My Ideal Brooklyn Store: Capturing the Essence of Brooklyn

I should be getting into bed. We have considered getting up early to catch the end of the blood moon eclipse. Of course, that’s when I find an article that catches my eye.

In The New York Times, Critical Shopper Jon Caramanica, writes “In a Fight for Everything Brooklyn,” where he reviews a concept store opened by The Urban Outfitters in Williamsburg called Space Ninety 8. It caught my eye because Urban Outfitters is a Philly company and Williamsburg is in Brooklyn. Of course, I am going to read anything that connects the two because I connect the two, as do many transplants.

It seems like they’re trying to keep it real. They are selling local products, more or less. The problem is, well, there’s still something missing.

Without being able to do extensive research (caveat alert), because to afford my row house in the East/West Village equivalent of Philadelphia I have to hold down a day job, I’m going to say that many of the local brands they’re carrying at Space Ninety 8 are representative of New Brooklyn. New Brooklyn is the sort of Brooklyn that people from places other than NYC think Brooklyn is, rather than what it really is, and this attitude is sort of pervasive in the more trendy neighborhoods like Williamsburg.

When we lived in Brooklyn, we lived in Cobble Hill, which is one of the old Brownstone neighborhoods of Brooklyn. It’s old, it’s historically protected, and it’s too expensive to be trendy. When they filmed Moonstruck, there was a reason they picked Brooklyn Heights and Carroll Gardens as a setting. It’s old Brooklyn. We were so lucky to score a rent stabilized apartment or we would never have been able to live there.

Ironically, there is an Urban Outfitters on Atlantic Avenue in Cobble Hill. It occupies a wonderfully renovated building that I believe was a rope factory for the shipping industry in the 19th Century (memory don’t fail me now!). But right across the street is Sahadi’s, which is old Brooklyn.

In any case, if I got an opportunity to create the perfect Brooklyn store, I would probably start out by walking around, a lot. Walking is really the best way to slowly absorb the variety. People in Brooklyn range from multi-generational to directly off-the-boat. You need to consider people’s roots, local and otherwise. I might include something Polish from Greenpoint, Italian from Bay Ridge, Middle Eastern from Atlantic Avenue, Russian from Brighton Beach, because I can promise you, every Brooklyn person has multiple countries represented in their apartment.

Brooklyn has a rich industrial heritage. Brooklyn is blue collar. It’s leather, metal, dirty. If you find a warehouse, sealed for years, and discover metal cabinets, industrial lighting, old chairs and desks, and move everything into your home, that’s Brooklyn.

Brooklyn is elegant. It’s stately brownstones with exquisite molding and stained glass windows. It’s slate sidewalks and the Promenade and that view. But don’t forget there are people in every economic strata.

Brooklyn is a survivor. The people of Brooklyn are survivors. Read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. You don’t expect things to be easy. In fact, you need a couple of knocks for street cred.

Speaking of street cred, Brooklyn is highly authentic. Be yourself. Own up to your quirks. Be wealthy. Be broke. But don’t be fake. Don’t be what you think you should be. Be real.

Listen to every single Beastie Boys album. Then read Walt Whitman. They just get it but in different ways.

Swim at the Coney Island beach (during every season) and have a conversation with people who work in the side shows.

Understand how old Brooklyn is. Visit the Wyckoff House in Canarsie.

Understand how beautiful Brooklyn is. Visit the Botanic Gardens and the Art Museum and Green Wood Cemetery.

Eat at an outdoor cafe in every neighborhood and people watch.

Walk over both bridges (Brooklyn and Manhattan). Often. Stop in the middle. Look at the entire view.

When all is said and done, I don’t think you could really, completely capture the essence of authentic Brooklyn and package it. I can’t even capture it here in words let alone translate the concept to clothing or housewares. I lived there for nine years. I miss it every day. When I tell people why I loved living in Brooklyn, I can’t even articulate. A store that captures and hopes to share everything Brooklyn is, may be impossible but it’s nice Urban Outfitters has tried.

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