Friday, October 25, 2013

Halloween Fun on Franklin This Weekend: Haunted Haunt at LaunchPad, Halloween Parade on Sunday

Halloween is almost here, and Crown Heights is celebrating:

- The Crow Hill Community Association hosts its fourth annual Franklin Ave Halloween Parade this Sunday at 3pm, starting at the Walt L. Shamel Community Garden on Dean between Franklin and Bedford. Complete info is copied below, and you can see photos from last year's parade here.

It doesn't really make sense to "say goodbye" to the Crow Hill Community Association as ILFA wraps up, because they've been around much, much longer than I have (closing on 30 years), and because I intend to stay involved as a member after the blog goes dark. But it is worth pausing to note the huge influence that the CHCA has had on me, on the blog, and on the community in general over the past five years. The organization is in transition right now as they rewrite their by-laws (which, for those who've been avoiding meetings, is all the more reason to show up and make your voice heard), but in ILFA's time alone they've sponsored an amazing oral history project (which is archived at LaunchPad and the Brooklyn Public Library), built a community garden and added planters up and down Franklin, and organized food drives and collections for those hit by Hurricane Sandy in the Rockaways, victims of gun violence, and apartment fires. Their monthly meetings are where I met some of the most committed, caring people in Crown Heights, (some CHCA board members, some in the loyal opposition), and they're where I've gone to hear from politicians, police, non-profits, and concerned citizens

Thinking about the organization's role in the neighborhood was something I tried to do in a pair of blog posts for the Huffington Post. It's challenging for any organization to keep up with the pace of change around here, and the CHCA doesn't get everything right, but their presence, and the forum they provide, is essential. I was proud to participate in last spring's Town Hall Meetings, and I'm looking forward to staying involved. It's fitting, perhaps, that the last ILFA post about the CHCA would be the Halloween parade, because the organization has always done its best to do right by the local kids. 

The folks at the Walt L. Shamel Garden deserve a shout, too. They run an absolutely great garden and host a farmer's market, too (still going! Saturday between 8am-2pm). One of my very first posts was an announcement about their garden Halloween party. 

Join us this Sunday for the 4th Annual Franklin Ave. Halloween Parade!
Who: Kids of all ages! March in your costume!
When: Sunday, October 27, 3PM
Where: Walt Shamel Dean North Community Garden, 1096 Dean St.
Bring: Costumes, noise-makers, instruments
Questions? 917-838-2421 or

- For the adults, LaunchPad (another great org that deserves their own tribute - see tomorrow's post for that) will be hosting a Haunted Haunt on Saturday night. Swing by to get spooked!

Saturday, October 26th @ 8pm
LaunchPad's Haunted Haunt

A night of chaotic combinations of horrific artistic mayhem. Featuring:

Fun and spooky art installations
Misfits covers by the Nice Fellas (aka NiceFits)
Prizes for the best costumes

Bring your friends and celebrate Halloween LaunchPad-style at The Haunted Haunt! We will be turning the space into a giant installation with pieces by local artists, complete with a Misfits cover band and home-brewed beer by Honest Pete.

A suggested donation of $10 will get you beer and admission to check out the art. Costumes are not required BUT HIGHLY RECOMMENDED since there will be prizes for the best ones.

//Participating artists\\ Nice Fellas /\ Julianna Schley /\ Vanessa Thill /\ Emma Schaer /\ Fernando Martinez /\ Paul Pino / Collin Colsher /\ Ben Seretan /\ Ben Balcom /\ Jim Haynes /\ Blair Neal /\ Ike Ufomadu /\ Chris Duffy /\ Jazmine Harold /\ Alexandra Lombard /\ Alec Betterley /\ Jessica Lin /\ Dan Lucal /\ Michael Betancourt /\ Stephen Broomer /\ Charles Chadwick /\ AND MORE /\
721 Franklin Ave
2/3/4/5/C to Franklin Ave
8p; $10 suggested

The Park, the President, and Previously-Used Electronics

ILFA went for a run in Prospect Park this morning, which was already being swept by a phalanx of NYPD officers and cordoned off in advance of President Obama's landing later this afternoon on his way to P-Tech right here in Crown Heights. I came home to a zillion links in my "Crown Heights" google alert about Obama's visit, along with one letting me know that I can bring my old electronics down to the park on Sunday and Monday to recycle them safely and help raise money for the maintenance and preservation of Prospect Park. It all sounds good - just don't get those dates confused. You definitely don't want to be the guy carrying an overstuffed backpack with wires hanging out of it down to the park this afternoon. 

