for the FLAG!
Just rue it.