The Two Sides of the Brooklyn Economy


Slate has taken a look at Brooklyn artisanal manufacturing and pondered whether it could spread throughout the U.S. and revive our economy. The article notes two special conditions in Brooklyn that have fostered this new type of production: a local support infrastructure of shared kitchens, food blogs and markets such as Smorg; and a big pool of high-end consumers who can pay high prices for top quality goods. To go mass market, or at least nationwide, these businesses would have to grow big and Whole Foods-like, perhaps losing some of their specialness. But it is possible, as Whole Foods has shown. Even if they don’t go mass, if the nation winds up with a lot of small producers, that’s a good thing, the article concluded. Meanwhile, Forbes considered the other side of this equation in a story called “The Hollow Boom of Brooklyn: Behind Veneer of Gentrification, Life Gets Worse for Many.” The article stated: “Poverty citywide, meanwhile, has been rising for three years running and the real Brooklyn, roughly half non-white, remains surprisingly poor. Brooklyn’s median per capita income in 2009 was just under $23,000, almost $10,000 below the national average.” The bank bailout has stimulated Brownstone Brooklyn and even, indirectly, the “creative class,” but the recession has decimated the rest of Brooklyn, the article note. (Not mentioned: The effect of government downsizing and recent cuts to union jobs on working-class Brooklyn.) The New York Times considered the physical evidence of the offshoring of mass manufacturing with a look at the retrofitting of the manufacturing and industrial spaces lying empty along the Sunset Park waterfront. Click through to the story for a slideshow of photos of the Brooklyn Army Terminal. Even The Real Deal had something to say on the subject, with an Editor’s Note (from the Sept. 1 print edition, but linked on the home page today) that located the battle between the small batch and the big box on the street of Williamsburg, which is getting a Whole Foods and maybe a J.Crew.

To some degree, the tension between the mass market and the artisanal is a false canard. If people are selling $10 bags of granola or $14 pickles or $9 bottles of jam, there must be enough wealth to pay those prices. These handcrafted products are a sign of prosperity, not antithetical to it. The wealthy residents in the city are supporting this whole new borough of tinkerers, artists, graphic designers, small-batch entrepreneurs and chefs. But there seems to be a growing cultural gap between big cities and the rest of the country, which is partly being reflected in the presidential race. (I think its reasonable to assume that most rural tea partiers don’t care if their granola is organic). The divide is also economic. Given the general economic uncertainty nationally, big cities like New York have done well — and so has their real estate.

Can Brooklyn Hipsters Save the American Economy? [Slate]
Behind Veneer of Gentrification, Life Worse for Many [Forbes]
Manufacturing Space in Brooklyn Retools for the Modern Tenant [NYT]
The Battle Between Small Batch and Big Box [TRD]
Photo of Brooklyn Army Terminal Building B by Mambo’Dan

47 Comment

  • Love the slideshow. I visited these Sunset Park buildings (Brooklyn Army Terminal and others on the waterfront) during the GO Brooklyn open studio weekend and they are amazing. So much potential. Yay Sunset Park.

  • Love the slideshow. I visited these Sunset Park buildings (Brooklyn Army Terminal and others on the waterfront) during the GO Brooklyn open studio weekend and they are amazing. So much potential. Yay Sunset Park.

  • “Could a bunch of Brooklyn hipsters really represent the new face of American manufacturing?”

    No

  • East New York

    No reason to think that some of these hipsters couldnt grow their business into a size that can employ tons of people is there?

    Yes, there are many reasons to think that.

    • So they shouldn’t try then. Mast Brothers should just close up shop right now. Explain why. Is it because you don’t like beards? Or high priced chocolate pisses you off? You see no possibility for these hipsters finding a small niche? Giant manufacturing isn’t coming back any time soon, so yes these people most certainly could represent the new face of what American manufacturing is now.

      • East New York

        They should go ahead and try then. Who’s stopping them? I just happen to think there are many reasons why this sort of enterprise will not “employ tons of people.” It would be great if they could prove me wrong. But meanwhile I’m not holding my breath or anything.

  • daveinbedstuy

    With all the regulations, fees and taxes that the government (all levels) places on businesses it becomes very difficult to grow without a lot of capital.

  • daveinbedstuy

    From benson…who is banned…

    “Since I am banned from Brownstoner, would someone please inform Mr. Brooklyn, aka Mr. B., that the Brooklyn Army Terminal was never a manufacturing space. As its name implies, it was the east coast warehouse/terminal for stuff that was going to be shipped overseas. My uncle worked there until it was closed up in the 70′s. The terminal was moved across the harbor to Bayonne, NJ, where it still exists.”