For those looking for an alternate off-street running route, Greenwood Cemetery is opening its gates from 12-6.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Gradually and then suddenly: Comparative Changes in Another C-Heights

(the NYT discovered Columbia Heights around the same time it started venturing out to Crown Heights)

Every now and then, ILFA hops on an interstate bus on a Friday afternoon with a few friends from high school who live in the NYC area, and we head south to our nation's capital. This isn't business - despite my best efforts, ILFA has yet to be read into the Congressional Record - and we don't make for the Mall, the Capitol, or any of the other sights. Our destination is Columbia Heights, where we spend the weekend with the other half of this decades-old crew doing, well, what twentysomething high-school friends do when they're all back together.

Given our mild allergies to high-paying jobs and our predilection for rambling discussions on all things city-related, it's no surprise that these trips have yielded a fun and fruitful back-and-forth about the comparative gentrification of these great Heights, which have proceeded, in many ways, in parallel fashion. I'd always meant to make more of this comparison while I was writing ILFA, but now that I'm wrapping things up, I've finally recruited Columbia Heights local (and former bandmate and teammate of ILFA's) Colin Richardson to give those of us up in Brooklyn the skinny on what gentrification looks like below the Mason-Dixon line. It's a post in a similar spirit to pieces like this and this, which ILFA put together a year or two ago for HuffPo. Without further ado:

Columbia Heights, Washington DC: For Better and Worse, Richer Not Poorer
By Colin Richardson
When I told people that I moved to the Columbia Heights neighborhood in Northwest Washington, D.C., in December 2006, I was greeted with many fairly similar responses: “Everyone I know who has lived there has been mugged;” “You realize that’s in the ghetto, right?” “That’s where white people go to buy drugs;” “I bike as fast as possible whenever I have to go through that neighborhood.” These are just a few examples, but they are representative of what I heard from people who had lived in DC longer than I had.
Needless to say, this unanimous opinion of my new neighborhood made me a bit nervous. The only businesses in the area were a small and lovely café, a Hispanic dive bar that always had police outside, and a hip dive bar called Wonderland. The rest of the neighborhood was mostly working class families, a few young white people who had moved to the area recently, and lots and lots of abandoned buildings. Since I had just seen the fourth season of “The Wire,” the abandoned buildings kind of freaked me out. But I didn’t have many options at that moment in my life: My lease had already expired, I was 22 years old, and had next to no money. In a tight housing market like D.C.’s, a dangerous house in the hand was worth a non-dangerous one in the bush, so to speak.
Well, things have changed quite a bit in the seven years I’ve lived here. Now when I tell people I live in Columbia Heights I am called a yuppie, or someone asks if that’s near the wine bar they like, or they ask if I live in one of the swank apartment buildings. One friend even calls the neighborhood “Columbia Whites.” Ouch.
For a twenty-something-year-old, seven years is a long time to live in one place (which is possible thanks to my oblivious landlord not raising my rent), so in some ways it is unsurprising how much has changed. However, the changes over the last decade are more dramatic than the three decades that preceded it. So what happened?
The riots that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968, devastated Washington. Businesses shuttered, people fled for the suburbs, and a once-vibrant city was left a shell of itself with only extremely isolated pockets of prosperity in Georgetown, upper-Northwest, and Capitol Hill. In Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72” he lives and spends his free time in Georgetown. Georgetown!
Things stayed much this way through the dark times of the 1980s and early 1990s. Waves of drug violence propelled America’s political capital to become its murder capital as well, when in the early ’90s there were over 1000 murders in a two-year span in a city of about 500,000. Then, in the mid- to late-90s, in what was a similar story in many cities across America, the crime rate began to fall, the economy boomed and things began to look up. This trend has continued and since the 2000s there has been rapid urban gentrification and Washington and other cities are safer and wealthier than ever. There were fewer than 80 murders in all of D.C. last year, and the city now has about 630,000 residents.
When I moved to Columbia Heights it was gentrifying the way Hemingway claims to have gone broke: gradually and then suddenly. The two big changes that started the process were the extension of the Metro system (ah, beloved Green and Yellow lines) and the building of a Giant, a large chain supermarket. These were the first steps that made the neighborhood much more appealing, especially for young professionals who worked downtown.
That was the gradual part. Then suddenly, a major development went up right in the heart of Columbia Heights. The appropriately named DC USA mall contained a Target, Best Buy, Bed Bath and Beyond, Washington Sports Club, Marshalls, Chipotle, and what would any yuppie development be without the most ubiquitous yuppie chain of them all, a Starbucks. Almost immediately after DC USA’s completion, in the spring of 2008, a flurry of condos and nice apartment buildings sprung up around the development and the Metro.
What was once a hole in the ground and a picture of urban blight transformed into a yuppie magnet. In this case, the magnet is the size of a huge city block and the yuppies are like iron shavings.
In a neighborhood where there were only a few El Salvadoran restaurants, a coffee shop, and two nearby bars—then-dive Wonderland and the legitimately dangerous (if police presence is any indicator) dive the Acuario. The influx of young professionals and their money had a profound effect. Two abandoned buildings were replaced with an artisanal pizza place and an American beer bar that doesn’t serve any cheap beer. In the next few years a wine bar, a hip Mexican-American restaurant/bar, another wine bar (in the place of the Acuario), and a swanky 24-hour café/restaurant/bar opened. This was all on a three-block stretch of one formerly out-of-the-way street. Once the New York Times wrote a piece about it, it was clear that Columbia Heights had arrived. And apparently everyone who lived there was an alcoholic.
But the changes weren’t all craft beer, creative margaritas, and artisanal gin. Just recently, the lovely coffee shop went out of business. No longer can I walk across the street in slippers and short shorts to buy a cup of coffee or a muffin from a very friendly family while listening to classical music. I suspect that they lost a lot of business to the new 24-hour café. According to local blog Prince of Petworth, it opened in the early 2000s and was the first of the new businesses on 11th Street.
On one hand, I almost can’t even remember what Columbia Heights was like in early 2007, before all of the crowded new bars and the strollers, back when it seemed very necessary to walk lady friends to and from the Metro station that was just a few blocks away, and when living there gave me some modicum of street cred. On the other hand, I like the new bars, most of the pre-gentrification El Salvadoran places are still there (RIP Columbia Heights Coffee; good riddance, Acuario!), and it’s nice to feel safe in the place I live and will continue to live. Well, as long as my oblivious landlord doesn’t raise the rent.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Crown Heights This Week: Presidents, Pretzels, and Motion Pictures

