Just last night a bar on Atlantic Avenue that opened its doors 16 years ago announced it will be closing them at the end of this month. I never worked there and, to be honest, I haven’t hung out there all that much in the last couple of years. I always kind of thought it was one of those places I “lost in the divorce,” as they say. Whoever “they” are. I guess we all should have seen this coming when the Barney’s Coop opened up a few years ago. Followed by a Sephora, a Lululemon, a Splendid, Gap and Banana Republic Outlets, talk of a J. Crew and who knows what else. There isn’t so much room for character when big money and condos come to town.
It’s a weird coincidence because I was literally just thinking about this yesterday. (My life, by the way, has involved a lot of coincidences recently. Maybe I’ll tell you about them someday.) So I have a few friends, two in particular, who oftentimes lament the loss of the old Brooklyn, the Brooklyn they grew up in. One of them posts in this blog here which is really awesome and you should check it out. No, seriously, check it out. Anyway, I didn’t grow up in Brooklyn, or New York City for that matter. I grew up in the suburbs in New Jersey, a place that has a lot of trees and doesn’t really change all that much. You don’t hear too much about people losing leases on storefronts. Generally, stores close because whoever owned them either gets sick of doing it or gets old and dies. Then the store closes and a nail salon goes in its place. There are A LOT of nail salons in my hometown. You also don’t have the same brand of blind development as in the city. Here, luxury condo after luxury condo just sort of go up over night, oftentimes cheaply built, overpriced, and under filled. Eventually people move into the doorman, gym included building. Usually they are transplants from Manhattan, previously transplants from somewhere else, looking for something more affordable. Their “more affordable” prices-out the people who had lived in the neighborhood previously, many of whom priced-out the people who grew up there. In my hometown, a lot of people knock down houses to build bigger houses with more rooms than they can possibly use. I really don’t understand the appeal of getting lost in your own home but that’s just me. My mom calls them McMansions. They are pretty much just the architectural version of a big dick contest. I digress.
So I grew up close to New York City but not in it and even though I went to the city quite a number of times my memory of it is pretty limited. Here is what I remember:
1. Going to Take Your Daughter to Work Day with my Dad and spending most of my time at the Museum of TV and Radio watching old episodes of PeeWee’s Playhouse.
2. My Dad’s one office that had those really cool pipes that ran throughout the floor so you could deliver messages to other people. You would put the message in a little tube thing and then put it in the pipe and it would get sucked away and end up where it was supposed to go. I loved those pipes.
3. I’m pretty sure we went to the Thanksgiving Day Parade once? Or did I make that up?
4. That one time me and my friend Gina cut school and went into the city for the day. We felt SO cool.
5. My Uncle Mike works at The Met and I got to go see The Temple of Dendur when it was still closed to the public.
We never went to Brooklyn. Honestly, I don’t think I even knew what Brooklyn was when I was a little kid except for as it was represented by Spot Collins in Newsies. Spot Collins and the boys from Brooklyn really saved the day in Newsies so I always figured that where ever it was it was pretty damn hardcore.
Over the last almost 10 years that I have lived here, I have seen my neighborhood change quite significantly. And that is nothing, I am sure, compared to the changes that came before. I have wondered sometimes what it was like in the 1990s, before trendy bars and restaurants opened and before the hipster invasion of 2011. I was wondering exactly that thing as I walked home from a hardware store across a busy avenue in the less developed, slightly rougher, area. I walked past a scrap metal collection place and stopped at the light, right next to some guy who I guess had just disposed of his metal and was waiting for his buddy. Then, this:
Guy: Damn, you lookin’ sexy mama.
Me: (Eye roll, unimpressed head shake.)
Guy: What? Bad day?
Me: It was fine until you said that.
Guy: Well, how are you supposed to know if I don’t tell you?
Me: I already know.
Guy: How about I take you for a drink? Some coffee? There’s a bagel store over there.
He gestured at a storefront that has been having constant grand openings for the past 8 years at least. I am 100% certain it is a front for something nefarious. The light changed and I walked away.
So here’s the thing. I never felt intimidated or scared talking to that guy. A few years ago, I would have been petrified because it might not have been one guy, it might have been 3 and he might not have found me quite as amusing. There certainly would have been less people walking around. More than anything I was annoyed that this guy called me sexy while I was holding a bottle of Draino* to, once again, unclog the shower. I mean, without the Draino I would have also felt annoyed but for some reason I felt like sharing that with you. I just found it amusing because, like, I was hungover, I think I still had a little makeup on my eyes from the night before, my hair was filthy and I was carrying Draino and some drier sheets and yet still with this guy. But the point of all of this. The point is that this gentrification is a real mixed bag. I miss the days when big chain stores didn’t come to Brooklyn, when everything was family-run, when spending money locally was really the only option rather than some trend that only wealthy people can afford. I miss my neighborhood being less trendy. I miss hearing more Spanish than English on the streets. I miss having sunlight on my street, the sunlight that was blocked by the fucking ugly 13 story building they built on my corner. What I don’t miss? Walking home from the train alone at night. My neighbor getting jumped on the front steps. Another friend getting beaten up by a group of marauding women. Feeling afraid.
Here’s the thing. I know that when Big Money Brooklyn takes over my neighborhood I am not going to be pleased. I know I will get priced-out. And it will be one more step in the direction of making all of New York less affordable for the people who always lived here. I feel like I can’t really be mad about being priced-out because I, unknowingly at 21, did it to others. At this point I am aware of my own privilege and the impacts it has. It will suck, though. So I don’t know. I mean, I’ll take the improved safety but I wish you would keep your condos, your Barney’s, your expensive cars, your $15 bottles of pickles. My hometown, and towns like it, could use a little business diversity.
*I was feeling very guilty about this because my landlord, who I ADORE, told me not to use Draino because it messes up the pipes. But every time he comes to unclog the drain he tells me to use a drain cover because I have so much hair. But I do! And it clogs anyway!