Williamsburg Gentrification and Commercialization in Williamsburg, Brooklyn Term Paper

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Gentrification and Commercialization in Williamsburg, Brooklyn: An Analysis of Bedford Ave. Between 3rd and 4th Streets

Gentrification is often seen as a good thing for many communities, as it means (pretty much by definition) increased property values, higher income potentials, decreased crime, and an increased and diversified array of amenities, shopping opportunities, and other business interests. At the same time, however, gentrification often means a reduction in artistic output, lower amounts of general creativity and innovation, higher rents, and other changes to a neighborhood that make it less conducive to certain lifestyles, desires, and both ethical and practical values. Neighborhood Gentrification and the signs that it may be occurring are thus highly complex and reacted to in widely different ways due to the varying effects that such gentrification ahs and the different perspectives of community stakeholders.

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The apparent gentrification of the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn provides a very clear example of the differing perspectives and values at stake in a given neighborhood. While long considered an artistic, edgy, and somewhat "funky" place to live and do business, this neighborhood in Brooklyn has been undergoing a gentrification process of sorts that threatens to replace the traditional Williamsburg way of life with something that is more economically prosperous but also more commercialized and more exclusive, according to some. From the arrival of large chain stores to the ongoing patronage of independent "Mom & Pop" stores, the battle for Williamsburg appears to just be beginning.

Term Paper on Williamsburg Gentrification and Commercialization in Williamsburg, Brooklyn: Assignment

This report will examine the specific indicators and examples of gentrification -- and of resistance to gentrification -- in one particular block in the neighborhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The stretch of Bedford Avenue between 3rd and 4th Streets has been the site of a great deal of controversy in this gentrification process, and at the same time contains many symbols of the lasting and persistent nature of the traditional feel and activity of the Williamsburg neighborhood. One major chain store has moved into the neighborhood in direct competition with an existing independently owned business, which has been the subject of a great deal of public and media attention both for and against this sign of gentrification. At the same time, many longstanding independent businesses continue to operate unthreatened and unimpeded on this block, and there aren't signs of any major demographic changes, calling the reality of this apparent gentrification into question.

Duane Reade

One of the major signs of the changing landscape of Williamsburg, or at least what is interpreted as one of these signs, is the arrival of a Duane Reade drugstore. The Duane Reade drugstore chain is the kind of mass retailer that neighborhoods like Williamsburg have long sought to avoid, representing large corporate interests rather than providing a locally owned place for residents to shop and feel more connected to their community.

The entrance of Duane Reade has had many direct and significant effects on the community.

One significant way in which the neighborhood has been impacted by the entrance of the Duane Reade drugstore is by the direct change in the level and nature of business competition that this new store constitutes. Though the Duane Reade establishment is the first major retail chain to set up shop on the block of Bedford Avenue between 3rd and 4th streets, it is continuing a trend that can clearly be observed in other parts of the Williamsburg neighborhood and indeed along Bedford Avenue specifically.

It is intensifying competition in the area as this company is able to provide a variety of goods at cheaper prices than independent stores while also catering to a wider variety of tastes, and thus has become a major symbol of the gentrification that many are experiencing in Williamsburg.

It is not simply that this corporate chain drugstore moved into the neighborhood that has people up in arms, however, but also that it chose to open directly across the street from Kings Pharmacy, which has been on the block for a decade and is an independent and locally owned establishment.

Many patrons of Kings Pharmacy have joined in a prominent boycott of Duane Reade specifically to show their support for this independent store.

The close proximity of Duane Reade to Kings is taken as a direct threat to the business by the much larger corporate competitor, and many in Brooklyn aren't taking too kindly to it.

At the same time, many consumers have found reasons to be happy for Duane Reade's entrance into the neighborhood. The chain drugstore has a beer counter that offers tastings provided by knowledgeable staff members, which is appealing to a more upscale clientele than many other offerings on the block.

This offering was actually made as a conscious effort to entice the increasingly gentrified patrons of Williamsburg establishments to accept and enjoy Duane Reade rather than showing the same attitude to the drugstore as Williamsburg had shown to many other chain companies and stores.

There are also other ways that the store has tried to differentiate itself in a way that will ingratiate itself with the current Williamsburg demographic, which is decidedly "hipster" yet is increasing in age and income level, if non-scientific street-level observation is any indicator.

The availability of a very wide array of products al under one roof is a major draw for many consumers, as it is something that has been cited as difficult to find in Williamsburg specifically because of the neighborhood's independent bent.

The store is also more spacious and consumer-friendly, and some shoppers have even noted a more pleasant and helpful staff available at the chain establishment when compared to Kings Pharmacy.

There are thus citizens of Williamsburg and of New York City at large that are on both sides of the issue.

It is not just Duane Reade specifically that many in Williamsburg object to, however, but the larger changes that its move and the entrance of other chain stores into the neighborhood seems to suggest for Williamsburg as a whole. The ability for stores like Duane Reade and a nearby American Apparel to pay higher rents will ultimately cause higher rents for everyone, pricing many independent establishments out of the neighborhood and paving the way for more and more chains to take their place.

While increased product selection, increased convenience, and slightly lower prices might be draws for some, this gentrification is seen as a major detriment to the neighborhood by others.

Other Businesses and Demographics

While the Duane Reade is certainly one sign of gentrification, it is also only one business on a densely populated block of Bedford Avenue in the heart of Williamsburg, and cannot serve as the sole evidence for this gentrification and either its benefit or its detriment to the community as a whole. An examination of the current demographics of Williamsburg residents and shoppers seems to suggest that no major change is taking place as of yet, and that indeed the community is changing as the residents of Williamsburg themselves age and evolve, not as they move out and make way for a new type of community member.

The other businesses on this stretch of Bedford Avenue tell largely the same story.

NYC Pet is an independent shop operating without any real competition on the block of Bedford Avenue between 3rd and 4th Streets, and its clientele ranges from twenty-somethings that appear to be on tighter budgets to more middle-aged and middle-class patrons and even some that are higher on the socioeconomic ladder. Patrons have complained about a lack of selection for certain highly specific items and needs, and there have also been complaints about the lack of regularity in service and the higher prices that this store charges for many of its goods compared to other pet retailers.

In general, however, the store appears to be well-liked by consumers and is trafficked fairly heavily; the fact that the store is so well supported despite its niche offerings and the fact that it is seen as over-priced could actually be an indicator that gentrification is already happening even amongst independent store clientele.

Vice Versa, and independent vintage clothing store, definitely has appeal to the current hipster demographic of Williamsburg. Frequented by predominantly white and younger individuals, the store has been praised for its reasonable prices, though some detractors note a lack of real quality in the store's selection.

The young and less-moneyed set still appears to be this establishments strongest consumer base, showing fewer signs of gentrification than the NYC Pet store located next door. Chic and stylish does not necessarily mean gentrified, and it is this definition that many in Williamsburg are attempting to preserve.

Another independent health store catering to largely the same type of clientele -- adding back in the range of ages and income levels that shops at NYC Pet -- is Millennium Health, which provides a range of health supplements, natural and organic foodstuffs and other products, and some ready-to-eat snacks such as smoothies made to order. Again, the shoppers at this establishment tend to be in their… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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