Just a smattering of happenings in our neck of the woods this week (in addition to missing the longer, rambling, reflective posts, I'm also really going to miss postings on days like today, when Crown Heights appears to be a stage for all the world).

- President Obama will visit the neighborhood this Friday to celebrate the achievements of students at Pathways Technology Early College High School. The school was cited in the president's State of the Union address as a model for educational innovation earlier this year.

- Pelzer's Pretzels has earned a nod from the Brooklyn Paper as "the best thing we ate this week."

- The Crown Heights Film Festival is underway this week, with screenings nightly. Complete listings and information are available at their website.

- I couldn't find a synonym for leave that began with a "p," so they didn't make the alliterative subject line (botanists, feel free to correct me here), but the folks over at the Roger That Garden Project are collecting leaves. Complete info on the flyer below.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

SOS Crown Heights Community Conversation TONIGHT

I started to try to write a vaguely retrospective post about SOS Crown Heights, but I can't say enough good things about them and I was running out of time to post their event tonight. Just know that they work as hard as anyone to make Crown Heights a great place to live for everyone. If you want to get involved in their crucial anti-violence efforts, or just want to learn more about the great work they do, check out their community conversation tonight (for complete information click on the flyer above or here).

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Monday Night: Powerhouse Women at the Franklin Park Reading Series

If there's been a constant in the ILFAverse since the beginning, it's the Franklin Park Reading Series. Founded by local writer and organizer extraordinaire Penina Roth, the series has grown from humble local origins to one of the hottest events on the Brooklyn literary scene while staying true to its roots, offering opportunities to up and coming local writers and celebrating the Caribbean, African-American, and Jewish cultures of Crown Heights. On Monday, they welcome five great female writers to Franklin Park:

This month, five female powerhouses from across the country converge for a night of incendiary prose, explosive storytelling, and dark confessions! We're thrilled to host short fiction luminaries Susan Steinberg (Spectacle), Laura van den Berg (The Isle of Youth), and T Kira Madden (The Kenyon Review, The Collagist) and the phenomenal novelists Vanessa Veselka (Zazen) and Karolina Waclawiak (How to Get Into the Twin Palms)!

October 14, 8-10pm
Franklin Park
618 St. Johns Place, Between Classon and Franklin Avenues
Crown Heights, Brooklyn
Subway: 2/3/4/5 to Franklin Avenue

More about our authors:

SUSAN STEINBERG is the author of the short-story collections Spectacle, Hydroplane, and The End of Free Love. She was the 2010 United States Artists Ziporyn Fellow in Literature. Her stories have appeared in McSweeney’s, Conjunctions, The Gettysburg Review, American Short Fiction, Boulevard, and The Massachusetts Review, and she is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize. She has a BFA in painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art and an MFA in English from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She teaches at the University of San Francisco.

