Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Pickett Furniture: An artisan at Pier 41

While IKEA's blue box on the Brooklyn waterfront gets the most attention of any local furniture store, respect and attention should be given to the multitude of truly local designers that create their pieces by hand with thought, love, and care, using only the highest quality elements. Pickett Furniture, located at Pier 41 in Red Hook, is one such company. Check out our interview below with the owner, Jeremy Pickett, to find out his approach to furniture making and life in Red Hook and the Columbia Waterfront as a designer.

WoCS: How did you get into the furniture business?
PF: My first job in the furniture business was my first summer in college. I spent the summer living with my dad, who had arranged an entry level job at a local construction company. I think his plan was for me to learn the value of an education as a means of avoiding a life of manual labor. Ironically, it was that summer job and not my political science classes that have provided more job training. After college, I moved to Chicago and worked in several different positions within the music industry. This eventually led me to New York to start a music promotion company focusing on sending tour promotion and licensing in Japan. And to help pay my East Village apartment rent, I fell back on my hand skills and took a part time job working for a cabinet maker in Dumbo. Fast forward a couple years and I had grown disillusioned and tired of the music business (mainly being out at a club in Nebraska at 4:00 in the morning) and I knew I needed a second career. By this time, my wife and I were living in a townhouse in Chelsea that we owned and the building had several rental apartments that we were constantly fixing up and repairing DIY in our free time. And it came that I much preferred this work to my day job, so I found an apprenticeship with a cabinetmaking shop in Jersey City. At that stage, I could comprehend a Home Depot fix-it-yourself book, but I knew I needed to hone my skills if I wanted to make this a profession. And from Jersey City, I found work as a shop manager and designer in Greenpoint, which led to a job with furniture maker in Bushwick, which led to another furniture maker in Williamsburg. I was accumulating all this different experience and staying in the shops nights and weekends building personal projects for myself, because none of these shops wanted me to use chisels/hand planes, or pursue Japanese-style joinery. Rightfully so, when you are someone else's dime, my bosses wanted me to build whatever furniture I was assigned as quickly as possible. So learning to make 'slow' furniture (to borrow a phrase from the food industry) was something that was self-taught. A couple years ago, I finally had the resources to open my own shop (after we sold the Manhattan townhouse) and moved to Red Hook.

WoCS: What attracts you to working with wood and what is your favorite type?
PF: This is the part where I can start to sound like a hippy, so I will try to skim over the new age beliefs a bit and say I love working with natural materials from the earth. Spending my day looking at raw wood and slabs that came from the trees, smelling the wood as its cut (each species has its distinct scent) is a great escape right here in the middle of this urban environment we all live in. I love working with walnut. Walnut has great workability, by that I mean walnut sands easily and doesn't chip or splinter like some other species. Walnut also has great figure and I think it shows really well. I try to make all my showroom pieces out of walnut (although everything I make is available in any species a client requests).

WoCS: Where do you get your wood and other materials?
PF: This is the other reason I love working with walnut. All the walnut (and cherry) I use comes from a small family farm in Delaware, so whenever I make a new piece I get to drive two and a half hours south and hand select the walnut from a barn in the woods. I love the opportunity to get out on the road, walk the the woods and finding the lumber direct from the land that the trees had grown up on. I love being able to pass along the story onto clients, saying that I can almost pinpoint the exact location on this earth that their dining table or dresser came from. I had a special project last year where I built a kitchen for a loft renovation here in Red Hook and every single board in the kitchen came from the same tree. It's as if we are able to give the tree a second life. As I type some of this I am coming to the realization the Shel Silverstein book, The Giving Tree, my mother used to read to me when I was little has had a profound influence on my career.

WoCS: We notice on your site that you have a green philosophy. Could you summarize it for our readers?
PF: Our green philosophy is based on how to apply a sustainable lifestyle to our products. We aim to use local resources (lumber from the East Coast) and, again to borrow a phrase from the food industry, "farm to table" furniture. When we have used exotic species, such as teak, we have made sure our source of teak or mahogany comes from a responsible and sustainable supplier. Our studio line furniture is finished with oils and poly by hand vs. spray finishing that occurs in 95% of furniture manufacturing. When we make a product that requires a more commercial finish, we source our finishing to Surface Environment, a green spray finishing business in Bushwick. There are a few commercial spraying outfits in Brooklyn/Queens and a majority of this places use very potent lacquers, are poorly ventilated, and are just environmental hazards. Surface Environment are devoted to water-based finishes with low-voc outputs. And this is important as the kitchens/vanities/millwork in most homes are off gassing imperceptible toxins and using Surface Environment eliminates the majority of this risk to families. We also apply the term 'heirloom' green to our furniture as it is our hope the furniture we make is made and designed well enough that it is eventually passed along to future generations as an heirloom. I get really depressed whenever I see mass market furniture tossed onto the sidewalk when someone moves out of an apartment and the furniture is deemed to low quality to not be worth moving but simply replaced with more low quality furniture in the new apartment.

