The 2010s through a Brooklyn lens

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Somewhere during the last 10 years, Brooklyn’s novelty wore off. It was no longer surprising that a person would run a supper club out of their loft; a BDSM dungeon, on the other hand, or a venue out of a cheese cave, now that was original. Moving further out on the L Train wasn’t out of the ordinary, though your commute would probably be a disaster at some point. The greater concern was that gentrification was rampant and unchecked, and showed no signs of ending. Businesses that embodied the DIY, creative spirit of the “new” Brooklyn disappeared; the old ones that represented the Brooklyn that would never change died, too.

For a moment it seemed that everyone in France was using the phrase “très Brooklyn” to confer singular praise, but it turned out to be an exaggeration. And yet, the borough is still a cultural bellwether. The west coast may adopt the far out more readily than the east, but for a trend to be official, it must involve Brooklyn. So before we rush into the 2020s, and hopefully find the giant reset button that will undo the damage of this administration, let’s take a step back and revisit the trends and events that defined Brooklyn during the terrible teens.

The rise of independent bookstores was one of the few retail highlights of the 2010s. Photo: Books are Magic

The indie bookstore triumphed

The 1998 flick, You’ve Got Mail, got many things right about the 2010s. Written by Nora Ephron (a genius!) and starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, it correctly predicts the popularity of online dating as well as the struggle that would arise between independent bookstores and conglomerates like Barnes & Noble or Amazon. At the end of the film the two fall in love (just as you knew they would), but the surprising thing is that Meg Ryan’s indie bookstore goes out of business. The real-life twist is that the bookstores of the 2010s didn’t just survive, they thrived! In Brooklyn, the most literary borough, this has been the decade of indie bookshops serving neighborhoods, passions, and niches. Books Are Magic, opened by Emma Straub, filled a hole in 2017 when the beloved Book Court closed their doors, and the registers and events have been ringing up brisk business since. There was talk of McNally Jackson losing its lease and closing down, but instead, it expanded, adding stores in South Street Seaport, Williamsburg and soon City Point. Greenlight Bookstore opened their first location in ‘09, but then expanded to Prospect Lefferts seven years later. PowerHouse Arena downsized, but didn’t disappear, opening two doors down from its original space in Dumbo. The Center for Fiction moved from midtown to Fort Greene, opening a bookstore, event space, plus a members-only reading room and writers space. And for every interest you can think of, there is now a bookshop: Children’s books (Stories Bookshop in Park Slope), food (Archestratus in Greenpoint), poetry (Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop in Dumbo), feminism (Cafe Con Libros in Prospect Heights), witches (Catland Books in Bushwick), just to name a few. Nora Ephron must be smiling from her grave.—M.C.P.

It’s hard to top a plate of noodles topped with lobster, but every year at Smorgasburg, some food vendor manages to. Photo: Regina Mogilevskaya

The food court entered the 21st century

In 2011, Brooklyn was psyched that an all food spin-off from Brooklyn Flea would open called Smorgasburg, billed as “the Woodstock of Eating.” Suddenly the idea of standing in long lines for a variety pack of international and/or photogenic food seemed novel. Weekend brunch was over. All the cool kids were holding wads of cash, in a broiling parking lot, knowing exactly which vendors to wait for and which to pass by. The food court was modernized. It was only a matter of time until developers wanted to get in on that—remember the shipping containers at Dekalb Market? Plus, there was winter to contend with. Move the food court back inside for year-round access and make more profit!  Food halls have always been popular in Europe, so there was a model to work from, with Todd English Food Hall (2010) and Eataly (2010). Suddenly, every new development in Brooklyn had one, each more artisanal than the next. In 2014, the founders of Smorgasbourg opened Berg’n in Crown Heights as a hybrid beer/ food hall. A 2016 real estate report from Cushman & Wakefield noted, “While there are a number of these growth-mode sectors, no other retail category has generated as much aggressive expansion in the past few years as food-related retail. And arguably, there is no hotter trend within that category as food halls.” They were right. In 2017, the DeKalb Market Hall opened off the Fulton Mall, with 40 vendors including Katz’s Deli, and Gotham Market at the Ashland got its shaky start in Fort Greene. In 2018, a global food hall opened in Industry City, including Japan Village, and North 3rd Street Market opened in Williamsburg. In 2019, Building 77 opened in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Time Out Market New York attempted a higher-end experience with their Dumbo food hall specifically for tourists walking over the Brooklyn Bridge. Every neighborhood has its own food hall now, but is anyone still hungry for them?—Meredith Craig de Pietro

