Small Businesses in Peril: Harassment Prevention


Winifred Curran in her pieces From the Frying Pan to the Oven, and In Defense of Old Industrial Spaces, largely focuses on Williamsburg and the displacement of not residents, but rather small businesses. Curran points out, in From the Frying Pan to the Oven, that gentrification may be navigable to larger companies looking to grow in space and employees—the push to new areas, most times funded by the landowner, brings these companies to outer parts of Brooklyn and even to New Jersey where they flourish (Curran 1433). However, this dynamic does not translate to smaller business whose resources are not sufficient to make drastic changes. Often times they have lost space to illegal tenants who renovated the space, making it more marketable for residential purposes—a market in which landowners could gain higher profits. Other times the inability to find and keep a space was due to the landowner’s desire to keep the lot empty for purposes of tax breaks. Ironically though, business owners who own their buildings seem to be largely in favor rezoning, finding the business of developing or selling their property more profitable (Curran 1437).

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ITF Post: “Save New York City’s Fashion Factories” op-ed in NYT

Here’s an excerpt of an op-ed by fashion designer Nanette Lepore and her husband, Robert Savage, about Bill de Blasio’s proposal to move the garment district from Manhattan to Sunset Park:

Manufacturing in New York City’s garment district is in jeopardy of unraveling at its seams. The city’s Economic Development Corporation may soon begin the certification process to lift the zoning laws that have protected fashion and apparel businesses in these few blocks in Midtown Manhattan for decades.

The intention is for manufacturers to relocate to Sunset Park, Brooklyn. With lower rents and longer leases, the development corporation hopes to lure factory owners to a 200,000-square-foot industrial space, now being renovated. The garment district’s Business Improvement District has voted to provide financial assistance to cover some expenses for relocating factories; in exchange, the zoning laws will be lifted. If the local community boards approve the plan, it will be brought before the City Council for a vote, and the changes could occur in as little as a couple of months.

Some questions for thought:

  • Read the initial reporting about the proposed changes; what is the main reason for changing the zoning laws and moving the fashion district?
    • What evidence is cited in favor of changing zoning laws?
    • How will these changes theoretically benefit the fashion industry in New York?
    • Do you find this proposal convincing?
  • Read the entire op-ed by Lepore and Savage; why do they claim manufacturing in New York is in danger?
    • What evidence do they cite to argue against changing zoning laws?
    • Do you find their argument convincing?
  • Is de Blasio’s plan similar to other types of developments studied this semester?
  • How does this specific case, the zoning laws and move to Sunset Park, fit with the core question of the class: who has the power to shape New York?

ITF Post: “The Maraschino Mogul’s Secret Life” by Ian Frazier at The New Yorker

In light of the recent seminar discussion of light manufacturing in New York City, I wanted to share an article written by Ian Frazier for The New Yorker about the Maraschino Cherry Factory in Red Hook. The article is an excellent investigation into the history of the factory, the owner and family of the factory, and the ensuing lawsuits filed by his family. Here’s Frazier’s description of the factory and its place in the community:

In the nineteen-seventies [the factory] had moved from Carroll Gardens to Dikeman Street, in Red Hook. [Owner Arthur Mondella] set about expanding that location into two adjacent buildings, and eventually the factory occupied a total floor space of thirty-eight thousand square feet. He scaled up what had been essentially a mom-and-pop operation; his mother and his sister, Joanne, worked there, too, but he ran the show, increasing production capacity and acquiring large-volume food-service clients. In 2014, he made a seven-million-dollar investment in automation so that one day the place would “run itself,” as he told his daughters.

In the basement, police discovered a hydroponic system for cultivating marijuana.Illustration by Janne Iivonen. Source: The New Yorker.