WoCS: How has this green philosophy served your business? Do you feel that people are drawn to your work because of it?
PF: I'm not sure of any particular case where I have had a client find me specifically because of our green approach, but I know clients are always appreciative of our methods after the fact once they have learned the extra steps we have taken into the manufacture of their furniture. I have a problem with a lot of mass market 'green' products as I feel many of these companies are a bit disingenuous. To me, having your furniture made in a factory in China, prepackaged in foam/cardboard/shrinkwrap and shipped to a warehouse in New Jersey and then trucked to your home via the ground shipping industry, is a far cry from being green, regardless if the Canadian Maple or Baltic Birch plywood (which first must be shipped to China) is glued together with low-formaldehyde glue. The offset of using low-voc glue pales in comparison to the pollution and oil used to get the product to market. But companies market new products like this as green just about every day.

WoCS: What is your favorite piece of furniture at home?
PF: A lot of our home furniture are antiques, and my favorite one of those may be the Japanese Altar table that we use as a media cabinet. Our television rests on top of it with the remote controls in the drawers. The only piece we have at home that I made is our coffee table. It used to seem like every time we had a guest over they would ask me if we had anything I had made and I would forever have to sheepishly say "no". Finally, I made a coffee table for ourselves.

WoCS: What are your primary sources of inspiration in making your pieces?
PF: I like the conflict/resolution in my designs of minimalism vs. traditional. I try to create minimal lines in the design and concept and then refer to Japanese carpentry and joinery and see how I can make these designs happen with just the strength of wood joints. George Nakashima is of course a major inspiration. I also love, love, love the furniture of Christian Liaigre. I like the work of the Los Angeles architects of the 30s and 40s - Schindler, Lautner, Nuetra, and Jones. I love the workmanship and the understated beauty of the Arts and Crafts movement. And I'm also influenced by my contemporaries here in New York in the present. I think we are lucky to work and live in a time when furniture design and manufacturing has such a strong local presence.

WoCS: If you could furnish the home of any famous person, who it would be and what would you design for them?
PF: One of the first jobs I had as an apprentice was installing some outdoor furniture and flower boxes for Billy Crystal. As you walked into his apartment, he had an antique woodworkers bench as an entry table and on it were a few yellowed baseballs. I assumed that these were priceless home run balls from Yankee history, such as Roger Maris' 61st homer or something. I never had to the nerve to ask him for fear he would think I would try to steal them. But I stared at them constantly while working in his apartment. I've made a few more pieces for celebrities over the years and the experience is generally pretty cool, especially if you are a fan of their art. If I could ring anyone up and make them my client, I think it would have to be Neil Young. I can't think of anyone else I'd rather meet. And it would have to be a chair. Our most personal relationships with furniture are with chairs.

WoCS: You recently participated in the Architectural Digest Home Design Show. Tell us a little about that and what the trade show side of the business is like for a furniture maker.
PF: The trade shows are great for business. It's the best way to introduce your product and have one on one conversations with potential clients. It's one thing to see images of your work on websites and quite another to touch and feel and sit in the furniture. Being that our showroom is in a second story warehouse on a pier out in Red Hook, its not the most accessible place for people to drop by. So the trade shows make it easier for me to reach new clients and run into and see old clients as well. It's nice for me because it provides a different environment than the one of seclusion that I have built for myself out here on the waterfront.

WoCS: What made you choose Red Hook as a location for your business?
PF: I hate to let the word get out, but Red Hook is the best place on earth. Seriously. When we left Manhattan, we rented an apartment in Carroll Gardens for awhile. I found a workshop to share just across the BQE on Van Brunt Street. When I lived in Manhattan, I was always doing the reverse commute working in Brooklyn and I've always wanted to be able to walk to work. That was the dream. I loved crossing the BQE n the mornings and entering the Columbia Street District into what I viewed as our secret neighborhood. Then last year, we moved into a larger workshop down on Pier 41 which allowed me to have a private office and showroom. It wasn't too long after moving to Carroll Gardens that we decided to buy an apartment in the Columbia Street District. We spend 90% of our time in the neighborhood now and I love the waterfront. I love feeling the breeze off the water, the sunsets, and the smell of the saltwater. When we lived in Chelsea we were surrounded by the subways and commuters and walking our dogs or pushing our baby's stroller became such a chore fighting the crowds on the sidewalk. We love were we are now with the wide open sidewalks and neighborly feel of the streets.

