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Film, Food and Artisanal Businesses Quietly Thriving in Gowanus

By Leslie Albrecht | November 5, 2013 8:27am
 A new study of Gowanus reveals a growing variety of businesses hidden in the industrial neighborhood.
Film, Food and Artisanal Businesses Quietly Thriving in Gowanus
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GOWANUS — In one Gowanus building, the FX TV series "The Americans" is shooting on a sound stage. In another, a commercial kitchen is whipping up dough for Wafels & Dinges, one of the city's most popular food trucks. A few blocks away, a studio turns molten glass into works of art.

Though known mostly for its status as a SuperFund site, Gowanus is also home to a growing variety of businesses, according to a new study commissioned by Community Board 6.

The industrial neighborhood is attracting an increasing number of companies that work in film, food, artisanal manufacturing, and arts-related ventures, according to a door-to-door survey and other research conducted by Starr Whitehouse, the planning firm that wrote the study.

The report was funded by New York State's Brownfield Opportunity Area Program, which highlights economic opportunity in areas traditionally known for environmental contamination.

Researchers found more than 420 businesses with roughly 3,500 jobs in the study area.

Many of the businesses are almost invisible because they're hidden inside unmarked buildings that can look derelict at first glance, Whitehouse said. But the quiet exteriors mask interiors humming with entrepreneurial activity.

"What we found is that there’s a lot more economic activity in the Gowanus area than is generally reported — there's a very diverse set of economies there," Whitehouse said. "There's a lot happening. It just doesn't generate activity on the street."

Take for example a nondescript brick building on Butler Street near Third Avenue. Inside is the "Royal Dinges Factory," where batches of dough are transformed into sweet and savory Belgian waffles for the trendy food truck Wafels & Dinges.

It's one of 41 food-related businesses researchers found in the neighborhood, including Stone Street Coffee, Made in Heaven Cakes, The Fresh Diet, and the seafood wholesaler De Martino Wholesale Fish Market.

There's also an increasing number of arts-related firms in Gowanus, said study co-author Melon Wedick. In addition to dozens of private art studios, the neighborhood houses the New York Art Foundry, which casts metal sculptures, and Retrofret Guitars, where antique instruments are restored.

On 13th Street, tucked inside a warehouse that also holds a neon business, is Brooklyn Glass, a glass blowing facility that moved to Gowanus in 2011.

"These uses exist side-by-side with automotive, trucking, wholesaling, warehousing, and manufacturing businesses, and the owners of more 'traditional' manufacturing and industrial business welcome these newer uses and see them as a great addition to the neighborhood," Wedick said in an email.

Study authors also found several artisanal manufacturers that make small batches of unique products. They include clothing designer Angelrox and Soapwalla, which makes personal beauty products.

On the film front, researchers uncovered about 27 businesses, including documentary filmmakers such as Wicked Delicate and Moxie Firecracker. One of the movie-related firms is Eastern Effects, which rents lighting equipment to filmmakers and maintains a set of sound stages for film and TV productions.

Eastern Effects president Scott Levy said he moved the company to Gowanus because it's an industrial neighborhood between two desirable residential areas: Park Slope and Carroll Gardens.

The company has four buildings in Gowanus, totaling about 135,000 square feet of space. It's all ensconced inside "big anonymous-looking industrial buildings," Levy said. Most passers-by probably have no idea that "The Americans," the FX TV series starring Keri Russell, is shot inside one of Eastern Effect's buildings.

"Even though everyone knows about Gowanus, no one really knows it unless you're from here or work here," Levy said.