Northeast Kingdom's Paris Smeraldo on Bushwick, the Price of Milk
Neighborhood change can often be measured in edible form: take the number of espresso bars in a three-block radius and divide that by the number of months it's taken them to open. Take that number and use it to multiply average storefront rent, and you get some idea of how long it will take for the glass towers to rise.
That kind of change has been slow to come to the industrial wilds of Bushwick, but it's coming: Last week, the New York Times reported on the imminent opening of Bushwick in the Loom, a 10,000-square-foot shopping center that will feature an organic grocery store, a wine shop, and possibly a bar or restaurant. The shopping center, housed in two former manufacturing buildings, sits next door to Northeast Kingdom, the little New England bistro that caused a stir when it started serving organic chicken pot pie and Guinness-braised short ribs four years ago. So Fork in the Road asked Paris Smeraldo, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife, Meg Lipke, for his perspective on his new next-door neighbor.
Aside from the impending opening of an organic grocery store in the neighborhood, Smeraldo says, "you could get off of the subway and wouldn't know there's anything going on. It's not visible from the street.
"I haven't seen storefront changes," he explains. "At night, all the riot gates are pulled down, and during the daytime, forklifts go in and out."
The number of people coming to Bushwick from places like the East Village and Park Slope is what's really changed, says Smeraldo. "That's where it's all happening -- in studios and at parties. Not to be corny, but it's about creativity, not commerce."
That said, he recognizes that where creativity goes, commerce soon follows, and accepts the fact that within ten years' time, Bushwick will most likely go the way of Williamsburg. "It's inevitable," he says. "It's the history of New York."
Is he worried about the similarly inevitable rent increase on his restaurant, which arguably helped to embellish the neighborhood's perceived desirability?
"For sure, we have our concerns about that," he says. "And the way the neighborhood's changing, it's not going to have the slow growth process that Williamsburg did. I think it's going to happen really rapidly over a couple of years: Realtors will develop storefronts and large swaths of apartments and flip them, and suddenly, five businesses will be opening up every week. It's going to be gentrified, but it won't happen for another five to 10 years."
In the meantime, Smeraldo's got some mixed feelings about the new shopping center. On the one hand, "it's going to bring more life to the block and make it safer." On the other, "it's going to be one of these Millennium slash big organic grocery stores [the store is the second location of Williamsburg's Hana Foods] where the milk is really expensive. It's cool that you can walk in and grab something, but the price point's going to be a little high for the area. People are a little bit bummed about that on some level."
As for what the price of milk means for Northeast Kingdom, "I think it'll affect our business negatively and positively in terms of taking some people away who can go to the store and get a sandwich, but also bringing in more people to us." Right now, he says, the economy's had some predictable effects. "We have a pretty steady business, but it's a lot more sandwiches and PBRs. People aren't ordering expensive entrees like they used to."
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