WoCS: What about the neighborhood is good for furniture makers and woodworkers in general? There are certainly a good number here.
PF: The zoning regulations certainly help. Manufacturing zones are shrinking all around us, especially over in Williamsburg and Greenpoint. The manufacturing in DUMBO has all but disappeared. Surprisingly, people don't like to live above or next to businesses that run loud machinery. And the lack of subway has helped keep the prices of real estate down. I've worked in a few different neighborhoods and this one is my favorite by far. I've also noticed that there isn't a sense of 'let's change this neighborhood into condos and bars scene'. I think maybe through natural selection that the residents of Red Hook are just cooler about manufacturing in their neighborhood. I can only guess, but I think a large portion of residents live and work in the neighborhood and there is a strong sense of self preservation to keeping the neighborhood the way it is and providing manufacturing jobs for local residents.
WoCS: What are your favorite hangouts in the area?
PF: Fairway! It's so convenient working right next door to the best grocery store in the city. We have lunch there a few times a week. Defonte's makes the best sandwiches hands down. We love the food options on our side of the highway. Hope and Anchor and Fort Defiance are other regular lunch spots. The savory pastries (especially the cauliflower turnover) at Baked are delicious. I love that Calexico opened up in the neighborhood and even more they seem to have a personal connection to the band, Calexico who are one of my favorites. One of these days I want to throw a Calexico themed party with Calexico catering and the band Calexico playing. When we don't feel like cooking, we order delivery regularly from Teeda and Kotobuki. And the Good Fork is great when we have a babysitter. I think the only food we travel across the BQE for is fresh fish from Fish Tails.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Third Wheel documentary screening and party @ B61 on 3/31

There will be a DVD screening and release party for the documentary "The Third Wheel" at B61 this Wednesday, 3/31 at 7pm. Check out the trailer for the movie above and a description below.

A portion of the movie description from the website:
In an age of green transportation, and massive gridlock on New York City streets, few ideas make as much obvious good sense as pedicabs. These modern versions of the classic Asian rickshaw offer a fast and environmentally clean way to get around the clogged streets of Manhattan. In recent years, these human-powered vehicles have gone from being an oddity to an increasingly common sight. However, nothing is even as simple as it seems in a modern metropolis like New York.

The Third Wheel, is a documentary about the regulation of the pedicab industry in New York, is an exciting tale of entrepreneurship that develops into a fascinating expose of the real inner workings of city government.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

ASI ready to proceed with shore power! (via Brooklyn Paper)

The Brooklyn Paper reported yesterday that pier operator American Stevedoring International (ASI) has reaffirmed that it would like to pursue cold ironing infrastructure, which means that cargo ships docked locally would be able to plug into the electric grid on land rather than burning on-board diesel generators, which as you've probably seen, release steady streams of dark smoke into the air. The Port Authority, which owns the piers, isn't on the same page however, as it is only currently pursuing cold ironing for the Cruise Terminal at Pier 12.

Here are some excerpts from the BP article:

American Stevedoring International said last Monday that it will proceed with a plan that will enable docked cargo ships to cut their on-board motors and plug into the mainland power grid — a process known as cold ironing.

Cargo ships will typically idle for as much as six hours while their goods are unloaded on the Columbia Street waterfront — and that befouls the neighborhood air.

“The emissions go everywhere,” said Pioneer Street resident Adam Armstrong, adding that those emissions have been labeled as likely carcinogens by the Environmental Protection Agency. Employing cold ironing all along the waterfront, he said, “would have tremendous health benefits.....”

But Steve Coleman, a spokesperson for the Port Authority......[says] “We are only talking about passenger ships at this point.....”

The part measure stems from the higher numbers of incoming cargo vessels versus cruise ships, Coleman said. As a result, there are more “difficulties” with the cargo vessels, including finding ways to get new equipment on many different ships.....

“Given the simpler power needs of cargo vessels, we believe cold ironing will be accomplished without the need for the type or scale of modifications for cruise ship berth,” said American Stevedoring spokesman Matt Yates.

Even if the Port Authority isn’t ready to move ahead on Yates’s company’s piers, Community Board 6 definitely backs the effort, unanimously approving the installation of “appropriate infrastructure” at Piers 8-10 last week....

Read the entire article here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Urgent survey regarding MTA cuts!!!!!!!

MTA is scheduled to vote on changes to bus service affecting our
neighborhood. Please take a moment to fill out the following survey


If you can complete this before tomorrow afternoon (Tuesday) COWNA can get the results to
the MTA.


