By Gregg S. Lipman
Manhattan, you’re losing your edge.
Once upon a time, you were the place to be, home of cool restaurants, stylish stores, landmark brownstones, enviable lofts, beautiful people and driver-driven Escalades.
Actually, that place still exists – but now it’s called Brooklyn.
Yup, Brooklyn has become so synonymous with all things cool — and also “artisanal,” “DIY,” “indie,” “handcrafted,” and “foodie” – that the New York Times recently deemed it its own brand. The Brooklyn Flea, which has been written about in so many publications, is thinking about branching out into other non-New York markets. The Brooklyn Nets won’t be celebrating a championship this year at the brand-spanking new Barclays Center, but the team definitely has cool cache (helped in part by Jay-Z and Beyonce). And the 25-year-old Brooklyn Brewery is going to open its first outpost in Stockholm this year. Brooklyn is also a verb, as in “Brooklynizing,” and an adjective, as in “Brooklynish.” Los Feliz has been called the “Brooklyn” of Los Angeles, Kreuzberg is the Brooklyn of Berlin, Jersey City is the Brooklyn of…well, maybe not, but you get the picture.
For someone who always considered Manhattan the holy grail, all this hype around Brooklyn leaves me feeling twisted. Full disclosure: My formative first half-dozen years of life were in Brooklyn, before I was banished to the foreign land called New Jersey. Maybe this dates me, but when I first moved back into the city (aka, “The City”), Brooklyn was where people went simply because they couldn’t afford Manhattan. Manhattan had the glamour, the edge, the energy, the style. It was Tiffany’s, it was Bloomies, it was CBGB and The Bottom Line. It’s where Dylan got his start and where Warhol incubated The Velvet Underground. But now, 7-Elevens have taken over, exorbitant apartment prices have ensured that only bankers can live there, Elmos have replaced the hookers in Times Square (and not necessarily for the better!) and celebrities are hopping on the F train to their brownstones in Brooklyn Heights and Boerum Hill. Manhattan looks like a sad little wannabe.
So how can the Bronx (which has Arthur Avenue and the Cloisters, c’mon), Queens (home of the potentially hip Astoria and Long Island City) and Staten Island (which is ripe for a remodel after Hurricane Sandy) take a page out of Brooklyn’s book? And how can Manhattan get back on top? Here are some tips from the reigning New York borough:
1. Forge alliances.
Brooklyn businesses and business owners tend to stick together, and these relationships have helped the borough project an image of unity and pride. Brooklyn Flea founder Eric Demby used to work for Borough President Marty Markowitz. Andrew Tarlow, of Williamsburg’s Diner and Marlow & Sons restaurants, partnered with Dumbo’s real estate heir, Jed Walentas, to open the Wythe Hotel. Barclays Center has joined forces with hot Brooklyn food retailers like Calexico and Blue Marble to sell their offerings at the new stadium. Partner and you shall prosper.
2. Keep it real.
Rather than forcing out old populations to make room for new ones, Brooklyn has stayed true to its old-school roots and promoted the cultural diversity of its neighborhoods. Hassidim still live alongside hipsters in Williamsburg, Poles still live alongside, well, more hipsters in Greenpoint, and yuppie families live alongside old Italian butchers in Carroll Gardens. There’s an overall down-to-Earthness in Brooklyn that might not be found on the Upper East Side; there, sneakers and jeans are the norm, not Chanel suits.
3. Enlist ambassadors.
Whether they are celebs, restaurant owners or 80-year-old men sitting on their Carroll Gardens brownstone stoops, the residents of Brooklyn are a proud bunch. And they are quite vocal about their love for where they live. Ingenues Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway are often photographed at the Brooklyn Flea. Ethan Hawke, who came to symbolize Chelsea in the ’90s (so much so that he made a movie, “Chelsea Walls”), recently bought a brownstone in Boerum Hill. And hey, stylish Brits David and Victoria Beckham thought Brooklyn so cool that they named their firstborn for the borough. Celebs like Barbara Streisand and Larry David may have gotten out of Brooklyn, but they often talk about their Brooklyn roots in interviews.
4. Think local.
When it comes to retail, Brooklyn is the Etsy of neighborhoods. The main drags of Carroll Gardens, Park Slope and Williamsburg don’t tout the chain retailers like Manhattan, but instead boast smaller boutiques peddling wares that are made right there in Brooklyn. (Smith Street’s By Brooklyn calls itself “the only store dedicated to the sale of fine goods made across the great Borough of Brooklyn.”) At Brooklyn Larder, a specialty food shop opened by Franny’s owners Francine Stephens and Andrew Feinberg, many of the offerings come from Brooklyn-based brands. And restaurants like iCi in Ft. Greene and Frankie’s 457 in Carroll Gardens use produce from Red Hook’s Added Value farm on their menus.
5. Tout your lineage.
Have you noticed just how many brands there are out there right now with the name “Brooklyn” in the title? Beer company Brooklyn Lager is one of the oldest and most visible, but there is also Brooklyn Industries, Brooklyn Bowl, the Brooklyn Flea, the Brooklyn Home Company, to name a few. And nearly every brand based in Brooklyn — from Mast Brothers Chocolate to McLure’s Pickles — proudly boasts its “Made in Brooklyn”-ness on its packaging.
But Brooklyn shouldn’t get too comfy with its current cool status; it’s just a matter of time before the borough suffers a backlash as well, and the cool hunters go in search of the next big thing. So get moving, Bronx, Queens and Staten Island and, yes, Manhattan….this is your time. In the immortal words of Queens’ residents Run DMC, “‘I’m going back to Brooklyn, to Brooklyn, I’m going back to Brooklyn (I don’t think so…).'” Okay, I took a little creative license with that one.