A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from July 15, 2009
“Nice place you got here. Be a shame if anything happened to it”

Gangster-type intimidation repeated often in the movies is: “Nice place you got here. Be a shame if anything happened to it.” (Or, “Nice place you got here. It would be a pity if anything happened to it.") The message is that the speaker can make life difficult for the listener if the listener doesn’t go along with the program (such as paying extortion money).

The origin of the phrase is uncertain, but it’s cited at least once in the 1920s and regularly since the 1960s. The phrase is often associated with New York City. The phrase became newly popular in 2009 with the presidency of Barack Obama, who some accused of using “Chicago-style” thug tactics to win support for his programs.

“That’s a nice ham you got there. It’d be a ‘shame’ if someone put an ‘s’ on the front and an ‘e’ on the end” is a jocular variation of the saying.

Google News Archive
9 August 1926, Ludington (MI) Daily News, “Detroit Bandits Use Psychology in Bank Robbery. Pick Cashier Up on Street and Bring Him to Verge of Hysteria by Questions,” pg. 1, col. 7:
“How are your children now? You think a lot of them, don’t you? You have a nice little family, haven’t you? Wouldn’t it be a pity if anything happened to break it up?”

Google Books
Decisions and Orders of the National Labor Relations Board
By United States National Labor Relations Board
Item notes: v. 144 - 1963
Pg. 424:
Hyser testified further that on a number of occasions Simms threatened to have him “worked over,” and that on one occasion Simms commented that Hyser had a nice car and that “it would be a shame if anything happened to it.”

23 December 1967, Elyria (OH) Chronicle-Telegram, “Melvin Durslag On Sports,” pg. 29, col. 7:
You see (Vince—ed.) Lombardi walking into Detroit, flicking ashes from a cigar and saying:

“You boys got a nice place of business here. It would be a shame if anything happened ot it.”

6 July 1970, Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, WI), section 1, pg. 8, col. 5:
The basic idea is hardly novel. Remember those old movies of the 1930s when the sinister gangster entered the little old New York candy store and said, “You got a nice little place here, bud. Be a shame if anything happened to it. Whatcha need is some protection, see?” And so forth.

10 July 1988, St. Paul (MN) Pioneer Press, pg. 9D:
“Nice subplot you got there,” the smaller one will say, while the burly one toys with the delete key. “Shame if anything happened to it.”

23 July 1989, Washington (DC) Post, “Soviet Chaos: Gunplay” by Stephen Sestanovich, pg. D1:
(As in, “Nice little cooperative restaurant you got there, comrade. It’d be a shame if something happened to it.")

New York (NY) Times
Published: Sunday, December 17, 1995
I suspected that if I had a car to park in that garage, the board would not infuse me with feelings of niceness. It would make me feel like someone who has just been paid a visit by John Gotti’s relatives and told: “Nice car you got there. Sure would be a shame if anything happened to it next year.”

New York (NY) Times
Alan Greenspan and the Temple of Boom
By Robert Kuttner
Published: Sunday, December 17, 2000
Greenspan’s Fed and the American Boom.
By Bob Woodward.
Illustrated. 270 pp. New York:
Simon & Schuster. $25.
Bob Woodward has written about America’s most reclusive power centers, from the Central Intelligence Agency to the White House to the Supreme Court—and now the Federal Reserve Board. Woodward’s method, the subject of admiration, envy and scorn, is to cultivate so many players that soon everyone feels compelled to volunteer his or her side of the story. His critics have faulted him for running a kind of journalistic protection racket: Nice little reputation you have there; it would be a shame if anything happened to it.

Chris Lightfoot
2 May, 2005: Nice election you’ve got here; be a shame if anything happened to it

Uncertain Principles
Nice Music Library, It’d Be a Pity If Anything Happened to It...
Posted on: October 10, 2006 9:44 AM, by Chad Orzel

The Infamous Brad
A thought for you, on your way out the door to see SiCKO
Jun. 29th, 2007 at 12:07 AM
Consider, if you will, the classic 1920s to 1970s Mafia protection racket. You own a store or a restaurant or a bar; the Mafia sends a couple of guys in and they say, “Nice place you got here. Be a shame if anything happened to it. You should pay somebody to protect it.”

Mere Rhetoric
Australian Muslim: Nice Country You’ve Got Here. Be A Real Shame If Anything Happened To It
Omri | October 30, 2007 8:17 AM

Cato @ Liberty
Nice Little Bank You Got There; Shame If Anything Happened to It
David Boaz • October 16, 2008 @ 9:54 pm

Musing’s musings
Friday, 24 October 2008
Nice business you have there. Be a shame if anything happened to it.

digg - “Six in 10 oppose auto bailout, poll shows”
on 12/04/2008
Step 1: Get rid of UAW.
$73.12/hour is at least two or three times what that labor is actually worth.
UAW’s practices are nothing more than a protection racket. I can’t see how they are even legal.
“That’s a nice factory you have there, it would be a pity if something happened to it.”

The New Yorker
So Long, Pardner
by Hendrik Hertzberg
May 4, 2009
Or, translated into New Yorkese: Nice little Union you got there. Be a shame if anything happened to it.

Language Log
The Turkey carpet style of writing
June 15, 2009 @ 8:56 am · Filed by Mark Liberman
citizen mack said,
June 18, 2009 @ 12:29 pm
The gist of a useful concept – and its subjectivity – was more important here than swank about its provenance. Systemic expediency can also be discerned in a Mobster’s lightly veiled threats: ‘Nice place you got here . . . Shame if anything happened to it’. Who or what would a shopkeeper need protection from? From hoodlums such as these.

Will Wilkinson
The Path to Corporate Welfare is Paved with Essential Legislation
by Will Wilkinson on July 13, 2009
I had meant to blog about this passage in the New York Times, but I’m a lazy blogger these days and Tyler got to it and ably noted the “Nice place you got here. Would be a shame if something happened to it,” tone of Daschle and Baucus.

Free Republic
Obama to Jon Kyl : Nice state you got there, Kyl ... (… shame if something happened to it)
Hotair ^ | 7/15/2009 | Ed Morrisey

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Military/Religion /Health • Wednesday, July 15, 2009 • Permalink