Save the dates: Jazz in June at the Urban Meadow

Jazz is Alive & Cookin' in Brooklyn!

June 13 & June 20
1pm - 5:30pm

in the
Urban Meadow
On the Corner of President & Van Brunt Streets, Brooklyn, Red Hook
  • Harris Eisenstadt’s Canada Day with Nate Wooley (tr), Matt Bauder (sx) Chris Dingman (vb) Eivind Opsvik (b) - Marco Cappelli Trio with Satoshi Takeshi & Ken Filiano
  • James Carney
  • Todd Sickafoose
  • Chris Lightcamp with Tony Malby (sx), Chris Cheek (b), Craig Taborn (p), Gerald Cleaver (dr)
  • Welf Dorr Quartet with Tom Zlabinger (b), Federico Ughi (d) & On Davis (g)
  • SPOKE with Andy Hunter (trb), Justin Wood (sx), Dan Loomis (b) & Danny Fischer (d)
  • Dave Sewelson’s Blues Quintet Express (BQE)
  • Joao Erbetta’s Bizarre Guitar
  • Nick Gianni’s Evolution

* If its really pouring rain the show will need to be canceled.

Check out the Urban Meadow facebook page for updates

WHERE: The Urban Meadow is located on the corner of President & Van Brunt Streets, next door to Mother Cabrini Park in Columbia Waterfront District in Red Hook/Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, NYC.

HOW TO GET THERE: Take the 4/5 or 2/3 to Borough Hall, then take the B61 at Court & Atlantic Ave towards Red Hook/Ikea, then get off at the Carroll Street Stop, Walk to President Street and then towards the water and the crains until you hit the Meadow. Or take the F/G train to Carroll Street, then walk down Union Street to Columbia Street past the BQE overpass, make a left on Columbia Street to President St., then walk towards the Crains/Waterfront.

First Weeding Day at The Meadow: A Success!

Yesterday, Sunday, was our first weeding day at the Urban Meadow. The weather was beautiful, the volunteers were numerous and so were the kids. In two and a half hours we were able to clean out the flower area of all the dead plants leaving room for the young flowers.

Thank you so much for coming out.

However the work is not over. Next week we will be working again marking a path and places for shrubs, and weeding some more. We will be there every Sunday from 10am to 12pm, so don't hesitate to walk over and give us a hand.

Here are some pictures from yesterday:

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Weed and Seed days at the Urban Meadow

Spring is upon us and the Meadow needs a makeover!

Our plans for last Sunday were foiled by the weather, but it will not be so this time!! Please come out to help prepare the Meadow for another wonderful year of fun. There will be coffee and water for the garden hands. See you there!

We ask you to come and help during the following WEED n' SEED days, weather permitting: Sundays, March 21st, 28th and April 4th, 11th, 18th, 25th, from 10am to 12pm.

We hope to see many of you

Child laborers are welcome!

There will be tools, but if you have any make sure to bring them!

The Meadow Team

Friday, March 19, 2010

Coffee Den to change ownership!

The rumors have been confirmed! Jen, the current owner of the Coffee Den, has sold the business to the owner of the building and Neil from Petite Crevette. The plan is to keep it as a coffee shop in the daytime but to turn it into a wine bar at night.

This is definitely the end of an era. We've always enjoyed hanging out at the coffee shop with our sons, sipping coffee or tea while they play with the toys and books in the back. Jen has also been extremely supportive of community events, donating coffee ans snacks to numerous concerts and events at the Urban Meadow and Mother Cabrini Park.

We sincerely hope that the new owners are going to offer as much of a cozy feel as has been provided at the Coffee Den under the ownership of Jen and her family. We are also looking forward to the exciting news of nighttime hours and wine!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Love and Longevity at Union Max

Union Max, which opened in the Spring of 2000, is often cited as being one of the first businesses to open up among the new wave of shops, restaurants, and bars that have emerged during the revitalization of our area - and it has managed to stay open while many others have not. Opting not to sell online or even maintain a website, they choose to stick to what they know and love, selling vintage beads, jewelry, clothing, and other collectible goods out of their storefront on the corner of Union. St. and Columbia. Making it even more special, the shop is a true family business, run by a mother and two daughters. We recently caught up with one of the daughters, Rachel Goldberg, to talk about the shop and the neighborhood, and to take some photos of their great merchandise.

WoCS: What did you do before opening Union Max?
UM: We sold at fleamarkets and trade shows

WoCS: How did you land on Columbia St.?
UM: My sister moved to an apartment on Carroll and Hicks in 1998 and we had heard about this great antique furniture store owned by Barry Jetter called "general Nitemare. We made the huge trek over the BQE to check it out. My mother who had been in the antiques business for over 20 years had seen many shops go out of business because of landlords raising the rent once a neighborhood got more popular. We always wanted to open a shop but she refused to rent. She wanted to be able to buy the space out right and at the time we were able to buy our store for a ridiculously low amount.