LAURA VAN DEN BERG is the author of the upcoming story collection The Isle of Youth and the story collection What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, which was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, a finalist for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, and long-listed for the Story Prize. Her stories have appeared in One Story, Conjunctions, Ploughshares, The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2008, and Best New American Voices 2010, among other publications. A Florida native, she has an MFA from Emerson College and is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize. She lives in the Boston area.

VANESSA VESELKA has been, at various times, a teenage runaway, a sex worker, a union organizer, and a student of paleontology. Her work appears in GQ, Bitch, The Atlantic, Tin House, and Zyzzyva. Her novel Zazen won the 2012 PEN /Bingham Prize for fiction. Her essay, "The Truck Stop Killer," is featured in The Best American Essays 2013. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

KAROLINA WACLAWIAK is the author of the novel How to Get Into the Twin Palms and the recently completed novel Invaders. She received her MFA in fiction from Columbia University. The essay editor of The Believer, she lives and writes in Brooklyn.

T KIRA MADDEN is a writer, photographer, and amateur magician. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and her work has most recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Kenyon Review Online, Puerto del Sol, The Austin Review, Hyphen, The Collagist, and Fourteen Hills. She currently teaches writing at The Doe Fund to homeless and formerly incarcerated individuals and at Gotham Writers' Workshop. She is the founding editor of literary journal No Tokens and lives in Brooklyn where she is at work on a novel.

Exit Interviews - Zachary Goelman of Epichorus

(from this post about a drive-by shooting on my corner in 2009)

As part of ILFA's long goodbye, I've reached out to some fellow bloggers and writers around the neighborhood to ask them to reflect, in their own way, on the past five years. Zach Goelman, a reporter and writer of many gifts, was the first to respond, writing this very kind and thoughtful post (reproduced below) on his  own blog, Epichorus, late last week. 

I first met Zach in 2009, when he was working the Daily News overnight shift and I was trying (often helplessly) to understand violent crime in Crown Heights. Zach passed along tips, linked my posts, and posted his own professional-quality reports, often with addenda that suggested ways for concerned citizens to respond to crime and violence productively (this included police violence). I turned to Epichorus dozens of times for clarity on these events and the issues surrounding them.

As a commentator, Zach has always been enviably informed and admirably without a trace of self-importance. On his blog, he addressed the challenges of monitoring police behavior in the context of rooftop patrols by the NYPD and offered beyond-the-boilerplate commentary on stop and frisk policing (and how it's reported). He also wrote my absolute favorite movie review of 2012 (seriously, you will think differently and more productively about "Django Unchained" after you read it) and offered pithy comment on the gentrification blogosphere when it struck his fancy (his comments below are in this vein). I learned a great deal from Zach in five years of blogging, and I'll certainly be reading him in retirement. 

Nick Juravich, author and chronicler, will close down his blog. He's asked me to write a little something about it, and the neighborhood it documented. 

A reporter covering the overnight shift for a New York tabloid gets a memo, via e-mail, outlining how to do the job. Fires, shootings, car crashes happen all over the city, but "nice neighbs," the email says, are more important.

I started that job in 2009, and moved to Franklin Avenue in June that same year. Over the course of that summer, Franklin Avenue turned from a place the tabloid disdained to one it appraised. 

If one stood on the rooftops and looked west, this change could be seen coming, blowing out of Park Slope and Prospect Heights, rolling up Eastern Parkway and carried by numbered subway cars. It brought me and thousands like me to Crown Heights, and we changed the neighborhood. Franklin Avenue in September wasn't what it was in June. The jerk chicken shop below my apartment shuttered (later, the space would become Barboncino). Up popped Pulp and Bean, and Dutch Boy, and Breukelen Coffee House. Until that point, I'd imagined 'gentrification' as a slow and steady process. But what I saw wasn't a trickle. It was a tsunami.
Here are dispatches from my memory of Franklin Avenue over that summer, experiences that haven't repeated themselves in other places I've lived.

1) A older man named Harry worked a chair at Ja-Don's barber shop, two doors down from my apartment. When he wasn't cutting hair, he stood on the sidewalk, leaning on a parking meter. "Hey Harry," I'd say to him. "All right," he'd say, and hold out his fist for a bump. Harry liked to wear t-shirts printed with the word "Brooklyn" in different typefaces. I once asked him where he got all his t-shirts. His daughter, he said, had a t-shirt shop. I said they looked good. "I'ma getchu one," he said.

One day I went down to do laundry and get a trim, but Ja-Don's was shuttered. Harry stood next to his parking meter. 

"You're closed?" I asked. He nodded. 
"I'll come back tomorrow," I said, carrying my clothes across the street. 
"You could pay me today, help me get something to eat," Harry said. I shook my head. 
"I'll see you tomorrow," I said. The next day he cut my hair. I paid him. He gave me a plastic bag. Inside I saw a t-shirt. 