The concept of dinner and a movie is now complete at dinner theaters throughout the city. Photo: Nighthawk

Movie theaters became dinner theaters

You know when going to the movies used to mean choosing between popcorn and candy, and if you got there late, you ran the chance of sitting separately from the friend you came with? Oh, 2010 movie buffs, that really sucked! In 2011, Nitehawk (which was inspired by Austin, Texas’s Alamo Drafthouse) opened a multi-screen theater in Williamsburg (and last year opened another location in Park Slope) with a menu developed by a Michelin-starred chef. Fans rejoiced at the reserved seats and economy of combining dinner and a movie. A few months after its opening, the New York Senate passed a bill allowing alcohol to be served in theaters, and everything changed. In 2016, Alamo opened in Downtown Brooklyn, Metrograph opened in the Lower East Side and Bushwick got its own intimate theater, Syndicated, complete with upgraded comfort food and 50 seats to choose from. The 2010s might have been the decade of Netflix + Chill, but if you wanted to go out, you’d never settle for the Megaplex experience again.—M.C.P.

The 2010s was the decade that Brooklyn evolved from a caricature of hipsterdom to activism. Photo: Emma’s Torch

Brooklyn went from “hipster” to “woke”

Remember when Brooklyn was known for being the home base for lumberjack-looking guys with beards and flannels burying sauerkraut in the backyard? Ladies didn’t fare any better, dressed as Etsy crafters drinking kombucha out of a mason jar. Williamsburg was not at a mall yet and was teaming with honeybees, pickles, and embroidered pillows. The start of this decade was arguably the end of “peak” hipster. The premiere of Portlandia in 2011 had us all laughing at the entire concept (“Put a bird on it!”). We went from hilarity to outrage pretty quickly, deriding the way hipsters spent a decade drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon and crafting, while the world was going to shit and/or becoming a corporate virtual reality around them. Nothing exemplifies the evolution better than Vice Media (where, full disclosure, I once worked). The Canadian magazine launched in 1994 with a skate “punk” aesthetic and the brand grew in popularity alongside the trajectory of its corporate headquarters in Williamsburg, often portraying naked girls and wasted bros. But by 2013, Vice News premiered on HBO, emerging as concerned global citizens. By 2015 they were publishing articles distancing themselves from hipsters, and their “edgy” culture was reexamined as a breeding ground for misogyny. The end of 2016 brought in a political hellscape in which we are all still living, and suddenly it seemed more important than ever to stop wasting time on frivolous crafting or partying. In the last few years, we’ve seen the opening of stores to help you go zero waste, a restaurant dedicated to helping train immigrants, and a wellness space dedicated to activism. The hipster era has been criticized for a lack of inclusivity, the displacement of minorities due to hipster gentrification, and “hipster racism.” Nowhere can this be seen as horrifically as with Vice co-founder, Gavin McInnes, now a far-right political commentator and founder of the neo-fascist organization, Proud Boys, who invaded Charlottesville, VA in 2017 for a “Unite the Right” white nationalist protest. If Brooklyn needed a wake-up call, this entire decade was it.—M.C.P.

