Monday, January 7, 2013

Doing Business in Brooklyn, New York

 Brooklyn is perhaps one of the most misunderstood boroughs of New York City. Merely mentioning the place to outsiders is followed by grimaces and shakes of the head. As one of the most populous boroughs in the city, Brooklyn is not very pretty to the eyes at first glance. Streets are aligned with storefronts and multi-floored narrow houses that stack like a jumbled jigsaw puzzle. But locals are oblivious to the disarray, appreciating the convenience such close proximity gives them.

To be fair, Brooklyn is not for the faint of heart. At 71 square miles, it shelters 2.5 million residents, making it the second most populated city within the U.S. As an independent city, Brooklyn would rank the second most highly populated area in the nation.

The borough is best known for its rich history and diverse cultures. Before it was annexed in 1898, it was founded by Dutch immigrants in 1624 who originally named the city Breukelen, after a province in the Netherlands. The Dutch were to later influence the neighborhoods of Bushwick, New Utrecht  and the Flatlands, monikers also adopted from the motherland. As the city grew, it became a main attraction for immigrants worldwide. But that would not be evident in the records the Census Bureau releases.

According to the 2010 Census report, whites make up half of the borough's population, but that figure is dead wrong. Having lived in Brooklyn for over two decades, I know first-hand it is common practice for many non-blacks and non-Latinos to label themselves white. That's because for many Brooklynites, race and color is overshadowed by a desire to find common ground. But don't be fooled: underneath that need for unity, descendants of immigrants are openly proud of their heritages and are all too happy to commemorate those holidays celebrated in their ancenstral homelands.

Because space is limited, storefronts are lined side-by-side and usually beneath apartment complexes. Those who can afford to, will invest in both properties and live well. Those who can only afford one or the other are bound by exorbitant rental payments.

Walk down any street and you will find professional businesses littered among produce stands, discount stores and any number of privately-owned clothing stores. At times, a familiar franchise eatery can be found among this mix, a welcoming site to shoppers who have covered miles during their shopping escapades.

Bodegas are the beloved convenient stores of residents. Fashioned after the corner stores that sprang up in once dominant Spanish neighborhoods, several bodegas can be now found on Brooklyn's main avenues and serve as lifelines to residents in desperate need of last-minute groceries. It is estimated that there are over 13,000 bodegas within Brooklyn's borders, owned primarily by Spanish descendants although Middle Easterners, Asians, and Pakistanis run a good number of them.

My initial intention was to rely on Census figures to relate Brooklyn's business environment to readers, but those numbers are misleading. The city is defined by neighborhoods that although rich in cultural diversity, are usually influenced by a dominant nationality. In recent years, that distinction has blurred as Brooklynites of all racial and ethnic backgrounds have invested in businesses no longer based on the comfort of operating among one's own people.

After many years of shifting demographics, it is now fair game to consider Brooklyn among New York City's melting pot.

Below are some personal photographs that capture Brooklyn's essence. Enjoy.

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