I see marijuana and a handjob in your near future....
September 16, 2010 6:07 AM   Subscribe

How does the NYC economy sustain so many psychics?

SketchyNYCFilter: Psychics are *everywhere* in NYC, even in nice neighborhoods, but I've never seen anyone go in or out of them. At 5-10 bucks a reading they'd need to be doing a *lot* of volume to cover overhead. Are they fronts? For what? Or are they just supported by gullible "regulars" who pay higher rates?

Related: Asian Massage Parlors: even in nice neighborhoods like Park Slope, there are 5 or 6 of them within 15 blocks. Are they *all* just sex workers?
posted by joshwa to Society & Culture (26 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Great question. One thing to consider is that readings are generally much, much more than $5-$10. I think they probably start in the $30-$50 range and go up from there, depending on how much they can milk out of their clients.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:39 AM on September 16, 2010


I could see people dropping $100 bucks a pop. And getting addicted to it. Continually going to the psychic to see how their day is going to go.
posted by CrazyJoel at 6:43 AM on September 16, 2010


Some time ago, I read an article, I think in the New York Times Style section, or perhaps New York Magazine, about two "psychic" sisters who lived in the Trump Towers @ Columbus Circle.

They apparently have made enough money fooling rich idiots out of money to live there.
posted by dfriedman at 6:51 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


The cheap palm read is a loss leader for more "advanced", higher profit sessions.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:54 AM on September 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


Money laundering works really well when income you can claim doesn't correlate to expenses you must prove.
posted by entropone at 7:05 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Many of them must be fronts for money laundering/re-up spots/sex trade etc.

From my experience many psychics appear to live where they work. Thus the expense of their crappy, weird shaped, generally undesirable commercial space is also their rent.
posted by 2bucksplus at 7:17 AM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Whoops, meant to emphasize my second point more than my first.
posted by 2bucksplus at 7:17 AM on September 16, 2010


Many of them do "consulting work" as well as readings. I don't think the police use psychics much anymore, but lots of other people do: parents of missing children, army wives, and other emotionally vulnerable folks.
posted by theodolite at 7:22 AM on September 16, 2010


The money laundering people are spot on. Having a storefront and "business" to sink money into can be a huge help for shady organized-crime types.
posted by hermitosis at 7:24 AM on September 16, 2010


I got the advertised $5 reading from one once, out of curiosity. It turned out to be basically just a teaser for a more involved reading which would cost extra.
posted by baf at 7:27 AM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


The $5-10 reading is to get you in the front door. Then they offer you a $100+ in-depth reading. (a friend of mine once did this, kind of the mystical type but even she was disappointed). If they get one customer a day, that's a living. And plenty of them have regular customers who essentially use them as therapists...
posted by mdn at 7:28 AM on September 16, 2010


As for Asian massage parlors it really depends -- are you talking about the little Chinese acupressure storefronts with like the video screen and foot charts in the window? Because I have patronized several of them over the years and never got a sex vibe. Just a lot of skilled immigrant women giving great massages.
posted by hermitosis at 7:28 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, and most asian massage parlors are NOT sex shops.
posted by mdn at 7:28 AM on September 16, 2010


My mother does this sort of work. In Ohio, the local readers (psychics & tarot card readers) usually charge at least $60 an hour (usually sold as $30 for a half hour). I would expect in New York, it would be even higher.
posted by Gordafarin at 7:38 AM on September 16, 2010


Then they offer you a $100+ in-depth reading.... If they get one customer a day, that's a living.

$100 x ( 4 x 5days) = $2000 a month.

Cheap rent for a tiny office in Manhattan = aprox $1,000 a month. (Ref: Craigslist.)

That leaves $1000 for utilities + living expenses.

So this is possible. It wouldn't be a good living, but one could survive. And with two or three customers a day, things would be a lot better.
posted by grumblebee at 7:46 AM on September 16, 2010


many of the psychic places are never ever even open, and yet they stay in the same location year after year when commercial rent in manhattan is pretty high, which leads me to believe some of them are money laundering.

also, i hate to break it to you, but it's kind of racist to assume the asian massage parlors are hand job places—i've walked into a bunch of random ones over the years on the spur of the moment to get foot rubs and every single one i've been in was legit. it's a good way to make legitimate money, especially when you've just moved somewhere and don't speak the language very well, but it's hard work. and considering the nature and economics of pimps and brothels, you'd keep more money at the end of the day giving massages than you would hand jobs.
posted by lia at 8:00 AM on September 16, 2010


Let me see:

*looks into crystal ball*

In a city the size of New York, statistically there are, at any given point in time, large numbers of people who are:

- Gullible
- Needy
- Vulnerable
- Superstitious
- Wanting someone to talk to
- Wanting the answer they want, no matter how incredible the means

The personality type attracted to being a psychic is high emotional intelligence - cold reading skills and, more importantly, salesmanship. Actual costs are typically low, and as others have said, the name of the game is upselling to higher value services and getting clients to keep coming back.

