Recount: A Magazine of Contemporary Politics

Not a Grande Frappuccino as Far as the Eye Can See

By Erin Obourn | Dec 20, 2004 Print

The L-train doors slide open in Brooklyn, the platform suddenly floods with shuffling feet. And then, not unlike the cockroaches in a Manhattan studio apartment when the lights flick on, the young and hip urban dwellers of Williamsburg and Greenpoint scatter into the darkness. Young women with dyed hair and designer sneakers walk home with grocery bags. Skateboarders, with their Gap jeans broken in just right, roll away ahead of the crowd. Angst-ridden artists shove fists into hooded sweatshirts and slump back to their studios, jaws clenched, Converse stomping.

Most of them are not from New York. They come and go as they please. They draw chain stores and overpriced coffee houses wherever they go. Just a few months ago in Dumbo, a Starbucks opened to a chilly reception at the corner of Front and Main Streets, as it was one of the few establishments that could afford the rent.

Then there are the people who are always here. The people whose neighborhood this really is. And no where is this more evident than the local coffee shops. Williamsburg has stayed surprisingly free of Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, even though it’s crawling with a demographic these establishments are usually drawn to like a moth to a flame.

There are the elderly Italian men who hang out outside Fortunato Brothers at all hours, speaking in native tongues, sipping cappuccino, looking as if a large man in a track suit with a baseball bat come to break your knee caps is just a phone call away.

There is the old couple who owns Café Capri, an establishment whose hours, after months of close examination, I still cannot pin down. They seem to be open Sunday afternoons and some Tuesday mornings, but they are so nice when you go in for a tea, that all unreliability is forgiven once the warm beverage is in hand.

The geographic boundaries in Brooklyn can sometimes be blurry, inhabitants unsure exactly where one neighborhood ends and the other begins, but Williamsburg is marked by a particular characteristic for New York, or perhaps I should say lack of a particular characteristic, that shows that even with the rush of young hipsters to the neighborhood, the people who keep this neighborhood running are still the dominant presence in the retail establishments. There is not one Starbucks as far as the eye can see.

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