In the 2010s was there any end to what we would do for the gram? (And does the ball pit ever get cleaned?)  Photo: Color Factory

Everything was for the ‘Gram

On October 6, 2010, an app called Instagram launched. You might remember that holiday season in a Nashville filter haze. Everything in our lives may as well have been in black and white. You didn’t know how to take photos, and the camera on your iPhone 3G sucked. You took photos of your friend’s macrame wall hangings, your friend’s long beard, your nails or your weekend upstate in an up-and-coming town called Hudson, NY. Mostly you took photos of yourself. You tried to make the photos better with the selfie-stick, which made news for being banned at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2015. Slowly, over the course of time, everyday objects started transforming into technicolor. In 2016, The Bagel Store on Bedford Avenue (which closed in 2019) created the rainbow bagel, spearheading an entire colorful and photogenic food explosion. By 2017, it seemed everyone had rainbow-colored hair and everything was being referred to as “unicorn.” Brooklyn Owl, after a successful Etsy stint selling unicorn horns that could be clipped onto hair, opened a brick-and-mortar shop in Park Slope. The streets of Brooklyn became your backdrops—the graffitied walls of Bushwick were perfect photoshoot backgrounds and Washington Street in Dumbo was taken over by influencers like cockroaches in a sticky kitchen. And by 2018, you were paying money to enter Instagram Museums, i.e. arranged photo opportunities that popped up around the borough featuring pizza, nightmares, and dreams. In your Instagram world, you could look happy, bright and shiny, forgetting the ever-shifting, unstable reality, a world where rents have sky-rocketed, the cost of living is unparalleled and presidents can be impeached but still re-elected.—M.C.P.

Even Bushwick caters to kids now. Photo: Seawolf

The babies won

Kids shouldn’t be running around where people are trying to drink and hook up,” one fed-up patron at popular Clinton Hill bar Hot Bird told The New York Post in 2014. If the oughts in Brooklyn were defined by the hipster invasion of just about everywhere, the first half of the ‘10s were all about the hipsters vs. the strollers. And nowhere was the conflict more fraught than in the turf war over whether the borough’s vast array of auto-body-shops-turned outdoor-drinkeries should be reserved for adult activities, or open to little ones running around while their parents were downing double bocks. Hot Bird wasn’t the first bar to wade into the baby wars. Union Hall, Greenwood Park, Double Windsor and more all took various levels of action, from “no stroller” signs to controversial no-kids-after-4pm rules, to outright baby bans. Fast forward to 2020 and the idea of a child-free night out in Brooklyn seems like a quaint pipe dream from days of singledom past. Remember when people used to make fun of Park Slope for being so full of “breeders?” What neighborhood in Brooklyn isn’t designed for children these days? Even once uber-hipster Williamsburg is chockfull of kiddie hair salons and precious play spaces. While some bars are trying to split the difference by hosting kid-friendly events during the day and adults-only drinking hours at night, most newer beer halls, from Berg’n to Black Forest, are decidedly kid-friendly (or, as the tot-haters would put it, overrun with babies). When the brand new biergarten HasenStuble recently posted in a Prospect Lefferts Gardens neighborhood group, the first question was, “Is this spot appropriate to drop in with a stroller on a weekend afternoon, or do you prefer grownups only?” The answer was an enthusiastic “yes, we heart kids.” Sorry, grown-ups. Brooklyn belongs to the babies now. As for Hot Bird? It shut down to make room for yet another skyscraper condo building. I’m sure it’ll have a great playroom.—Brendan Spiegel

The L-pocalypse loomed large over the decade, until it didn’t. Photo: Shane Ramkissoon

The L Train Shutdown that wasn’t

Rumors that the L train was going to be shutdown had been circulating for years. Hurricane Sandy had damaged the Carnarsie Tunnel back in 2012, but as soon as the water emptied and the L train started running again, everyone just hopped aboard. After all, what else were we supposed to do? Take the G to the E to meet friends in Chelsea? Hoof it to the JMZ and hope it was actually stopping at Essex Street this time? The L train is the only viable option for the hundreds of thousands of people who ride it every single day. So we ignored the warnings about the state of the tunnel and just went about our days and nights. Then came January 2016, when Governor Cuomo and the MTA announced that the tunnel had to be fixed and it would take three years or maybe seven (?!). But because the MTA and Governor Cuomo and local politicians and business owners and some new thing called the L Train Coalition were involved and arguing with each other, we civilians (or, at least, this civilian) just kept ignoring it. It was too ludicrous to think about anyway. How would we get to work or school or to that new dumpling place in the West Village?

