Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cruise Ships Bring New Customers To Red Hook Stores .... well, at least to the Chinese Restaurant.

It's been a common complaint that when "the powers that be" bring their development plans to Red Hook, little ever materializes in the form of often promised benefits for the community - whether it be the for residents or small businesses.

Sure, IKEA brought some jobs to the locals, a nice waterfront park and a free customer water taxi service, but the promise of these thousands of new customers seeking other shopping options in the neighborhood hardly materialized. The quick demise of the newly renovated bar "Annabelle's" (formerly - and much missed - "Lillie's") and the adjoining restaurant "La Bouillabaisse" that were situated right across the street from IKEA is evidence of that. I guess people preferred their pseudo Swedish meatballs to the excellent Neil Ganick created cuisine to be had at the non-IKEA restaurant. Let's face it, who's going to load up their car with disassembled furniture and head out for some fine dining - day or night - especially when they've got many long and frustrating hours of reassembling ahead of them? I don't even think that the Liberty Heights Tap Room (now Rocky Sullivan's) benefited from the anticipated throngs of thirsty construction workers who were building the blue and yellow behemoth a mere block away.

Similarly, shouldn't we ask questions when the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) says that they anticipate the relocation of 500 workers to Red Hook - with their newly inked plan to bring Phoenix Beverages to the Brooklyn Waterfront at Piers 7 and 11 at the Atlantic Basin - will bring great benefits to our community? The trade off to the locals for the imposition of 200 new truck trips a day, more congestion and pollution from the trucks and from the carcinogenic extra-dirty diesel smokestack pollution of the additional idling container ships is, they say, the great economic benefit it will bring. Not only to the City as a whole, but to Red Hook itself. Hey, they're the ECONOMIC Development Corporation ... they know what they're talking about, right?

Most of Phoenix's jobs, we've been told, will be truck drivers and the EDC said they were sure they'd (at least) be stopping in at the local eateries to grab some lunch or something. I wait with anticipation to see the "Hope and Anchor" packed with Phoenix drivers catching a bite in the middle of their day - returning to Red Hook after interrupting their run out to Long Island and beyond, their trucks double parked on Van Brunt Street, soon to drive back out to the suburbs with an excellent espresso from "Fort Defiance" in one hand and one of "Baked"'s fine cupcakes in the other. They'll no doubt be returning later that night to have a fine meal at "The Good Fork", "Home/Made" or "Kevin's" (to name a few) - you know, supporting their fellow Red Hook businesses.

There will be some good things coming with the EDC's plan - the accomodation of the Brooklyn Greenway and inclusion of PortSide New York in the plan is at least a small concession to the strong sentiment in our community, detailed specifically in many formats - whether it be Community Board 6 Guidelines, or our 197a Plan - for some sort of cultural element and meaningful waterfront access and public space. Unfortunately - and I don't want to sound like I'm minimizing the value of their presence and the contribution they will bring to this plan - but we're getting a lot less than what we asked for, and the public waterfront access has basically been reduced to a corner of a paved parking lot.

Still, the EDC said the plan will bring economic benefit to our community. Many of our small businesses showed great reluctance to agree with the EDC's assertions on this matter. Some asked what studies the EDC had done to show this was the fact - the answer was none. When the small store-owners and business people asked, in some of the community meetings, what the comparative economic benefit to the upland community of an alternate plan would be (one that included Phoenix in addition to the inclusion of New York Water Taxi's operations and more jobs, the development of other commercial activities, boat repair, a marina, cultural spaces and much more public access, waterfront access and open space), the EDC basically shrugged their shoulders. Apparently they don't collaborate with their non-Maritime Unit colleagues.

So it's with this in mind that I get back to the whole point - sort of - of this post. When the EDC were building the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, at the bottom of my street, many of us had hopes that the benefits that they promised would come to our community from that development would come to fruition. Perhaps a few disembarking passengers would wander around the neighborhood and buy a few things at our cool shops - eat at a cafe or restaurant - buy a drink at a bar. Maybe some would drive around the neighborhood and see what an interesting place it was, and be lured back later? Surely the EDC would make the terminal itself a people friendly place that invited non-travelers to the waterfront to watch the ships, sit on a bench, or just lay on a grassy seaside public space, taking in the waterborne activity around them? Logically, the terminal building could be used as a convention or function center when the ships weren't in, no? The EDC is going to create a nice welcoming gateway to the terminal, and back into Red Hook - perhaps a gate at the pedestrian access at the bottom of Pioneer Street that said "Welcome to Red Hook, Brooklyn", with a guide to the local businesses, right? The EDC will surely ensure that the cruise ships don't have to idle while in port (by the implementation of "Cold Ironing" - the use of Shore Power so the ships can turn off), instead of churning their many tons of dangerous chemicals into our childrens' lungs, while their passengers pass through this brand spanking new, multi-million dollar, state-of-the art terminal to luxuriate on the Queen Mary 2 and sip on their flutes of Krug?

It didn't seem so far fetched.

Well, 6 years later, none of this has come to pass.

At least I thought not, until I had a conversation with my local bodega guy - Cliff. As I was buying my milk, I asked him -

"So, I see the ship's in today" (one of many sailings this last summer) ... "Are you getting any customers?".

"Nah", he said. "Just a few of the crew stopping in for soap, some toothpaste or whatever".

