New Walking Tour Highlights Products Made in Gowanus

By Leslie Albrecht on December 3, 2012 8:56am 

GOWANUS — In the minds of most New Yorkers, the chief export coming out of Gowanus are jokes about its stinky canal.

But tour guide Dom Gervasi sees another side to the neighborhood — a business hub that's creating innovative products.

On Dec. 15 Gervasi, founder of Made in Brooklyn Tours, will offer his first-ever Made in Gowanus expedition, a three-hour odyssey aimed at showcasing the neighborhood's thriving artisans, handcrafters and small manufacturers.

"There are innovative entrepreneurs from all over the country and all over the world who came to Brooklyn to start businesses," Gervasi said. "These guys are my heroes."

Gervasi, a licensed tour guide, launched Made in Brooklyn Tours in 2011 after he was laid off from a job in high tech information security. 

He had started his career on the manufacturing side of the high tech industry, and has lamented the sector's slide. It worries him that in the 1950s New York was home to about 1 million local manufacturing jobs, but that figure has shrunk to roughly 80,000 citywide, with less than 20,000 manufacturing jobs left in Brooklyn, he said.

Gervasi's mission is to promote the "made in Brooklyn" brand by "building synergies" between local manufacturers and the public, he said. "It's a labor of love," he said.

The first walking tour his company offered was in Made in Red Hook, followed by DUMBO, Williamsburg and Bensonhurst. Gervasi has taken participants to visit producers of ravioli, chocolate, glass and metal works, and other local businesses. Gowanus was an obvious next choice.

Gervasi, who grew up in Bensonhurst, remembers the days when prostitutes worked Third Avenue corners and tire shops seemed to be the only kind of business that could survive in Gowanus. But today, many companies there exemplify the so-called "maker movement" of people making goods on their own — from artisanal pickles to furniture, Gervasi said.

The neighborhood also has some unique characteristics that he's eager to discuss on his tour — many of the businesses happen to be owned by women, and many teach customers how to handcraft their own products. One example is Makeville, a woman-owned woodworking studio that creates custom furniture and hosts woodworking classes.

Depending on which businesses are available to receive visitors, the Dec. 15 tour could feature SoapWalla, a soap and cosmetics company, the clothing company Angelrox, and Claireware, a pottery boutique.

Gervasi, 44, doesn't pay the businesses on his tours and they don't compensate him. He selects businesses by walking in and pretending to be a customer to see how he's treated. If that goes well, he pitches the idea of participating in the tour. In return, the businesses get exposure and, perhaps, new customers.

Tickets for the Made in Gowanus walking tour, first reported by Gowanus Your Face Off, are $50 and Gervasi said most of the people who sign up are New Yorkers.

He intentionally doesn't market Made in Brooklyn on tourism websites because his goal is to get New Yorkers to explore the neighborhoods in their own backyards, then return to them again and again.

"The idea is to raise awareness about the neighborhood as a whole," Gervasi said."Then people will come back and dicover stuff that I don't even know about."

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