Ja-Don's survived the summer, and Harry continued to stand post outside and occasionally cut my hair for for two more years until I moved out of the neighborhood. I don't know if rising rents squeezed the salon owners, and whether they started renting a chair to Harry at higher rates, and how this may have impacted his bottom line. Since leaving the neighborhood, I get my hair cut elsewhere. I still have the t-shirt. 

2) The popping sound made by a semiautomatic pistol often registers at a higher pitch than one might have come to expect from film and television. On two occasions I heard those reports from my second-story window that summer. Given the nature of my work I hurried down to the street and walked in the opposite direction of those running and shouting. On the first such occasion, I walked over and stood in front of a stoop between 95 South and a laundromat. A young black man sat on the stoop clutching his leg. Another man crouched next to him, putting pressure on the wound beneath his pants. His sweats were stained dark and wet. The paramedics and police were there in moments. I knew enough then about precincts and CompStat to realize I'd arrived in time to see something that had become almost vanishingly rare. This will sound odd to residents who rightfully believe that a single shooting is one too many. But Franklin Avenue's bad old days are long over. Murders, rapes and robberies plummeted over the previous decade. In my experience, white people from Manhattan eventually got around to asking me if Franklin Avenue was 'safe.' I would respond by saying, "compared to what?" You were more likely to have your iPod snatched in Midtown than Crown Heights. Central Brooklyn was safe compared to East New York, East New York safe compared to the South Bronx, and the Bronx was safer than Trenton, Baltimore, or Chicago. An irony then: the changes on Franklin Avenue meant long-time residents could enjoy dropping crime rates just as they felt more and more pressure from rising rents. Their neighborhood was safer than it had been in decades, and but prices were pushing them out. At the same time the newly arrived young, white professionals and students found the place imminently affordable, but were deeply concerned about the pistol shots on their block.

"Welcome to murder alley," a white kid said to me that night while we watched police tape off the street.

3) A corollary of the changes in Crown Heights that summer was a rising level of neighborhood clout with the city's power brokers. In plainer terms: it seemed that more white people, more new businesses, and higher rents merited better services. The first such service was blue. The police department demarcated a stretch of Franklin Avenue as an Impact Zone and flooded it with additional officers. A Skywatch observation post loomed outside Nam's organic produce market. The neighborhood was abuzz with police interaction. Residents complained about increased stops and unjustified searches. I took notice of which patrolmen's lapels carried the "77" of the local precinct, and which the initials of the Brooklyn North Patrol Bureau which supplied the 'impact zone' officers. Cops assigned to the Seven-Seven often had at least a few years behind the badge. But those from Brooklyn North were often rookies on their first patrol assignment, and they knew nothing about the neighborhood. I'd prepared a short speech, in my head, in case an officer decided to arbitrarily search me. Once, walking down Franklin, I witnessed a small commotion in the middle of the block. Three or four plainclothes cops were helping a handcuffed man into the back of an unmarked Crown Victoria. They were backed up by two cars from the 77thPrecinct. I asked an onlooker if he saw what happened. He said no, but pointed to the female cop, part of the Impact Zone contingent, standing next to him. "Maybe she knows." 

So I asked her. She shook her head. 
"Nothing came over your radio?" I asked.
"They're on a different frequency," she said.
"But you're part of the Impact Zone," I said. She turned to me and frowned. I continued, "you're one of the 24 cops dedicated to this area. I thought you operate out of the Seven-Seven, so why would you be on different frequencies?" 
"Move along," she said. The arrest was over, the crowd dispersed, and I walked the few steps to my front door, when I noticed the cop following me. I turned to her.
"How do you know all that, about who's assigned where?" she asked.
"I go to community board meetings," I said.
She frowned. I decided to push back a bit.
"Why does it threaten you to get asked those kind of questions?"
"Because I don't know who you are, or who you're with." she said. Up until that point, if a cop wondered who I was 'with,' it meant 'which newspaper.' But Iwasn't wearing a press badge, and I didn't hold a notepad or recorder.
“'Who I'm with?'” I repeated.
“You could be with a gang,” she said.
"I could be with a gang?" I said.

She nodded. I called my 'stop and frisk' speech to mind. Then she walked away. I haven't had the opportunity to use that speech ever. I probably never will. 

I didn't have the wherewithal to see a larger picture in anything happening along Franklin Avenue. I knew the neighborhood was in flux, but I knew that neighborhood change was a constant in New York City. I would ruminate on these themes and come up with nothing that satisfied.