  • Blayze11

    Aside the Benson fun fact, I see no harm in hipsters plying their trade. Perhaps on a small level, it seems as though nobody but the immediate small business will make any profit, a meager one at that especially when compared to massive soulless chains. Yet, the small town main street storefront effect blooms and other small businesses open throughout the borough and the rest of the city. Small branches of said stores, shops, restaurants crop up as well, providing new jobs and often reutilizing buildings that may otherwise be derelict or neglected. Not to mention, it does take more than two scruffy bearded types to run any of these artsy stores. It’s all an interlocking thing. As someone who now works in one of these so-called artisan restaurants on the Lower East Side, I can safely say that there is a market for high-end goods and services, even if it’s just slightly fancy pizza or vegan donuts off the Montrose Avenue L stop. It isn’t a high-demand thing but for the most part, these hipster businesses could very well stabilize the economy. It’s not even hipsters, it’s just local business.

  • Blayze11

    Aside the Benson fun fact, I see no harm in hipsters plying their trade. Perhaps on a small level, it seems as though nobody but the immediate small business will make any profit, a meager one at that especially when compared to massive soulless chains. Yet, the small town main street storefront effect blooms and other small businesses open throughout the borough and the rest of the city. Small branches of said stores, shops, restaurants crop up as well, providing new jobs and often reutilizing buildings that may otherwise be derelict or neglected. Not to mention, it does take more than two scruffy bearded types to run any of these artsy stores. It’s all an interlocking thing. As someone who now works in one of these so-called artisan restaurants on the Lower East Side, I can safely say that there is a market for high-end goods and services, even if it’s just slightly fancy pizza or vegan donuts off the Montrose Avenue L stop. It isn’t a high-demand thing but for the most part, these hipster businesses could very well stabilize the economy. It’s not even hipsters, it’s just local business.

  • Arkady

    I don’t see any claim that the Terminal was manufacturing – there are references to it in the same area. And, anyway, the text is a cut & paste from elsewhere.

  • Never said they shouldn’t try. I think it’s insulting to America’s rich manufacturing history to suggest the future for the country that invented electricity, the automobile and the computer is $14 artisinal pickles and granola. Don’t get me wrong, I like this stuff, but it’s nothing more than a niche product for rich people in small sections of American cities. It won’t have a significant impact on the economy of this country. To suggest otherwise is just silly.

  • East New York

    “invented electricity”

    We discovered it. Otherwise I agree w your points on this issue.

  • If anyone is interested, here is a really nice video of “Man on Fire” which features one of these huge Sunset Park buildings at the very last scene, with the NYC Ballet. The whole video was shot in Brooklyn.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08WeoqWilRQ

  • daveinbedstuy

    ” I think it’s insulting to America’s rich manufacturing history to suggest the future for the country that invented electricity, the automobile and the computer is $14 artisinal pickles and granola. ”

    Aside from the correction already made to the claim we “invented electriciity,” this statement shows a lack of understanding of the progress of a society from agrarian to manufacturing to service/consumption.

    It would seem that only the politicians (and you) are clueless to the reasons that manufacturing jobs continue to be outsourced to other countries.

  • daveinbedstuy

    Read what I wrote. It’s about how a society progresses. It has to do with education and technology. It has nothing to do with wages, Why do all you Democrats continue to demoralize corporations in search of a reason for why fewer and fewer people pay taxes.

  • brownstoneshalfoff

    This is the real veneer of gentrification…

    ” ‘Brownstone and Victorian Brooklyn is booming,’ he says, due in part to uncle Ben Bernanke‘s inflationary policies, which have bailed out the Wall Street banks whose profits are the bedrock of New York City’s prosperity.”

    …that it is predicated on real, organic and sustainable economic growth. It is not. Our government is running sky high deficits, 10% of GDP, to shore up bank balance sheets and hide an underlying depression (a 10% economic contraction is exactly that). This is counterfitting our currency and causing massive, temporary inflation in food, energy and, yup, brownstones. All this compounding debt is exponential and must fail by mathematic necessity. And when it does, brownstone prices fall in half or worse. Real, linear growth can never chase an exponential function (compound debt). Impossible.

    The looming disaster will start in Europe. Spain has now joined Greece in rioting/civil unrest. When Greece defaults, probably this year, the dominos start dropping.

    They tried this (after the crash of 1929. But in 1932, it all fell apart again. Same thing will happen this time but worse.

  • brownstoneshalfoff

    This is the real veneer of gentrification…

    ” ‘Brownstone and Victorian Brooklyn is booming,’ he says, due in part to uncle Ben Bernanke‘s inflationary policies, which have bailed out the Wall Street banks whose profits are the bedrock of New York City’s prosperity.”

