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What brought you to Brooklyn in the first place?
I came to Brooklyn on a whim. I was 24 and only a couple years out of college. I figured it might be a fun place to live for a while. I moved into a friend’s apartment on S. 3rd Street and immediately fell head over heels in love with Williamsburg. This was in 2000 and rent was still affordable back then (I paid $300/month for a room in my friend’s two bedroom). It’s not nearly as affordable now, but I still love it.
What’s the most inspiring or exciting change you’ve witnessed in Brooklyn over the past few years?
Honestly I don’t get out of Williamsburg much, so I’ll limit myself to commenting on the changes I see here. And boy have there been a lot of changes here over the last 13 years. I feel very lucky to have moved here when I did, because it feels to me like the neighborhood and I have grown up together. From 2000-2005 it was a much wilder place; then from 2005-2010 it calmed down a lot and became much more down-to-earth and respectable. Since 2010 it’s become much more family friendly and feels like a great place for me to raise my 18-month-old son. I know not everyone is on board with all changes that have been happening, but I can see firsthand that Williamsburg has retained—and I believe will continue to retain—its unique character. Oh, and I love the McCarren Park pool. What an awesome transformation that was, and what an ambitious risk it was to restore that facility. I’m so proud of my neighborhood and my city for having the vision and the dedication to see that project through.
And the most worrisome?
I have to admit I’m ambivalent about all the new huge luxury condo buildings. Yes, Williamsburg needs more housing, and I’m all for the population of our neighborhood continuing to grow, but man, some of these buildings are awful. But it’s not like this is a problem unique to Williamsburg; new housing all around the city is ugly and sterile. I’d also like to take this opportunity to remind people that King’s Pharmacy was there first, and it was not cool for Duane Reade to open right across the street. So not cool. I’m not against chain stores, but I am against businesses disrespecting other businesses. I hope this is not something we’ll be seeing more of in Williamsburg.
What now-closed Brooklyn business do you miss the most?
So many! I loved the L Cafe; so sad to see that go. Yabby’s, anyone remember that place? That would be an awesome place to still have around. The old Sweetwater. The latest business that I’m so sad to see go is La Villita. I thought they’d be around forever. I’m sure there’s a ton that I’m forgetting.
Ten years from now, which more recently opened Brooklyn businesses do you think will have made enough of a mark on the community to be considered as part of the next wave of Brooklyn Institutions?
Nitehawk will for sure be among them. What a great addition to the neighborhood. The Meat Hook and Marlow & Daughters I think are just the first of more old-school customer-oriented businesses that will thrive in this neighborhood.
Now we’re going to ask you to list a few favorites:
Neighborhood, other than your own: West Village (so beautiful and peaceful, I love to take little mini-vacations over there).
Restaurant: Marlow & Sons.
Bar: I find myself sticking pretty close to home, i.e. our block: Maison Premiere, Lucky Dog, DuMont Burger, Iona, etc.
Coffee Shop: Oslo, hands down.
Park: I love the little park at the end of Grand Street, down by the water.
Old-school Brooklyn institution: Maybe this is just because it's now the season for them, but can anyone live without the ice cream trucks? I know that song probably haunts all our dreams, but when you need a vanilla soft serve, it's the siren call that beckons us.
Under what circumstances, if any, would you consider leaving Brooklyn?
If I could afford to live in a beach house in Baja California, well, that would be a tough choice.
Any noticeable differences in your clientele over the years, in terms of movie preferences, viewing habits, etc.?
Yes, they started renting less movies from us. This wasn't a big surprise, Netflix was already around when we opened back in 2003, and of course the internet, as we all know, is going to eventually take over everything. Our clientele now have what I would describe as "rarefied" tastes; they know what they want, and they know that we have it for them.
You guys did a big overhaul recently, adding in a bar and screening room. Do you feel like that's necessary survive as a video store in 2013 (as opposed to 2003) Williamsburg?
For us, it was absolutely necessary. We did everything we could to keep our business intact as a video store, but it wasn't enough. We were very lucky that our space turned out to be very conducive in its layout to our new format, and we're happy that we've been able to continue renting movies and keep our business geared towards the movie-loving community.
Photo by David Loaiza
Pictured Above: Wendy Chamberlain and James Leet