Plus, the proposed start date of 2019 was still a long way off and people were filing lawsuits and there’s no way they would actually shut down the L train for 18 months, right?! Come early 2017, though, things started to feel real and ominous; someone even coined the phrase “L-pocalypse.” In the spring of that year, the MTA announced the L train would be closed for 15 months starting in April 2019. That’s when some people started to panic and I continued to play ostrich, because I live in Williamsburg and have to go to Manhattan every day and …no. They just couldn’t shut it down. As the deadline approached, the L train was shutdown on nights and weekends giving residents and business owners a taste of the potential subway-free nightmare. It was a pain in the neck to do anything outside the neighborhood and nearly impossible to get around without racking up a Lyft bill. The MTA announced their mitigation plan, which did away with the fanciful ideas being floated about (Gondolas! Floating bridges!) and instead involved more ferries, more JMZ and G trains, new shuttle buses, and restrictions on cars going over the Williamsburg Bridge. Everyone was fighting and no one was happy. I continued to ignore the looming disaster, but others began accepting their fates. Someone even opened a shutdown-themed haunted house in Bushwick. As the shutdown approached, people fled Williamsburg, rents dropped, businesses closed. My friend moved to Nashville ‘cause it seemed easier than trying to commute from an L-train-less Williamsburg and it kind of made sense. I meanwhile, very sensibly continued to refuse to think about it.

Then came December 2018 when Governor Cuomo decided to actually visit the Canarsie Tunnel. He was fresh from a surprise Democratic primary face-off against Cynthia Nixon, who had generated a lot of buzz by showing up at over-crowded L train platforms and blaming Cuomo. So Cuomo toured the tunnel and decided, seemingly out of the blue and in his infinite wisdom, that the tunnel was fine. No L train shutdown necessary, just slower service on nights and weekends. Go on about your lives. The MTA didn’t know the change was coming, but just sighed and got on with the repairs, ‘cause they’re New Yorkers, too. My genius plan to not think about it paid off.—Melissa Locker

The blogs (and all of news media) blew up

In 2007, the second annual “Brooklyn Blog Fest” attracted some 100 or so bloggers to the Old Stone House in Park Slope. This seems impossible—how could there be that many?—yet I remember reading about it because I had just begun an email newsletter called Brooklyn Based to stand apart from this sea. Its organizer was the publisher of “Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn,” her home turf, Park Slope, would soon be parodied by a site called Fucked in Park Slope that was deliriously funny. There was no end to these neighborhood blogs or new media outlets in the early 2010s, when the internet seemed capable of sustaining a million idiosyncratic sites covering the stroller wars, Atlantic Yards, women laughing alone with salad, new restaurants, Silk Road and incredibly self indulgent weather reviews. Then Google and Facebook crashed the party with their algorithmic jujitsu and began siphoning off ad revenue. By 2016 it was clear that there was not a lot of highway left for anyone online or in print to keep the stories coming and the writers paid without outside investors or the safe haven of a legacy media company. All the magazines I once worked for went under. Gothamist sold itself to the owner of DNAinfo, who shut down both, and then emerged under the wing of WNYC. Brooklyn Magazine imploded on its own accord. Brokelyn has been left to wither on the vine. The Village Voice died an unmourned death. A Peter Thiel-funded lawsuit gutted Gawker. New York Magazine ran for cover to Vox Media. Time Out got into the food hall business. Today the majority of the news industry—national glossies, local dailies, digital pubs—is in a state of decline, while the world’s largest and most profitable publisher, Facebook, refuses to police what is fake, libelous and hate-filled. It’s hard not to sound too heavy handed about this, but no matter how deep-pocketed a publication might seem, we should all recognize it for what it is: a rare, dying breed. If you have a chance to support it, do it before you read its obituary.—Nicole Davis