Only at the end of that summer did I become aware of Nick Juravitch's efforts to measure the transformation. I turned to his blog with increasing frequency for both a deeper and broader perspective on the neighborhood. Nick, more than any other writer, helped me sharpen my own thinking on the subject. There's nothing I can write about this thing we've come to call gentrification that hasn't been better outlined elsewhere. A few observations, though, culled from almost five years of reading. First, this thing we call 'gentrification' is not a problem of it's own but a symptom of enormous and myriad economic realities, beginning most obviously with income inequality. It might be easy to hate the new coffee shop for displacing the nail salon, but boycotting the coffee shop won't change the forces that put it there. Second, while gentrification might be something that can be restrained or hastened by City Hall, it cannot be fought block by block. The efforts by the Crow Hill Community Association to ameliorate the negative impacts of the change (as Nick documented) were an acceptance of this reality. Which points to a third observation: by the time you notice neighborhood change, it's a foregone conclusion. That, I think, is the message researchers will take from “I Love Franklin Avenue” when they study the different ways residents described gentrification in the first decade of the 21st Century. Which isn't to say Nick predicted all of this; it just means he understood that what had started would continue to run its course, and he learned this sooner than many. I'll certainly miss ILFA, as much as I miss living on Franklin Avenue.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

It's Panama Day! (and it was back in 2008, too)

Panama Day is near and dear to my heart. Back in 2008, before I'd even started blogging, I discovered Franklin's annual celebration of its Panamanian heritage in a foolish and hilarious way. Since this was one of my early nitwit-in-Brooklyn posts (there were lots of those in the first two years as I stumbled around the borough with equal parts cluelessness and enthusiasm), I've reproduced part of it below.

As for the day itself, I posted this two years ago, and everything about it is still true. It's Panama Day, so swing by Kelso Restaurant or one of the several Panamanian-owned bars on the Avenue and celebrate the long, strong, history of Panamanian folks in Crown Heights. The Panamanian community on Franklin (the nation's largest, once upon a time) has worked hard in the last several years to commemorate those who came before, with varying degrees of success. Kelso Restaurant, which will surely be the center of today's festivities, has been open since 1969. It seemed lost a few months ago, but is now back, looking sharp and ready to compete in the rapidly-changing scene along Franklin. Whatever the fate of these individual places, Franklin will always have a Panamanian heritage, and if you don't know much about it (like ILFA), be sure to get out and learn something tomorrow. 

ILFA's introduction to Panama Day on Franklin:

Panama Day "marked the rather inauspicious one-year anniversary that I share with my two pre-owned bookshelves pictured above, and offers the chance to re-tell one of my stock "I was a little bit green when I first moved to Crown Heights" stories. The lady and I had been in our apartment for all of a month when she headed off to work one Saturday morning after observing that my books, CDs, and other effluvia were piled on the floor (or as she put it "you have too much crap."). Inspired by her admonishment, I hopped up, scrolled through Craigslist, and found, to my great delight, a pair of shelves on sale for $10 apiece. I called the lister, who told me that they were all mine but that I had to pick them up by 1pm because she was moving out that very day. And she lived a mile off the D Train. In Bensonhurst.

So faded the brilliance of my brilliant plan to do something productive with my Saturday and appease my partner in cohabitation. I didn't have a car, I didn't know anyone who did, and I didn't have any way to rent one. Undeterred, I set out walking to the Atlantic Center, stopping to wonder what the fuss at Pacific and Franklin was all about (I guessed it was an armory-related protest), convinced that the shelves couldn't be that heavy. Like a lot of people I know, my wallet is thin and my time (and effort) are cheap, so I didn't want to pass up $10 bookshelves, even if it meant carrying them home from Bensonhurst.

I hopped aboard a Coney Island-bound D train and pressed my face up against the window like a kindergartner on a school bus as it rose out of the tunnel and trench to the elevated tracks above Borough Park. It was a beautiful day, and I took great goofy joy in every sun-soaked spire and storefront as we rolled through my adopted borough, trying to figure out how far I was from home by using the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and generally drawing far too much attention to myself. At Bay Parkway, I sauntered off, strolled down to what was almost the water, and handed over a crinkled $20 in exchange for the two bookshelves. As I carried one down the stairs, the woman I'd just bought them from hollered after me "I hope they fit in your car."

They might have (I like to picture myself in an El Camino), but I'll never know. I tossed one shelf on one shoulder, one on the other, and waddled off, sweat pouring down my back (did I call it a beautiful day? It was an unseasonably warm day.). The shelves were only half-height, about three and a half feet tall, but they were plenty heavy, and it took me about half an hour to get back to the train. I staggered up the stairs (ahh, the charms of the El), pulled my cargo through the service door, and thunked it down on the platform, where an older lady next to me was kind enough to say "wow, you carried those up here?"

