Tucked away at the northern end of Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood is one stretch of Throop avenue where you don’t just see changes approaching, you actually feel urbanite brewing.
Specifically on the block between Kosciuszko street and Dekalb avenue is a hub between the old and new. After blocks of decrepit, boarded-up buildings, then “better” blocks of brownstones with tidy, colorful gardens, Bedstuy’s pulse changes again at the corner of Throop and Kosciuszko where a slew of new small businesses sit like “hidden gems” surrounded by giant, recently-constructed residential buildings. There’s so much residential construction happening, in fact, that an analysis from The Real Deal finds that Bedstuy has the most active residential building applications in the first quarter of 2015, with developers filling out at least 33 projects.
Below, the small business owners on the single Throop block between Kosciuszko and Dekalb talk about business—and how the ‘hood has changed since they’ve moved in.
Josh Cook’s sustainable food delivery service, Nextdoorganics, has been on Throop Avenue since May 2014, but the co-founder and CEO never really noticed the block before his building was built. Since then, business is growing at a healthy pace with Bedstuy’s residents making up half of Cook’s subscribers. A few weeks ago, major superstar Lenny Kravitz even stopped by, says Cook, and “he may show up again at some point.” (Kravitz grew up around the corner from Nextdoorganics.)
Before moving to Bedstuy, Nextdoorganics was based in various locations throughout Brooklyn. First, it was Bushwick Farmers’ Market in 2011 where Nextdoorganics’ first crops were grown by Cook—and a small team—on his business partner Kris Schumacher’s family farm in Providence, Rhode Island. Next, the business partnered with Buckwick’s Roberta’s pizzeria/garden/gastro-commune and sold packages that included produce, eggs, bread, and cheese from Roberta’s. After a few months, Nextdoorganics packed up again and moved to a market in downtown Brooklyn before subleasing the back part of Bread Love’s kitchen for one-and-a-half years to serve as a pick-up location for food subscribers.
Now, the weekly subscription model allows customers to choose from weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly shares of $20 to $50, which mostly consists of vegetables from local, community farms, such as Sky Vegetables in the Bronx and EcoStation: NY’s Bushwick Campus Farm. Aside from pre-set packages, subscribers can also add-on eggs, cheese, meat, fish, fruit, homemade bread, house-made snacks and sauces, and whatever else Nextdoorganics gets from small-batch food makers and nearby farms. All of the food is promised to be grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.
“We really focus on the small end of the supply size … New York City has an amazing variety of both urban farmers, rooftop farmers, and also small-batch food makers,” says Cook, adding that providing access to clean, locally-sourced food in urban and suburban areas is something he’s been thinking about for years.
While Nextdoorganics was one of the earlier businesses that moved into that stretch on Throop ave., Cook says it wasn’t until his neighbor, Burly Coffee, moved in that the block really “kind of blew up.”
“We were opened before the coffee shop opened,” he recalls. “But the impact of a coffee shop on a block … they get a lot of attention. It’s funny how people really go out of their way to get coffee.”
When Burly Coffee opened for business at the end of October 2014, co-owner Tom Colella thought the coming winter season would take care of business by attracting customers craving hot coffee on a cold day. He was wrong.
“We didn’t get to a breaking point until spring,” he says. “And when it hit, it was basically people in the neighborhood who hadn’t really explored the area … I’ve had people say to me, “Oh my god, you’ve been here the whole time?”
Encounters like this happen quite frequently in New York where neighborhoods change block-by-block. With its minimal decor—except for the local artwork lining the walls—the bohemian coffeehouse is just what’s missing in Bedstuy. Sure, there are other cafes around, but a place selling strong espressos, lattes, cold brews and doesn’t mind that patrons stay for hours, plugging away on their laptops, is nowhere to be found for many, many blocks. In a freelance economy, these coffeehouses are essential to creatives, hence they flock to them, as Cook from Nextdoorganics noticed when Burly opened.
When you find out that Colella is a freelance editor, director, and producer, Burly’s “workspace vibe” makes even more sense.
“I’ve always been a big fan of coffee,” says Colella. “I’ve lived all over Brooklyn and I’ve seen the coffee wave hit. Everywhere I go, I try different cafes and have always been interested in the cafe world.”
So, after years of doing freelance video work, Colella decided to give the small business world a try. When his business partner, Eric, who lives near the coffeehouse, drove by and saw the space was available, the two “decided to just jump into it” after realizing there was a desperate need in the area for a good coffeehouse. (Eric owns three other bars and restaurants and the two have been friends since college.)
“We also met Freddy and Nextdoorganics and they seemed like a good business to be neighbors with,” says Colella, who resides in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood. That was March 2014 and Colella’s first memory of the neighborhood then was the continuous residential developments sitting on every block at every corner.
“It hasn’t really hit yet,” he says of the development, “it’s all just construction right now.”
The wine shop sitting prettily at the corner of Throop and Dekalb is owned by serial small business owner, Freddy Saint-Aignan. Born in France, Saint-Aignan has been living in New York for about 15 years and for the last three, his residence has been in Bedstuy.
After owning and running a restaurant for seven years in Carroll Gardens, Saint-Aignan decided to open Vin de Table, which offers international, domestic and organic wines, bubbles, sake and port, after realizing there wasn’t another wine shop around.
Since opening in October, Saint-Aignan says he’s seen more and more people moving into the neighborhood, especially the massive apartment building across the street which wasn’t completed yet when Vin de Table’s opened.
So far, Saint-Aignan says business is good and the people are “very receptive” to new businesses cropping up.
“Here, everything is based on the small business,” he says.
Sitting proudly 15 minutes by train from Wall Street, Bedford-Stuyvesant is the kind of neighborhood where if you’re fixing your car outside, you’ll quickly acquire advice—whether you want it or not—from those standing nearby on what you should be doing to your car. Every block feels different and it’s unknown where the neighborhood is headed and how quickly it will get there, but no one is arguing that change is in the air. When gentrification takes over a neighborhood, a lot of controversy surrounds that process—and rightfully so. What feels different about Bedstuy is that it seems to be holding on to its roots much closer and tighter than other neighborhoods despite changes and shifts. And on that stretch of a block on Throop avenue, the new small businesses in town prove business is always much more personal than a mere transaction.