Despite automating, he wanted to keep his human workforce intact. By all accounts, he cared about his employees. Lots of ex-offenders had jobs at Dell’s. The Red Hook Houses, a nearby low-income housing project, supplied him with workers who needed the paycheck. Mondella was known for giving salary advances, and loans whose repayment was not vigorously pursued. He hired a homeless man, provided him an advance for a deposit, and let him use a company truck to move into a new apartment. Gang tattoos could be seen on the muscular, maraschino-red-stained arms of guys on the factory floor.

Read the rest of the article here (or check the class GDrive folder for a hard copy).

SBJSA: A Wasted Effort or the Creation of More Williamsburgs?

      As a factor that impacts a lot of people and their livelihood, gentrification is a multifaceted double-edged sword. Concluding that it may relate to the displacement of people out of their houses, this then expands to these people’s small businesses. Small businesses are an essential component of a diverse community; not only do they employ a large amount of this country’s workforce, they also provide the means of innovation and creativity, characteristics that have been implied to only exist in the presence of the “creative class” (Curran 1). In her research paper “In Defense of Old Industrial Spaces: Manufacturing, Creativity, and Innovation in Williamsburg, Brooklyn,” Winifred Curran explores Williamsburg, a central mecca of small manufacturers and businesses, and how its players have adapted and survived amidst the entry of new industrial spaces, amidst the gentrification. She argues that policy has greatly ignored these small industries’ flourishment and prosperity fueled by their social networks and flexibility (Curran 875). While in her other paper, “‘From the Frying Pan to the Oven”: Gentrification and the Experience of Industrial Displacement in Williamsburg, Brooklyn,” Curran concluded that gentrification suffocates the success of small business and leads to its shutting down, Williamsburg’s small businesses were able to adapt and co-exist with the effects of gentrification by allowing their “charm” to attract their entering audience. Curran considers that this could have to do with Williamsburg’s location, its close proximity to 4 out of 5 boroughs. However, she largely attributes this success to small manufacturers’ resilience through the initial hardships which led to the creation of the unique character of Williamsburg through “authenticity” of small businesses, and eventually, the goal of customers truly interested, gentrifiers. In fact, some business owners thank gentrification for its generation of dollar signs (880). Curran concludes that “resurgence” can have a positive effect on the businesses of small manufacturers, as long as policymakers do not disrupt its natural occurrence with rezoning laws (882).  

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WaPo: New Yorkers not sure where “upstate” is but it’s definitely not Ithaca

In rebuke to Cynthia Nixon’s claim about “upstate” beginning at Ithaca, Philip Bump, reporter for The Washington Post, decided to conduct his own survey in order to determine where, exactly, New Yorkers think “upstate” begins. His methodology and results:

Map of answers from Philip Bump’s survey, published at the Washington Post.

Beginning on Sunday (shortly after reading Nixon’s opinion), I asked 1,016 New Yorkers: Where does “Upstate New York” begin?

When you ask 1,000-odd people the answer to a question, you get a lot of variation. Some is subtle, such as “Albany” vs. “near Albany.” Some is dismissive: Got a “do not care,” 40 “don’t know” replies and one “no.” Others made jokes: “my house,” “upstate someplace,” “Peoria,” “San Francisco.” Others identified very specific locations in and around New York City: 14th Street, the George Washington Bridge. Six people said that upstate started at 125th Street, meaning that the Bronx is in Upstate New York.

I love “no” because that’s my initial reaction, too, and “San Francisco” is a pretty good nod to the NYC-SF shared connections.

Read the rest of Bump’s article here.


