It’s saying something when 32 degrees feels downright balmy because it’s been in the teens or 20s for much of January. I look outside the window and don’t see as many people walking around. All these people in the city holed up in their apartments, too cold to go outside. The Christmas trees in front of our building were finally picked up this week, but there are still trees piled up in front of other buildings, probably too buried in old dirty frozen snow to be removed. Brooklyn, you are looking quite sad right now. But I love you anyway.
We went to a Nets game Friday night and it’s always a shock to see 18,000 people in one place. That arena is built so steeply that you can’t avoid getting vertigo when you climb up the steps to your seats. It seems…unsafe?? I had to hold on to the child when she kept jumping up and down with flailing arms in a futile attempt to get on the jumbotron because I was afraid she’d tumble down. The guys in the row in front of us, about 20 friends, tried numerous times to spell out “Let’s Go Brooklyn Nets!” in individual letters printed out in paper, but they just couldn’t get it together. They got confused as to which way the letters should read, and then when they finally passed out all the letters in the right sequence, couldn’t quite coordinate themselves to hold up the letters in unison. A comedy of errors, but so damn entertaining. I guess they wanted to get on the jumbotron as badly as my kid did.
Barclays Center has a local food court inside the arena where Brooklyn businesses sell food. The whole Nets/Barclay experience pushes the Brooklyn thing so hard. I’m totally a cynic, but I don’t buy it because I know they’re trying to endear the borough to a team that relocated from Jersey, so the whole thing is over the top and a little too try-hard. But sports is weird like that and loyalties can’t be rationalized; once a Knicks fan, always a Knicks fan (no matter how much they’re sucking right now – and they are sucking bad). So how ironic is it that the one day we go to a Nets game, there’s a historic night happening across the river at Madison Square Garden where a Knick (Melo) single-handedly scores 62 points and breaking records? So here I am at a live game, checking my phone and wishing I were at home watching that game instead. But I’ll stop boring you about sports because no one I know seems to care about sports anyway. I guess it’s not twee or hipster enough like playing Bocce ball at a bar, drinking a microbrew with locally roasted artisanal nuts.
I’m finding the whole commodification of Brooklyn to be a bit much these days. This extends to the gleaming new Whole Foods that opened last month in our neighborhood. I mean, they have a section where vinyl records are for sale and there’s a big wall mural with illustrations of local purveyor portraits (in chalk, of course). It’s the most Brooklyn-iest thing under one roof, ever. Surprisingly, it’s the first Whole Foods to be built in Brooklyn and it took about 10 years to happen. Why so long? Well, it’s built near a Superfund site (yeah, I know), and just like the Barclays Center, was a much heated debate by the community and neighborhood for years. By and large, there aren’t many big box stores and chains in residential areas of Brooklyn, but they have been slowly moving in over the last decade because of the exorbitant rents. I imagine commercial property landlords view chains as a more stable tenant when turnover rates are so high with this economy, but the majority of the businesses in our neighborhood, for example, are still small businesses. So when something big like Whole Foods or a sports arena has plans to move in, there is always going to be a faction of the community who declare that it will be the death of Brooklyn!
So, is it? We didn’t know if our grocery shopping habits would change when Whole Foods opened. We’re not Whole Foods shoppers to begin with, but despite our resistance (kinda silly, yeah) I found myself there 3 times the first week it opened. Our visits have slowed down considerably since then, but I think we were just shell shocked that the store actually did get built after so many false starts and community opposition that we went to gawk, mostly. I gotta say, it’s a really beautiful store and damn, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t convenient. In particular, I love that there’s a rooftop greenhouse where produce will be grown. We’ve discovered that if we shop carefully, there are some pretty good deals and we’re more confident in buying fish again (I’ve been a bit wary about buying fish because of all the contamination).
Maybe because I’m a small business owner – or maybe it’s because I’m a long time resident of our neighborhood – I do worry about how the local shops will fare with this big behemoth of a store now open. Are we contributing to the problem anytime we shop there, thereby taking away business from a local store we would have otherwise supported? It’s complicated, right? The Brooklyn Whole Foods is one of those cornerstone events that’s a big gamer changer in the neighborhood and it’ll be interesting to witness those changes over the course of the years, but I think ultimately it is good for the neighborhood. The store seems especially keen on contributing back and partnering with local organizations, and there’s this whole “we’re not the enemy; we’re part of your community” vibe that’s so thick you can feel it the minute you enter the store. Although we do plan on shopping there (and this was sort of a surprise for us), we’ll continue to support our local farmer’s market and other small shops around the neighborhood. Spread the money around. The store is here to stay and from appearances at least, it’s doing quite well, so seems like the best thing to do.