The ride was fine--the train wasn't crowded, and I could sit and play cinematographer again with the vistas. I was a thorough nuisance in the Atlantic-Pacific station, but I made it onto a 3 train and sighed with relief. I was almost home, and it was a downhill 8 blocks from the Franklin Avenue station.

I disembarked, made it up the stairs without fainting, and walked straight into a brigade of drummers. The avenue was stuffed to the gills with a parade and spectators, all moving south at a stately pace, the sidewalk packed five deep and choked with vendors. And there I was in a silly t-shirt, sweatsoaked and unshaven, swimming upstream with my furniture like a lost mover. I thought briefly about taking a parallel route, but decided I'd never make it and set out slowly, stopping every five yards and enduring a steady stream of ridicule from parade-goers. To ice the cake, the shelves fell out of one unit as I stumbled over a pair of children chasing each other with red and blue pinwheels, clattering to the ground and bringing me to my hands and knees to gather up the hardware.

Forty-five minutes later, I made it home, and promptly passed out on the couch. Was it worth it? I got bookshelves for twenty bucks!"

Friday, October 11, 2013

More Birthdays: Barboncino's Second Annual Neighborhood Appreciation Day

As ILFA hurtles toward five years, Barboncino turns two and celebrates in style. I'm going to write a little more about Barboncino and the weekend later today, but for now, put it on your calendar: FREE bunch on Sunday! It was a HUGE hit last year (see photo above), and I can't image turnout won't be similar on Sunday.

From Barboncino:

On Sunday October 13, 2013, to celebrate our second anniversary and our love of Crown Heights, we will be hosting a Neighborhood Appreciation Day.  From 11am-3pm we will be offering any and all comers a free brunch!

Our new and expanded brunch menu includes:

Pancetta, Egg and Cheese Breakfast Pizza (think the most amazing bacon egg and cheese sandwich ever!)
Pear, Provolone and Gorgonzola, with drizzled Honey and Walnuts
Nutella Calzone with Bananas and Walnuts
Summer Squash and Yellow Pepper Ricotta Frittata (all frittatas are baked into our delicious dough)
Brussel Sprouts and Prosciutto di Parma Frittata
Roasted Asparagus and Caramelized Onions Frittata
BLT Frittata
Sweet Apple Pie (our sweet offering frittata)
Wood Oven Baked Eggs

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

ILFA Shutdown Day 1: All Knotted Up

It took me twenty-four hours to realize that I'd written a whole post about shutting down the blog without taking a single shot at House Republicans. Writing an unabashedly left-liberal blog for five years only to drop that ball? It's definitely time to retire

In all seriousness, I've been touched and flattered by everything folks have posted here and on Facebook. The comments have been thought-provoking, too, especially those connecting the rise of the blog and the meteoric rise of the Avenue in one way or another. ILFA wasn't a determining factor in these changes, of course [we don't need to untangle the Gordian knot of how-neighborhood-change-happens right now], but perhaps the blog was a catalyzing factor of sorts for certain developments, or certain projects. I don't know, and if this was the case, I don't know if I was always aware of it or if I always used that influence wisely (though I'm certainly glad to hear that ILFA has encouraged folks to think about the complex issues at stake in the area, and also to get to know all their neighbors). 

One thing I wonder about but don't really have any way of answering is whether blogs like this one have any impact on local businesses. The first email I received after hitting "post" on yesterday's goodbye was a press release from Pelzer's Pretzels, who will be opening their first brick-and-mortar store (like Gladys, they started on the market/street food scene) on Sterling between Franklin and Bedford (724 Sterling, to be exact) on October 12 from 10am - 6pm. As a longtime friend and ILFA advisor pointed out tonight, "your usual 'I'm a blogger' routine isn't going to get you any free samples this time!" 

I can deal with paying for my grub, but I'll miss the "new-business-interview" posts. For quite awhile, walking into small spaces under construction and chatting with new business owners about their hopes and dreams was my bread and butter. These were some of the most fascinating conversations I had along Franklin; I learned a lot, and I made some good friends. These were also some of the posts that attracted the most aggressive debates about gentrification, and often got me blasted for cheerleading (or for sullying an exciting new opening by raising the issue of gentrification, on the flip side). I don't know if I made any sort difference to some of these business, or if the general tone of small-business boosterism added a bit of turbo to the changes along the way, but when I encountered energetic folks who were enthusiastic about the neighborhood and were working hard to realize their own vision, I was easily won over, for better or worse. Pelzer's, if you're anything like that (and if your pretzels pass Philly muster - I spent the first nine years of my life in that town), I'll be interested. 