I'm not so sure about money laundering, personally. Tax avoidance, certainly. But for money laundering you typically need a higher throughput of cash to be worthwhile. You'd need a *lot* of compliant psychics to be laundering even modest sums to make it worthwhile trying to get that number of people into it.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:20 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]



many of the psychic places are never ever even open, and yet they stay in the same location year after year when commercial rent in manhattan is pretty high, which leads me to believe some of them are money laundering.


could also be that they got a lease / mortgage on the place back when it was a crap neighborhood, though. If they've been there that long, maybe they're the landlords of the building, using the storefront for their business, renting the apartments above, or something like that. (or I guess it could be both -)
posted by mdn at 8:20 AM on September 16, 2010


That leaves $1000 for utilities + living expenses.

Most of these people live in the units where they do their readings.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:24 AM on September 16, 2010


This is out of LA, but for what I remember there seems to be just as many psychics here as there were in NYC. I've heard of people basically using it as therapy. As in every week they go for their hour reading. I have a friend with an insane hollywood boss (not anyone you would know, but people in her field definitely would) and she would go every week, sometimes twice. It clearly acted as therapy for her, she'd been going to the same woman for years. I was told this wasn't unusual.

My guess is that since these places almost never seem to be open is that they have a built up clientele, but that it's not their full time job. They can probably book their long time clients around their other job and make some decent money on the side.

I also think the asian massage parlor for hand job thing is the rare exception, not the rule. In Malaysia at least a lot of massage places refuses to give massages to men, I assume explicitly because of this misconception. From what I've heard (I want to say from Dan Savage, but I can't remember) is that those types of places will border on the explicit in their advertising. Talking about how attractive the masseuses are or describing the massages as erotic. I'm not 100% sure of the code words, but I've gotten plenty of massages, facials, whatever from massage places in Chinatown and have never gotten the vibe that the masseuses dabble in sex work. Granted I'm a woman,.
posted by whoaali at 10:06 AM on September 16, 2010


lia: "also, i hate to break it to you, but it's kind of racist to assume the asian massage parlors are hand job places—i"

whoaali: "From what I've heard (I want to say from Dan Savage, but I can't remember) is that those types of places will border on the explicit in their advertising. Talking about how attractive the masseuses are or describing the massages as erotic. "

Should probably have given some context-- I work in the Garment District. I had some back problems last year and I went googling for a place near my office, and ended up on a sex-worker review site (utopiaguide, I think?) listing some of the places I was looking at on 38th and 39th st.

Also a female coworker was also ejected when she walked into another one in the same area, which had just a generic sandwich board listing prices for back rubs--15/30/45/60 mins.

Do I just work in a bad part of town?
posted by joshwa at 11:25 AM on September 16, 2010


"How does the NYC economy sustain so many psychics?"

They're psychics; thus, they already know they will be able to make a living in NYC, despite how many psychics there already are there. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight?
posted by 2oh1 at 12:51 PM on September 16, 2010


My understanding is that a lot of those places are more about a cheap place for the psychic to live than a viable business.
That said, a good friend of mine supports herself and her not very lavish Manhattan lifestyle by being a psychic. She does some random sidewalk tarot readings, but her real income comes from a handful of rich clients who depend on her for chats and advice and a sympathetic ear. (For what it's worth, she sincerely believes in the mystical forces and whatnot.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 2:05 PM on September 16, 2010


could also be that they got a lease / mortgage on the place back when it was a crap neighborhood, though.

even crappy storefronts are expensive in the east village and park slope, and yet both neighborhoods have psychics seemingly every four or five blocks. they'd have to have signed, like, thirty year leases in the 80s or 90s for a storefront you can't live in to be a good deal, unless they have a bunch of regular clients.

Do I just work in a bad part of town?

yes, DUH. the brothels of manhattan are primarily located around midtown and the financial district for obvious reasons.
posted by lia at 2:44 PM on September 16, 2010


Perhaps not in Manhattan, but in my neighborhood in Brooklyn I have seen that at least 2 are physically and literally "fronts". I mean in that a family (large and multi generational from what i've seen) lives behind the palm reading room in front.

It seems incredibly illogical since commercial rents are way higher then residential, so I always figured there must some loop hole that allows them to live there, or the rent is cheap and they make enough on the readings to make living in back with enough people worth it.
posted by alhadro at 3:37 PM on September 16, 2010


I'm not sure if this applies in Manhattan, but I've heard that hanging up a palmistry sign is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to maintain commercial zoning (especially if the building was grandfathered in).
posted by anaelith at 5:57 AM on September 17, 2010


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