Gentrification and the Deterioration of NYC Small Businesses


Winifred Curran in his essay called “From the Frying Pan to the Oven: Gentrification and the Experience of Industrial Displacement in Williamsburg, Brooklyn” discusses the role that gentrification has had in pushing out small businesses in NYC. The above video by TYT Politics Reporter Andrew Jones is an interview discussing how Governor Cuomo is favoring corporations and big businesses over small local businesses and that the rising rental costs along with gentrification in NYC are forcing small businesses to close down and relocate to less suitable areas. Continue reading “Gentrification and the Deterioration of NYC Small Businesses”

Gentrification May Not Be So Bad for Small Businesses

I found a recent Forbes article from last November, “Does Gentrification Help Or Harm Small Businesses?” by Chad Otar that discusses how small businesses can be affected by gentrification in neighborhoods like those we’ve discussed in class such as Harlem and Williamsburg. Since we’ve typically looked at gentrification as harmful for small businesses so far in our discussions on displacement, it’s interesting to see an article talking about how it may not be harmful and could even be advantageous. Otar brings up that “the majority of small businesses continued to operate after gentrification was up and running”. He also discusses how small businesses should go about using gentrification in neighborhoods to their advantage, and what to consider when moving forward. This includes things like how much business owners should be able to shoot up prices for new richer consumers, as well as considerations like how much rent will be going up, and whether it’s worth it or not to continuing business in the area.

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Despite Gentrification, Small Manufacturing Businesses Thrive

Twoseven, an 11-year-old company housed in an old factory in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, makes window displays for upscale stores like Louis Vuitton. Credit Richard Perry/The New York Times

It is often thought that when a neighborhood is in the process of getting gentrified, the small manufacturing businesses are bound to close up shop and get replaced by large industrial companies or novel startup industries.  However, after reading Winifred Curran’s article, “In Defense of Old Industrial Spaces” and the New York Times article, “Small  Factories Thrive in Brooklyn Replacing Industrial Giants” this is not necessarily the case.  As both the article and Curran stated small manufacturing companies actually thrive in gentrifying neighborhoods, especially in Brooklyn, by producing goods that appeal and satisfy the needs of those moving in. Continue reading “Despite Gentrification, Small Manufacturing Businesses Thrive”

The Community and Small Businesses: A Vital Relationship

This week’s readings focused on a segment of gentrification that is often overlooked — the implications this urban change projects on small businesses, and industrial centers. Winifred Curran provides an interesting take on the situation, as she begins by stating that she began the research as a way to hone in and highlight the displacement of many small manufacturers, the difficulty of zoning and building violations, and the legality of residential housing surrounding areas that are predominantly industrial based (e.g. Williamsburg, Long Island City, early SoHo). However, through her research, she finds that business owners often tell her about the, “remarkable adaptability, creativity and resistance to the prevailing economic order” (Curran, 875). She mentions important details about the ties that many small businesses and manufacturers have to their community — this results from historical development and the long established social ties they have with members of the community, as well as other business owners they are able to work with locally. It is important to acknowledge these neighborhoods in thriving and economically growing areas such as New York City because they are central to many other big businesses, and help to maintain economic vitality. The article mentions that many businesses are able to carry out their daily needs and duties without complaints from the nearby residents who live near there because they either form close relationships over the many years they have lived here with business owners and are adjusted to this noise and way of life, or because most of the residents are in fact these local business owners.

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Displacement of Manufactories

When thinking of gentrification, we tend to think of the consequences it has on the residents of a particular neighborhood, but we forget about the businesses equally affected by it, specifically manufacturing businesses. Just like people, large manufacturing businesses get displaced too as discussed by Winferd Curren in her article “‘From the Frying Pan to the Oven’: Gentrification and the Experience of Industrial Displacement in Williamsburg, Brooklyn”. Williamsburg, a once industrial neighborhood, is now being gentrified into a residential neighborhood, leaving manufacturers to be displaced. The issue at hand is that is this transition from industrial to residential harmful for the economy of the neighborhood, or even the city. Curren states that the displacement of manufacturers is “endangering the diversity of the economy and the employment outcomes of unskilled and immigrant workers” (1427). Such effect would not only increase the unemployment rate, but it will also “intensify mounting social ills such as poverty, racism, poor health care and inadequate education, which are still in the process of healing” as stated on Brooklyn Public Library’s history of Williamsburg.

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