Pandemic Pricing Hits Dumbo

By Dale Kaplan
Photos by Philip Greenberg
Designed by Alex Hochberg

Pandemic pricing has hit our hood.

If the trend continues, the next Art in Dumbo event will have the greatest number of participants seen in decades.” It’s like we are back in the nineties, the neighborhood is going full circle” states Joseph Setton of Plusign Design.

Those who dreamed of renting a space in Dumbo but could not afford the neighborhood are enthusiastically taking advantage of the situation. Many of the companies that have the ability to work remotely have fled while those who require actual physical space such as artists, photographers, chefs, architects, and musicians are moving in. Artists are the majority of new tenants as they are getting good deals on smaller spaces, while photographers are renting studios over 1000 sq. feet. Those who are employed and working remotely are also looking for spaces to rent. Living and working in the same space might not be a healthy option for many people. It can be too much for couples and very lonely for those who live alone. A workplace supplies socialization and camaraderie, without it, people can feel isolated and disconnected.

Once the pandemic hit, the rent dropped from $1700,00 monthly to a more affordable $1500 a month and Jeremy quickly snatched it up.

Jeremy Dean, a Dumbo resident since 2009  took  full advantage of the reduced rental situation  and opened up Vodega, a vegan take-out venue on Anchorage Place.” When Jeremy arrived in Brooklyn from Florida 11 years ago, he landed a job in the ill-fated REbar, where he worked 80 hours a week. Living in Williamsburg at the time he decided to ditch the commute and moved to 50 Bridge Street.  Eventually, Rebar was shut down as a result of tax evasion. Fortunately, Dean had left the establishment a few months before it was officially closed by the authorities. REbar was one of the biggest scandals in modern Dumbo history.

“I always wanted to open an eating establishment in Dumbo, but the rent was unaffordable.” When La Catrina vacated their original flower shop location on Anchorage Place, it had remained vacant for some time.  Once the pandemic hit, the rent dropped from $1700.00 monthly to a more affordable  $1500 a month and Jeremy quickly snatched it up.

So far, business has been good.  Dean, who has been vegan for over two years started out with pop-ups at vegan festivals. “ Our stand was very popular, we would sell out by noon” states the chef.   Upon adopting a vegan diet, Dean still found himself craving burgers and Philadelphia cheesesteaks. The latter was his specialty. An avid traveler and adventurer, Dean went to Thailand on vacation but while packing for his flight home, he canceled his ticket. He then proceeded to buy a food truck and delighted the Thai people and tourists with his expertise in preparing Philadelphia’s signature dish.

Luckily for our neighborhood, Dean has now perfected these two American favorites using plant-based ingredients, , plus additional comfort foods including artisanal soups and baked goods. So far, I have tried the Caribbean tomato soup and chile, both were exceptional and priced at $7.00.  There is also a small retail section with hard to find vegan treats such as jackfruit, dried mushroom seasonings, and exotic fried shallots.   

Vodega is a little jewel on Anchorage Place and a prime example of how one can turn unfortunate circumstances such as COVID into an opportunity. Vodega is cozy and warm and emanates a  homey neighborly vibe.

When Paulina was asked what drew her to Dumbo, her answer was shocking, “It is cheap” stated the young artist.

Garret Nelson, a young artist, and furniture designer rented an over 1200 sq. ft studio in 68 Jay for $2250.00. He shares the space with 4 other artists. The previous rent was close to $2900.00.

Paulina Freifeld, an NYU art student on a semester leave, took Nelson up on the opportunity to rent a wall and brought two of her artist friends with her. The trio is happy in their new shared studio with beautiful natural light and an iconic view of Manhattan. An original trio of artists, who work down the hall, includes Celeste Fichter, Andrea Saunders, and Elise Church. This threesome came together in the nineties and still work from their shared studio with the addition of artist extraordinaire Marti Cormand. It seems as though history might be repeating itself.  

When Paulina was asked what drew her to Dumbo, her answer was shocking “It is cheap” stated the young artist.  Relatively new to New York, and originally from Mexico City, Paulina was aware of Dumbo’s previous history of being a dangerous place and was shocked when the tab for her sandwich came to $16.00. Unaware of the transformation and gentrification that has taken place within the last two decades, I felt the need to update her on Dumbo modern history pre-COVID.

Freifeld is currently working on a piece that honors the life of her paternal grandmother. Unpretentious in a collage-like style, Paulina documents the various stages of her grandmother’s life as a young woman including her honeymoon, motherhood, and her career as a teacher.  Lovingly and beautifully executed, I am looking forward to the finished piece and viewing more of Freifeld’s work as well as the work of her young studio mates.

The creative and talented couple are very happy in their new studio neighborhood. When asked what they like about Dumbo, they mentioned the staff at Bread and Spread and Bee public as well as seeing Weldon. They also observed that the people who have stayed in Dumbo during the pandemic seemed loving and nice to each other.

 

Sebastian Speier and Carly Ayres hit the jackpot when they rented a 6 window beauty in 68 Jay with spectacular views at a great price of $1550 a month.   Both gainfully employed Sebastian was the first of the couple to realize that working remotely from home was far from the optimal situation. “Working from our bedroom forever felt bleak” stated the product designer.  Sebastian began noticing that he and Carly were experiencing a domino effect of unhealthy habits.

There were days when we would never get dressed or just order take out instead of buying groceries. Carly, who writes about all aspects of design for Google, and freelances for various design publications, missed a routine and the New York experience. “What’s the point of living in New York if you do not do anything or see anyone?”   Renting the studio in Dumbo which is a short commute from their apartment has given them the opportunity to interact with people and the Brooklyn streetscape on a daily basis. They now have a grounding routine that has opened the door to spontaneous random experiences.

At first, they looked for a studio in the Navy Yard but found that spaces in Dumbo were a better deal. The creative and talented couple are very happy with their new studio neighborhood. When asked what they like about Dumbo, they mentioned the rooftop at 68, the friendly staff at both Bread and Spread, and Bee Public. They also like seeing Weldon every day, the unofficial mayor of Dumbo who always keeps a watchful eye out for 68 Jay. They also observed  that the people who have stayed in Dumbo through the pandemic seem loving and nice to each other.

Their space is well designed and cheerful. It is a totally happy place with a DIY Boot Boyz chair inspired by Enzo Mari’s Autoprogettazioneproduct from Kenzo and emerald green and white check rug from Etsy. “When our friends heard that we rented a studio to work remotely, they really liked the idea and expressed a desire to do the same” added Carly. While co-working spaces have lost their desirability, the couple predicts that people will meet their socialization needs by renting spaces with those they know and trust.

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