*Photos will be added to this*
The following interview was conducted with the two owners of a café in Tompkinsville that has been there for nearly 20 years. The book cafe- part of the Everything Goes Thrift and Vintage collection of stores, is owned and operated by members of the GANAS commune which was founded in 1979 on the North Shore of Staten Island. The commune runs a collection of four thrift stores on the North Shore- a book store, two clothing stores, and a furniture store. On the Everything Goes website they state:
Everyone who works in the stores lives together and shares in the stores’ profits. Because we live and work together, work relationships and conflict resolution are important to us. We seek open and caring ways of relating to one another in which we regard problems as opportunities to work together. And we find that when we do put our minds together to solve problems we make better decisions. We want to extend this caring of each other to our customers as well. We view our customers as unique, valuable people who add to our lives by sharing theirs.
It’s interesting how second hand stores, which originally were seen as an environmental/conservationist alternatives to brand name stores have been co opted by gentrifiers to be a place to find trendy, vintage fashion. In Manhattan and Brooklyn especially, there are a surplus of “thrift” stores that up-sell donated clothing for a profit. The Everything Goes stores seem to remain true to their roots and are committed to contributing to the community and providing a nurturing space for their customers.
Here are Katie and Steve’s thoughts on the topic of gentrification in the changing landscape of New York City, in Staten Island as well as the other boroughs:
How do you define gentrification?
Katie: Reclaiming rundown areas troubled parts of old cities and bringing new life in to it, new businesses. And it can have really positive sides and negative sides. Invigorating, bringing people in, negative, displacing people where rents used to be low. Most people use the word in a negative sense. The different parts of the process.
Artists can move in, pay low rent, then things start changing and they get pushed out. THey So much pressure to make money for developers. Two beautiful houses near mine will be torn down and redeveloped into new boxy houses. My friends involved in historical societies would like to preserve these houses.
Do they get more money for selling to developers? (So that they wouldn’t be torn down)
Katie: No, but they get money faster by selling to developers. Even regular people see the opportunity to buy cheap property and improve it (if they plan to stay there) they make it better because they want to be part of the community, but if they view it as an opportunity to make money they don’t care about what happens to the neighborhood. A lot of people can afford to live here as is (in SROs), which is renting just one room. If these areas get sold to developers, those buildings will definitely be torn down and those people may very well end up homeless.
What do you think about Urby? (the new housing development recently built to cater to millenials on Staten Island’s North Shore)
Katie: Urby has some housing set aside for people with lower income. Generally it seems like it was designed for yuppies, given the rent price. It’s very high tech. They don’t even have keys. They have gardeners to do their community garden. There’s a pool. There’s a hip young couple running it. They both have dreadlocks. Asher took me up to the roof, showed me an empty room. It wasn’t big. I liked the bees, the pool, the garden. There’s a beautiful kitchen with cooking classes that you can reserve for a party. What I like is that there’s a lot of shared resources. The rent structure is such that you’re going to be with people of similar income, and not the diversity that the rest of the neighborhood has. This makes some people comfortable, but not others. I had a friend that didn’t like Urby because it didn’t seem like a “real” neighborhood, which is what I think puts a lot of people off. I feel overall positive about Urby because it’s bringing new people to our neighborhood. We have a business, it’s good for us. People, especially book lovers, will like it. That whole area along the waterfront in Stapleton is something people wanted access to the water. At least it didn’t take away from public access.
Steve: Thinks start falling apart and then people come in to fix it up, but then it raises the rent and pushes people out. There’s good sides and bad sides to everything.
Katie: Tearing down 2 beautiful houses to build 6 ugly ones is a very negative type of development.
Steve: I was in the East Village and it was really interesting. It was great in the 60s and 70s even though it was more dangerous. It was amazing because of all the abandoned buildings- there were ***
How has the neighborhood changed over your time here?
Steve: They have always said I’ve first arrived here that “The boom is right around the corner” and “everything is going to be more like Manhattan and Brooklyn” but it never happened. Although property values have gone up. Still, the neighborhood didn’t essentially changed. It has many ethnicities, many socioeconomic groups that are fairly integrated. One of the most integrated places, block by block, in the country. The only radical thing that has happened since I moved here has been the construction of the ballpark by the ferry. Urby isn’t too tall, it isn’t dramatically changing the skyline. Maybe when it’s all said and done I’ll find some sort of silver lining, but I always thought it’s only good for the developers. The developers made all these promises and descriptions that they don’t really have to stick to. I don’t see the change yet. They promised solar power but none of that is happening now. Just the shopping mall. The wheel is going to be $40.
Katie: Population density is good for local businesses, but in SI when you have that, people bring up “What about the schools, the roadways, the infrastructure?” There’s already such a strain of these things. The schools are so crowded. More people can be a mixed blessing.
Steve: There can be unintended consequences.
Katie: Nobody wants a homeless person sleeping on their stoop. There’s always a conflict between different groups, but you need to give these people more. The more you give them, the less the problems are. They need a place to sleep, something to eat. To be treated like a human. Our neighborhood has so many social services available, like the food stamps office, Project Hospitality, a halfway home, homeless services, and they’re not going anywhere. So they can’t really be pushed out. COmmunity Health Action of Staten Island is a volunteer run organization with a lot of programs and services ,they provide jobs, and they’re located here. I just think this area will always be a mixture of different socioeconomic groups.
The main thing that has really changed is that this has always been a very integrated neighborhood, but now it’s more a Mexican neighborhood, and other spanish populations. It’s not just here, it’s all over the country. I’m not sure why. They came this area BECAUSE it was affordable.
(Katie is from DC, grew up in a middle class neighborhood that has more or less the same character still. Steve is from the desert in the southern tip of California.)
Do you have any thoughts on gentrification as it as it pertains to the neighborhood?
Steve: It’s really a mixed blessing. I’ve seen a lot of things get destroyed, but also a lot of things get fixed. You can’t really predict it. We don’t want our small weird little stores getting replaced by bars so that we gotta be like “Now we got all these drunk people from Jersey!”
Since 2003, mostly my own perception has changed. When I first moved here it was like “Ooh, scary people, dirty.” Now it’s people I know and recognize. Some buildings have gotten cleaner and prettier. Improving stores to rent to someone for money is something I don’t particularly like. The park hasn’t really changed. They did a big renovation back when we first opened the store, but not really since then. They fixed the fountain. Gentrification would get rid of the people that were breaking the fountain. So it’s like hey, the fountain works, but the rent is higher.
Gentrification, from “gentri-” means turning it into a place where the owners live, and the workers have to go live somewhere else. It’s a class thing. The police come to protect the owners and their property.