WoCS: How has Columbia St. changed since you first opened?

UM: Incredibly, I moved to the neighborhood in 2000 when we opened the shop. When we first opened the only shops were General Nitemare, Margaret Palca bakes ( who was only doing wholesale at the time) and us. They had just padlocked a building that was a drug den on the corner of my building. The building on the corner of Union and Columbia ( across from us) was an empty lot. The foot traffic was nil.

WoCS: Have these changes impacted your business in any way?
UM: It took about 3 years but now there is now steady traffic in the neighborhood and like I said we don't have a landlord who wants to raise our rent. My Mother...Smart Lady.

WoCS: Is most of your clientele local, or do people travel from around the city?
UM: We get both. We have a steady clientele from the neighborhood. We've been around long enough and we have such a unique stock that we get people from the city coming and buying from us to resell in Manhattan.

WoCS: What are your favorite hangouts in the neighborhood?
UM: Mazzat is great great food. I was sad to see Pit Stop close

WoCS: How do you explain the high concentration of vintage shops in the neighborhood?
UM: I think people open vintage shops because they are in love with antiques. You have to do it for the love in this neighborhood. We all have second/real jobs that feed our habit.

Rachel is also part owner of Brooklyn Collective with Tessa Phillips. An interview with Tessa about Brooklyn Collective will be coming soon.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Port Authority banned old trucks - but will that be enough?

Last week we posted about a nationwide effort to reduce port emissions and referenced a NY Times article on the topic. What we failed to mention is that on that same day the Port Authority of NY and NJ announced that they would be banning all Pre-1994 trucks as of January 2011 (trucks made before 1994 are the most polluting).

While most will applaud the new policy's effects on our local air quality, many feel that it could have gone a few steps further.

Amy Goldsmith, the Chair of the Coalition for Healthy Ports and Executive Director of the New Jersey Environmental Federation released a statement that explains how this policy doesn't eliminate enough of the polluting trucks on the road and places too much of the upgrade burden on truck drivers and taxpayers.

Some quotes from her statement are below. Read it in its entirety here via Fox Business.

"While we look forward to next year's official retirement of dirty trucks built before 1994, it will account for less than 10 percent of the total port trucking fleet - leaving thousands of toxic spewing diesel trucks on the road......

"Under the current plan individual truck drivers, precariously employed under the guise of 'independent contractor' by their companies, will be required to assume massive debt to purchase cleaner trucks in order to continue working at the port. These individual loans, subject to qualification and good credit, will be subsidized by more than $28 million in grants and loans funded by taxpayer dollars........

"The only solution to the problem of bad jobs and dirty air at our nation's ports is the Clean Truck Program enacted in 2008 by the Port of Los Angeles, which provided economic incentives for trucking companies to purchase clean fleets. Unfortunately the American Trucking Association sued to stop this highly successful program, simultaneously obstructing similar comprehensive efforts in New York and New Jersey.

"The Coalition for Healthy Ports will continue to advocate for a sustainable Clean Truck Program. We join the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in its call on Congress to update outdated law to ensure ports around the country have the clear authority to implement 21st Century policies that will protect the environment and public health, reduce security risks and create American middle-class jobs."

Adam Armstrong of the local blog "A View From the Hook" also commented, as he has in the past, that these policies need to address not only the trucks but the ships as well. Read his informative and extensive post about ship pollution here.

While any reduction in emissions is a good thing, its a shame that there isn't consensus as to how this should be achieved and that better solutions seem to be available.

Sirens, loudspeakers, confusion, oh my!

If you heard sirens and an ominous voice this morning, you were not alone. We heard it and were immediately confused, as was a reader that emailed in. We managed to talk to the 76th precinct and were told that it was a test on piers 7-12.

Later today, the NYTimes City Room blog had a little more detail, including interviews with local residents and workers about their perceptions:

With no warning, the mysterious sirens, accompanied by garbled instructions, startled the residents who live near the Columbia Street waterfront and in nearby Brooklyn neighborhoods sometime after 9 a.m. Monday.

Felix Rosario, who lives on Columbia Street, thought the instructions were about the water supply. They went on for 20 minutes. He could not really make out what the announcer was saying.

“I was worried about the water in my house,” he said.

Marie Testaverde knew it was a test, but not much more: “I forgot about it. Certain noises, I just forget about.”

A block away on Tiffany Place, Rafael Rosado, who works at a building on the street, recognized the warnings — “garble, garble, garble” — as a noise he had heard several times over the years.