The Hudson Valley has been beckoning more and more NYC day trippers and Brooklyn expats in search of an affordable life. Photo: Eberhardt Smith

Brooklyn moved to the Hudson Valley 

Of all the New York Times trend pieces, the one about the Hudson Valley becoming the new Brooklyn at the start of this decade may have been the only one that didn’t make our eyes roll. We were cognizant of the migration north, and knew that many people being priced out of Brooklyn were making their B&B, restaurant and homeownership dreams come true upstate. As the decade wore on, our stories about what to do in upstate cities like Kingston and towns like Hudson started receiving more traffic than our Brooklyn coverage. We dabbled in upstate events, from a Beacon Immersion to a Hudson Valley edition of our wedding fair, and the word from all the locals was either how many Brooklynites were visiting each weekend, or how they too had relocated north. Not that it’s all been rosy: This expat diaspora is now pricing out longtime Hudson Valley residents. On a visit to Germantown this summer, I was blown away by the prices in a boutique selling $600 pairs of shoes and $400 cashmere sweaters. Wasn’t the gentrification of Brooklyn enough?!—N.D.

The decade from lumberjack to yuppie and the rents that led the way

The gentrification of Brooklyn happened in places where people had always lived. Nobody discovered this place, but the more rough and tumble, DIY folks weren’t scared of industrial spaces. It was a little edgy and raw here before the beginning of this decade, with more space than Manhattan and affordable enough for artists and musicians and restaurants and bars run by people without business experience for a while. Then more and more people started moving here, and more and more developers started putting up buildings. 

Three terms of Bloomberg cemented in a wealth disparity that encouraged real estate growth with tax breaks and a dearth of affordable housing. The vanity project of his legacy involved rezoning 40% of the city and extending tax breaks to developers, some who created affordable housing units at their own discretion for a bonus, an idea that doesn’t work. Brooklyn used to be affordable and spacious. Now it’s not. The hipsters that once were so comically lumberjacky became yuppies, some of them literally, or just figuratively, as the new creative class of branding moguls and publicists moved in and the lumberjacks moved upstate or to Maine.

Another Bloomberg legacy, the Stop & Frisk policing program, targeted people of color using skin color as probable cause. The policy adversely affected communities of color, prioritizing property and the sanitization of neighborhoods over people’s rights. Higher police scrutiny of residents of color makes people think a neighborhood is “safer,” and this notion attracts developers and people who move to New York City because they love the TV show Friends and end up ordering Seamless. They can feel like they’re close to Biggie, but in a homogenized, antiseptic environment that’s losing its culture. They live in towers in neighborhoods they radically alter without even knowing. 

Meanwhile, the homeless rate is on the rise—14% of this nation’s population of homeless people live in New York City—and more and more people are moving into the shelter system. This past decade saw the city of New York disrespect its working people and families by selling out to the highest bidder in pretty much every case, prioritizing chains and big business over independent business and continuing devastating policing campaigns. I think the next decade will show New York’s families and working people organize more and hopefully taking it back. New York is nothing without its people.—Millicent Souris

We didn’t cover all the notable events of the past decade, like the expansion of the Brooklyn waterfront or the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Let us know any moments that defined the last 10 years for you in the comments.

2 Responses

  1. Julie -

    So glad Cafe Con Libros was mentioned, but for goodness sakes it is undeniably in Crown Heights, not Prospect Heights. I know I’m being nit-picky, but it is proudly situated in Crown Heights, which is a wonderful neighborhood in its own right!

  2. Elizabeth Gray -

    Ha! I was the person who asked the question about babies at Hasenstuble in the PLG group. I’m sorry my growing up and growing old in NYC is getting in the way of hipster kids and their 5-year-plan, but I wasn’t asking about taking my kid to a club at night. If you go to a beer garden during the day almost anywhere, you’ll see families. Also, there have always been families in Brooklyn. (Including mine.)


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