Monday, October 07, 2013

Time to Say Goodbye

Longtime readers have observed that ILFA has been in decline for several months now. There's a very immediate reason for this: after two years of working a 9-to-5 and three years of coursework toward my doctorate, I've started work on my dissertation. I've always been busy, but dissertation writing has taken hold of my mind in a different way, and I find it much harder to come home after a day of research or writing and switch gears to blogging. As a result, I just haven't, and instead of posting much that's new or original, I've basically been posting event announcements and re-posting other news articles about Crown Heights and Franklin Avenue for months now. After about six months of trying to keep the blog going in spite of this, the dissertation has won out, and ILFA will go silent at the end of this month or shortly thereafter.

Even without the dissertation looming, though, I'm feeling like it's time to go. ILFA certainly doesn't break news anymore, and I no longer feel like I have much that's original to add to the endless deluge of "Crown Heights Is Changing"articles. Five years of blogging may be enough.

That said, I'm hoping to use this next month to wrap up with a little bit of style. The end of October brings with it the blog's fifth birthday, and also annual ILFA roundup, which is one of the most-read posts of the year and has actually generated a fact that other news sources throw around now (over 50 new businesses on Franklin since 2008, though my rough estimate would be that it's closer to 60 at this point). I'm looking forward to doing one more of those posts, and also to doing a little retrospective writing and such, perhaps including some top 5 lists on account of the five-year anniversary and my weakness for early 2000s rom-coms. I've also got a few final posts I want to get together, following up on a few ideas here and there and reporting a few final bits of new stuff. 

I'm also reaching out to some friends and folks I admire around the worlds of blogging, reporting, and, of course, the Avenue itself, to get their perspectives on different aspects of the last five years and hopefully generate some interesting conversations along the way. If you're a reader and want to contribute something in writing (or photo, or video, or really whatever), I'd love to run it or link it. Email me directly (my email's at the bottom of the rightmost column of widgets) if you're interested. 

All of this is to say that the sun is setting, but it won't be dark for a little while yet. Event related postings will likely dwindle (though I'm still happy to re-post/re-tweet things on facebook, which is mentally easier for some reason), but there'll still be some things to read until early November. I'll save the sign-off thoughts for then, but suffice to say, in short, that it's been great and I'm going to miss it. 

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Here Comes Something HUGE: Nassau Brewery Complex on the Market for $18 Million

The Real Deal reports that the owner of the old Nassau Brewery on Franklin between Bergen and Dean has sold a significant portion of the property to Terra CRG, who are listing it at $18 million. Being next door to 1000 Dean ain't going to hurt, and neither is the upzoning of Franklin. The owner had been in talks with the CHCA to build a "contextual" development, but after losing his financing in the crash, he's sold off a big chunk of the space. It'll take a little while, but given the pace of change around here, I doubt it will be too long before this sells. This project may well make 341 Eastern Parkway look small when all is said and done. 

From the article:

A large mixed-use development site in a recently rezoned area of Crown Heights is up for grabs for $18 million, with the potential for a 100,000-square-foot residential project, according to commercial brokerage TerraCRG, which is marketing the property.
The site, at 608-614 Franklin Avenue on the corner of Dean Street, will hit the market a week after the City Council approved a rezoning of Crown Heights West.
With the modified zoning in place, a new owner could build a residential project of up to 100,875 square feet as of right, as long as he or she includes affordable units for low-income families either in the development or off-site.
“The continued development of Franklin Avenue, coupled with the recent rezoning of Crown Heights West, has led to the current owner’s decision to sell a portion of the site,” said Melissa DiBella of Terra, who is marketing the property alongside colleagues Ofer Cohen, Dan Marks, Peter Matheos and Michael Hernandez.
The 21,929-square-foot site was formerly home to the Nassau Brewery, which brewed there until 1914, when the complex was snapped up by the HJ Heinz Company as a factory for the production of canned goods. It is now mostly vacant.
The site’s owner, Crow Hill Development, had plans to develop on the land after buying it for $7.5 million in 2008 but lost construction financing during the economic crisis. Crow Hill plans to retain another part of the property, which it will still develop, DiBella said.
In the run up to the rezoning, Crown Heights underwent somewhat of a renaissance, as home buyers and hipster-friendly businesses adopted the neighborhood.
Indeed, a block from the site, a joint venture between Jonathan Butler, founder of the Brooklyn blog Brownstoner, BFC Partners, and the Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group is converting an historic 140,000-square-foot factory building at 1000 Dean Street into office space creative tenants, and developer Empire State Management is building a 25-unit residential property at 1705 Dean Street.
The vacancy rate for rental apartments in Brooklyn is 4.3 percent, according to TerraCRG’s research, while the average rent is $2,300 a month.