The idea of Williamsburg used to bring to mind designer pickles.
But that was in the aughts: These days high-end stores peddling bespoke hats and million-dollar waterfront highrises now sit beside bodegas and other not-so-lofty businesses.
So is Williamsburg—once the territory of true hipsters—becoming haute and (gasp!) possibly more of a high society enclave than a gathering of the freaks? If the current residents serve as any indication, then the answer would be a loud and resounding Yes. Because if the Brooklyn neighborhood is good enough for the likes of Lake Bell, Pat Kiernan, and Zoe Kravitz—then it’s good enough for us mere mortals.
According to an employee at Paul Smith’s Williamsburg outpost, the change in customer traffic is astounding: “…Especially the last three years of being here, Grand Street has become much more of a destination than it was…an average weekend now versus three years ago, there’s just a huge difference, it’s pretty dramatic.”
Business is certainly booming for luxury condominiums and designer clothing stores alike—so much so that it’s hard to ignore the rapid demographic shift of Williamsburg. As former die-hard Manhattanites move into the neighborhood, high-end stores are chasing after their coattails and their tastes. Take Lauren Haim, a former Chelsea resident who now lives in Williamsburg: “…Since being here for two and a half years I can name fifteen apartment buildings that have just popped up…It still doesn’t feel like you’re in Manhattan, some of the major streets still have stop signs which is nice and you still get a little bit of the charm. I hope that doesn’t go away but I think all these luxury high-rises has to come with luxury commercial and retail business as well.”
And there’s no question that the dial in Williamsburg is ticking towards haute. On a stroll through Williamsburg’s streets, it’s difficult to ignore Pork Pie Hatters, By Robert James, and Jane’s Closet—all independent high-end boutiques. As if that weren’t enough, there’s also the four-star Wythe Hotel, Blue Bottle Coffee, Pilgrim Surf + Supply, Brooklyn Oenology, and more. (Because everyone knows a New York City neighborhood isn’t luxe without a place that sells $5 iced coffees).
Not only have the storefronts changed, but the built-environment has undergone a facelift as well. Following the rezoning of Williamsburg’s waterfront in 2005, several high-rise condominiums were erected, radically changing the appearance and texture of the neighborhood. This newer part that lies along the East River, aptly named “Edge Neighborhood,” brings to mind the manicured setting of Manhattan’s Battery Park City.
The luxury condos (developed by Douglaston Development) and the higher-end stores catering to the gentrified tastes—especially in “North Williamsburg”—are all representative of the shift that has been altering the neighborhood over the past decade. With the rapid changes mounting, one could argue that it’s certainly not the grungy Williamsburg of ten years ago. This new enclave, “Hauteberg,” seems to have figured out a way to meld the Lucullan culture of Manhattan into its fabric without losing its hipster vibe, retaining its galleries, such as Cinders, Pierogi 2000, and Graphite. There are also the concert venue mainstays—such as Brooklyn Bowl, Union Pool, Glasslands Gallery, and Knitting Factory, which have allowed the neighborhood to keep its Bohemian vibe.
In fact, this phenomenon seems to have worked its magic on the weekend crowd. As a resident of Greenpoint who works in Williamsburg noticed, “On the weekends there’s a lot more people coming in from Manhattan and the younger people that flocked here when Williamsburg became cool are now saving up their own money and opening up their own small businesses.”
According to Kai D, owner of Williamsburg’s Kai D. boutique, this boom has also drawn heavier crowds of Manhattan customers, particularly on the weekends. But the stores that these customers are drawn to seem to be those that are cut from Williamsburg’s cloth. “A lot of the customers are people who are living here, they prefer to see stores like us as opposed to just another national chain store that you see in Manhattan.”
Though Williamsburg may be turning into a mini-Manhattan of sorts, the local clients’ tastes have kept the neighborhood from going too far in that direction. Its homegrown businesses, artisanal clothing stores, luxury condos, and tasteful restaurants makes Williamsburg something else altogether—a “Hauteberg” of its own making.