    …that it is predicated on real, organic and sustainable economic growth. It is not. Our government is running sky high deficits, 10% of GDP, to shore up bank balance sheets and hide an underlying depression (a 10% economic contraction is exactly that). This is counterfitting our currency and causing massive, temporary inflation in food, energy and, yup, brownstones. All this compounding debt is exponential and must fail by mathematic necessity. And when it does, brownstone prices fall in half or worse. Real, linear growth can never chase an exponential function (compound debt). Impossible.

    The looming disaster will start in Europe. Spain has now joined Greece in rioting/civil unrest. When Greece defaults, probably this year, the dominos start dropping.

    They tried this (after the crash of 1929. But in 1932, it all fell apart again. Same thing will happen this time but worse.

  • daveinbedstuy

    I never said it didn’t. I just said your comment about wages had nothing to do with the point of my comment.

    Stupidity and reading comprehension are the biggest barriers to a society’s progression from agrarian to industrialized to service/consumption. You, apparently, are part of that problem.

  • daveinbedstuy

    I never said it didn’t. I just said your comment about wages had nothing to do with the point of my comment.

    Stupidity and reading comprehension are the biggest barriers to a society’s progression from agrarian to industrialized to service/consumption. You, apparently, are part of that problem.

  • daveinbedstuy

    Don’t fight the Fed, BHO.

    It would seem you’ve been wrong since 2009.

  • daveinbedstuy

    Oh, and welcome back. We’ve missed you.

  • daveinbedstuy

    Edit??? i corrected the spellling of 2 words.

    FAIL

  • bryanx

    The Forbes article describing the growing poverty seems to me the biggest problem outlined here.

    The social effects of that have yet to be felt.

    All the capital being banked into RE, pumping prices higher, adds to this pressure – adding to the cost of goods sold.

    The need for cheaper commodities will likely pull in Big Boxes with their economics of scale and huge reserves of capital giving them an advantage. The poor needing to watch every penny will appreciate these value options. The low paying, soul crushing jobs these places provide will be easily filled.

    More pressure on the Mom n’ Pop stores who are already in a crowded/competitive/expensive market.

    Somethings gonna pop.

  • bryanx

    The Forbes article describing the growing poverty seems to me the biggest problem outlined here.

    The social effects of that have yet to be felt.

    All the capital being banked into RE, pumping prices higher, adds to this pressure – adding to the cost of goods sold.

    The need for cheaper commodities will likely pull in Big Boxes with their economics of scale and huge reserves of capital giving them an advantage. The poor needing to watch every penny will appreciate these value options. The low paying, soul crushing jobs these places provide will be easily filled.

    More pressure on the Mom n’ Pop stores who are already in a crowded/competitive/expensive market.

    Somethings gonna pop.

  • daveinbedstuy

    “The low paying, soul crushing jobs these places provide will be easily filled.”

    Walmart notwithstanding, most of these Big Boxes provide far better benefits than any mom & pop. Most of the ones I see in PA and MA are continuing to hire. Are mom & pops????

  • daveinbedstuy

    “The low paying, soul crushing jobs these places provide will be easily filled.”

    Walmart notwithstanding, most of these Big Boxes provide far better benefits than any mom & pop. Most of the ones I see in PA and MA are continuing to hire. Are mom & pops????

  • Alrighty then. I remember now why I stopped bothering to read this site. Nothing but reruns.

  • daveinbedstuy

    Yes, god forbid there’s not total political correctness.

  • architect66

    Hey, I don’t see anything wrong with so-called hipsters making “artisanal” stuff. Not every garage is going to yield a Steve Jobs or a Bill Gates, but as a cultural phenomenon, I think it’s on balance a good thing to have a population that is somewhat entrepreneurial.

  • architect66

    Hey, I don’t see anything wrong with so-called hipsters making “artisanal” stuff. Not every garage is going to yield a Steve Jobs or a Bill Gates, but as a cultural phenomenon, I think it’s on balance a good thing to have a population that is somewhat entrepreneurial.

  • daveinbedstuy

    I agree, architect. Also, the culture in the US is more accepting of failure such that you can pick up and start over. Elsewhere, not so much.

  • daveinbedstuy

    What happened to my comment???? What’s with this site???? Why have a lot of the comments recently been disappearing/reappearing or dropped altogether?????????????

  • daveinbedstuy

    Perhaps but I don’t know where we differed in the past. You certainly have never sounded like a total wack job like a few of the others!!!! :)

  • Cate

    Dave, we are so sorry! The commenting system is not working right and we are trying to fix it.