“I wish I could understand what they’re saying,” he said. “Imagine if something was actually happening.”

.....A security guard at Pier 8, at the end of Atlantic Avenue, provided an answer: the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was testing its emergency broadcast system, as it does once a year. Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the agency, said the system, to be used in case the pier needs to be evacuated, can be heard for a mile in every direction. He said that port tenants and the local police precinct were notified in advance.
Full post here:
City Room: Attention, Please! This Is a Zzb Frzzkd Sxpldts!

The Spring Event at Brooklyn Collective and General Nightmare Antiques

The Spring Event

presented by Brooklyn Collective and General Nightmare Antiques

March 26, 2010
196 Columbia Street
Between Sackett and Degraw

Please join us to celebrate over 15 new collections! Paintings, photography, sculpture, film, jewelry, clothing and accessories all from local artists and designers.

Featured Artists
Lisel Ashlock
Bud McNichol
L.J. Lambillotte
Jesse Corinella
Jen Kelly
Lewis Henry Nicholas
Alexandra Grecco
Jess Yam
Design and Labor
Alexandra Batsford
Off the Mat
elle s'appelle
Created by Fortune
Rachel Goldberg
Tatoo Girl Lingerie

Complimentary cocktails will be served throughout the evening

Plus! A special live performance by SORD

For further info please visit

Image courtesy of Bud McNichol

Beautiful Earth: A Sustainable Vision on Columbia Street

A few months back we posted about an interview that inhabitat.com had done with local green business Beautiful Earth Group. At the time we thought that it was just a solar car company, which would have been amazing enough in itself, but it turns out that they do a lot more than that. We recently had the opportunity to catch up to the President and CEO of the company, Lex Heslin, to do an interview of our own with a local perspective. Check it out below.

WoCS: What is Beautiful Earth Group exactly? Your mission statement seems to reach beyond the solar charging station we've read about.

BE: That’s right. Beautiful Earth Group is a sustainable energy company founded in 2008, which develops, owns and operates utility-scale solar and wind power generating facilities. The company's first projects are located in the southwestern United States. We invest exclusively in non-carbon emitting electricity generation and promote long-term green solutions towards a goal of sustainability.

Amanda Cleary, Manager of Sustainability at BE, pulls the MINI E into BE’s charging station for a refill.

WoCS: Tell us a little more about the charging station and the electric car.

We built New York City’s first solar-powered electric vehicle (EV) charging station to show that this sustainable form of energy is available just about anywhere, even here on the Brooklyn waterfront. The station, which we designed and built, is off-grid, modular, constructed with recycled, decommissioned steel shipping containers and entirely powered by state-of-the-art Sharp 235 watt photovoltaic panels. The project is part of BE's effort to showcase urban sustainable energy solutions in New York City. It is capable of generating about 6 kilowatts, enough energy to supply your average Brooklyn apartment. We use it to charge our 100% electric, zero emissions Mini E, which is the first of the coming wave of EV’s.

WoCS: Is it something that you plan to replicate elsewhere?

It’s not. It’s really a demonstration project, to show that solar energy can be harvested and used on a local, small scale basis. It has received an incredible response though, in the press and via word of mouth. People love the idea that they can give up gas. And the charging station was
highlighted in Climate Week NYC. UN officials from all over the world came out to see it and to learn how solar works. Most of them had never actually been to a solar installation before, and they were amazed at how simple it is. Many of them wanted to set them up in their home countries. So even though this is not a business line for us, it seems that people have really gotten a lot out of it.

WoCS: If other people in NYC buy electric cars, would they be able to charge at your station?

BE: Our plan is to donate the charging station to a terrific organization which will use it to charge their electric vehicles, so we’re not set up to open it to the public at this time. However, EV manufacturers and charging station companies are pushing to get into the city as soon as possible, and you can expect to see some major announcements over the next 9 - 12 months about places to charge and special services for EV users.

WoCS: What are some of the other projects you have in the works?

BE: As for local/community projects, we have opened the charging station to a green jobs training program and plan to continue in that vein. In addition, we do seminars about sustainable energy at local public schools. We are also taking part in upcoming Earth Day activities, and we are working to make the Brooklyn waterfront a cleaner, greener place. As for development projects, we are building an incredible pipeline of sustainable energy generation capacity which will come on line over the coming years. Most of it is in the United States, but we are beginning to get more calls to do projects overseas.

WoCS: What are your favorite hangouts on Columbia Street?