"Oh", I said.

"But the Chinese is doing well", Cliff offered. "They're rockin'".

So I took a look at our excellent and friendly local Chinese take-out, the "Ling Gee", and, yep, for sure they were busy. And after that, whenever I noticed that the ships were in - especially the Princess lines, for some reason - the little restaurant seemed to be doing a thriving business. With crew members from the ship filing in, sometimes having to wait outside, and then taking some time to sit at the window and slurp up some freshly prepared noodles or house special soup (they have a good one).

Hey, I thought. The EDC was right.

At last, some benefit for the local businesses .....

Well, for one at least.


  1. There have been a handful of folk from the cruise ships that come in, mostly crew that have become regulars for our weekend brunch series at home/made. Bummer that we didn't make your list. We'll take what we can get I suppose and struggle on through.

  2. Quite right, Leisah - I added you in ....

  3. It's a shame that you don't consider Hot Bagels, Red Hook Cafe, F&M Bagels, Mark's Pizzeria amongst other establishments in your list of businesses. Is it possible that truck drivers and cruiseline employees are not attracted to the places that you listed because of their pricing? atmosphere? I doubt its just a false promise by incoming developers. I think you should take a look at the type of people that frequent the places you mentioned and then look at those who work for Phoenix. Maybe in Red Hook we need more artists and hipsters to sit in coffee shops all day because after all they are the only people that matter in Red Hook.

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  5. Hi Anonymous,

    They're all great businesses, some among them that I frequent, but I didn't have room to fit everyone into my "list" - and with, what I thought was clearly my "tongue in cheek" tone, the others seemed more appropriate.

    The point I was trying to make - and the point many small businesses made at the meetings that preceded the signing of Phoenix's lease - was that the truck drivers will be out on the road, out of Red Hook, all day, grabbing lunch or whatever along the way. To say that they'll figure in seriously to any up-tick in local businesses activities is pretty disingenuous.

    Regarding your derisive comment about hipsters, artists, etc. I'm too busy trying to make ends meet, keep my family and children healthy and doing all the other banal chores of life to think about your convenient labels - occasionally I have an hour or two to write a post on this blog, write a letter to my representatives, or do something else that I hope will improve the life of my family, and hopefully others. If that makes me "part of the problem", as you see it, so be it.

  6. I have had crew members from the QEII come in a few times to my shop, RedLipstick, {across from Fort Defiance}, and they bought some things. I asked one of them if there were any advertising opportunities on the ship, and was told "not really, only a bulletin board for crew". They also said people on the ship were from Manhattan anyway, not Europe. Interesting.

  7. I think at the very best, these entities (Phoenix, Cruiseline) have utilized key areas of our neighborhood for personal gain and have not made a beneficial impact on the neighborhood. If anything they've just clogged our streets without helping small business or our community as a whole. In terms of IKEA, I think it has put the word out for those who have never been to nor have heard of Red Hook. Otherwise I don't think it has benefited small businesses yet. Also, when speaking of the businesses (Bouillabaisse & Annabelle's)on Beard St. , I'm not sure those types of places would attract customers from IKEA. That area of Red Hook is still in early stages of development and I'm sure in time more small businesses will begin to open. All think out of all of the bigger businesses around the area, Fairway has opened the eyes of Brooklynites as well as Manhattanites to our neighborhood. Thus, adding opportunities for local small businesses to gain customers. Adam, how would I be able to find out more about or get involved with the local EDC? I'd really like to find out more about what's going on behind the scenes in the neighborhood.

  8. Living in the neighborhood, and having recently spent part of our honeymoon on the QM2, I can speak a bit to this...

    There IS a Brooklyn tourism desk in the cruise terminal that you can't miss. Friendly guy was manning the desk, and was pretty knowledgable about the area, although he was more inclined to send folks antique shopping on Atlantic. You also have your typical Markowitz-isms throughout, including a "Leaving BK, Fugetaboutit (sp)" as you board the ship.

    We spoke with quite a few crew members, and hyped the area. They are given an option of a bus to Target, or a bus to Manhattan, so for a crew in need of supplies and/or shopping, it's unfortunately a tough sale. Our steward was hoping for a local tattoo artist, but logistally getting him to Smith St was difficult.

  9. Hey Gregory,

    If you're looking to make comments directly to the EDC you can email them - the main email is info@nycedc.com - If your inquiry is about the waterfront you can ask for your comments to be directed to Andrew Genn (Vice-President - Maritime), or Venetia Lannon (Senior Vice-President - Maritime.) The NYCEDC President is Seth Pinsky.

    They are the ones who have been guiding this Phoenix deal through. It's by sending emails to the EDC that I got caught up in this whole matter of development and pollution from the port ... eventually feeling frustrated and compelled to start this blog. So watch out!

    As far as finding out "what's going on behind the scenes" - this process has been rarely a transparent one - both from the EDC and Port Authority - with assertions made that defy facts and logic, and decisions taken that are at times befuddling. So good luck with that.

    You can attend Red Hook Civic Association and Community Board 6 meetings. They often shed light on matters that you might not otherwise know.

  10. I heard that Fairway gave neighborhood residents preference for jobs when they opened. And I am waiting to hear more about that local vegetable growing plan.... when I pass by it looks as if the asphalt crop of 2009 was one of the best in recent years!