BE: I’m a big fan of Jake’s BBQ and Margaret Palca’s bakery. You might not know it from the street, but these are very two special places. The food is consistently excellent, they both give great value for money and they cook with love (which my wife says is a key ingredient of good food). I also like to spice it up at Calexico, which does a lot of their dishes with tofu.

WoCS: Do employees of the company all get to use the electric car? If not, how does everyone else commute or otherwise get around?

BE: Yes, our employees do use the car. We try to integrate sustainability into everything we do, even our commute. Most of us walk to work. Otherwise, we use the EV or take the subway, for the most part.

BE’s view of New York Harbor, the port, Governor’s Island, Statue of Liberty and Manhattan.

WoCS: What made you decide to locate Beautiful Earth on Columbia St?

BE: We love the neighborhood, its history and sense of community. We feel like this area is bursting with ideas and creativity, and we love being part of that. Also, our office is located on the top floors of this fantastic building, built by Marshall Sohne. We run the office sustainably, all of our employees enjoy nice space and amenities, including the 10’ tall round picture window, and we have sweeping views of the waterfront.

It is important, in this business, to keep your mind open to change, and to the beauty of the earth around you. Seeing the water every day connects me to the Earth, and the views inspire me to do my best.

WoCS: Are there aspects of the Columbia Waterfront and greater Red Hook that are ideal for environmental organizations and businesses in general?

BE: Absolutely. For environmentally-oriented businesses, the sense of light and space you get here is quite special, very different from Manhattan or even other parts of Brooklyn. Add that to the waterfront location, and you’ve got a pretty great spot. Plus, we’re watching The Brooklyn Greenway develop before our eyes.

But in terms of office space and green infrastructure, there are very few attractive spaces on the waterfront appropriate for medium- to large-scale office users. That puts pressure on growing companies like ours to look for expansion space elsewhere. Surprising really – Brooklyn is home to an incredibly talented pool of professionals involved in the green movement, but the only choices they have for space is DUMBO (limited availability), one or two incubators (for start-ups) and space at the Navy Yard or at Greg O’Connell’s piers (both of which are set up for light industrial businesses). The West Coast is streets ahead of us in terms of almost all things green, and part of the reason is that the business community there gets it. New York has the talent, ambition, smarts and sensibility to lead the world in the green business – I hope we don’t miss the boat simply because we underserve this important industry which is evolving so quickly around us.

Lex Heslin, President & CEO of Beautiful Earth Group, has a vision

WoCS: Are there any local environmental issues that spark your interest or tie into work that Beautiful Earth Group is doing?

BE: Our main interest is sustainable energy use and helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, so we are working to achieve new solutions which use our Beautiful Energy. My daughter has asthma, and every day I think about how to make the air cleaner for her. One way is through transportation. On the EV and EV infrastructure front, we are working to ensure that sustainable energy-fueled electric trucks, cars and bicycles take a more prominent place in our transportation alternatives. We’re also interested in greenspace, so we are looking forward to supporting Brooklyn Bridge Park (which has an incredible sustainability plan) and the Brooklyn Greenway.

On a larger scale, I would like to see more effective environmental programs being implemented in New York – like carbon neutral residential areas and commercial/industrial zones (Red Hook should be the first!), better recycling, less convoluted permitting for green energy projects, more
attention to local foods, and better sustainability education for our children so that they don’t repeat the mistakes we’ve made.

And this may be a dream, but I believe that if we as individuals start changing what we are doing to impact the planet, and work together through our families and communities, then we just might have a chance at turning this thing around!

Fundraiser for Falconworks Artists Group - Tomorrow 3/15!


Acclaimed Red Hook theater organization Falconworks Artists Group's Annual Benefit is a fundraiser disguised as a soiree – a chance to laugh, dance, network, and raise enough green to bolster all of our upcoming initiatives.

Falconworks Artists Group allows Brooklyn youth to make their own, well, anything. To finish this sentence anyway they want.To dream big. Dreams beyond situation and circumstance.

Some of their programs include "Off the Hook," in which youth get to write and act in their own plays and"Riot Act" in which youth work with NYC police officers to play theater games, learn skills, and hit the stage.

149 7th Street, Brooklyn, NY
7:00 pm
Monday, March 15, 2010

Suggested Donation, $100.
($100 at the door)

Check out the Falconworks website for more details or to buy tickets online

Falconworks was also recently featured in the video below from Brooklyn Independent Television's Neighborhood Beat series:

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Kids show at Jalopy tomorrow feat. Audrarox!

Jalopy Family Reunion Presents

Sunday, March 14th @ 3pm

$10 or $30 family pack. Kids under 1 are free.

Please do not bring strollers as there is no room to accommodate them.

Check out other upcoming shows at Jalopy here

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cleaner trucks, cleaner ports

The NY Times recently ran an article titled "Clearing the Air at American Ports" about an alliance between union members and environmental groups that aims to reduce port emissions by requiring the trucking companies that operate at ports to hire truckers as employees rather than independent contractors, and as a result, pay for newer and cleaner trucks for them. The Port of LA started pursuing this strategy a couple years back and has successfully banned older trucks, however it is facing legal challenges from the trucking industry in trying to require the conversion of independent contractors into employees. Many are now pushing for Congress to change laws at the Federal level so that it would be easier for such a requirement to be enacted. As our neighborhood is so directly linked to an operating port, it is well worthwhile to think about how a program like this might effect local workers and the air we all breathe.

Below are some quotes from the article. The full article, which contains more details about related legal battles, industry economics, and opinions on both sides, is available here.

The Teamsters union and environmental activists have formed an unlikely and outspoken alliance aiming to clear the air in American ports, and perhaps bolster the Teamsters’ ranks in the process.

The labor-green alliance is getting under the trucking industry’s skin by asserting that short-haul trucking companies working in ports — and not the truck drivers, who are often considered independent contractors — should spend the billions needed to buy new, low-emission rigs that can cost $100,000 to $175,000 each.

The Teamsters union says seaport air is so dirty largely because port truck drivers earn too little to buy trucks that would belch out fewer diesel particulates, tiny particles that contribute to cancer and asthma. Working with environmentalists, the union helped persuade the Port of Los Angeles to adopt a far-reaching plan that bars old trucks from hauling cargo from the port and puts the burden of buying new vehicles on the trucking companies, not the drivers.......

The labor-green alliance achieved a major victory in late 2008 when it helped persuade the mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, a former union organizer, and the city’s port to require trucking companies to employ their drivers directly, making the companies bear the cost of buying new rigs.......

In addition to Mayor Villaraigosa, the Teamsters and environmentalists have lined up other backers, including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, Mayor Corey Booker of Newark and other mayors, senators and representatives.

With a recent Rutgers study finding that port drivers earned $29,000 a year on average (after paying for their trucks, maintenance, fuel and insurance), Mr. Bloomberg said, “Truck drivers simply can’t afford to buy expensive trucks. They’re barely earning enough to make ends meet in a job that should be providing them with a solid, middle-class living."

Image above of the Port of LA from NYTimes

BWAC Wide Open

Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition

invites you to

National juried art show

147 pieces selected from the 1,583 submissions by our three prestigious jurors

Anne Strauss, Assoc. Curator of 19th Century and Contemporary Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Mark Hughes, Director, Galerie LeLong, Chelsea

Bill Murphy, Professor and Gallery Director, Wagner College

60+ Pieces on Affordable Art Wall under $500 each

Opening Day Mar 13 Meet the Artists Reception 1-6PM

Awards Ceremony 3PM

march 13 – 28 weekends only 1-6pm

bwac.org 499 Van Brunt St, Red Hook 718 596-2506

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Brooklyn Teens Tackle Tolerance Through Film

Student-Driven Movie Takes on Issues Facing Local Youth

Press Release from Dance Theater Etc.:

“I already draw attention to myself when I walk down the street – I’m black.” A couple students laughed; others followed up with questions, animated. Five teens sat around a table, debating whether or not it was baggy jeans and hoodies that garnered the unwanted attention the speaker sometimes sensed from policemen and purse-clutchers, and sharing their own experiences growing up in Brooklyn.
This youth writer’s group- with students originally hailing from East New York, Red Hook, Bed-Stuy, & even Haiti- laid the foundation for a new film from independent filmmaker Trac Minh Vu (Letters to Thien) being created now in a series of Saturday morning workshops by over thirty Brooklyn teenagers.
Fresh off an Oscar season that saw the powerful melodrama Precious shedding light onto a young woman’s life in Harlem’s Section 8 housing and Sandra Bullock’s starring turn as the near-savior to an “at-risk youth,” these students felt they could say something- perhaps not as sensational, they acknowledged, but potentially more authentic- about what it means to grow up in the kind of places not featured on MTV’s (unreal) reality teen shows.

With students traveling from all corners of Brooklyn- some braving almost two hours of Saturday morning buses and subways to make it down to Red Hook- it’s clear there’s more to these young people than the “inner-city grit” and street culture so often latched onto by mainstream media, eager to categorize.

If there is one constant, in fact, in how these teens ask to be viewed, it is their rejection of labels. Their portrayal of characters is nothing if not nuanced- the film they envision anything but didactic.

Enabled in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the “Scene to Screen Project” is part of Dance Theatre Etcetera’s “Tolerance through the Arts Initiative.” Alongside the production of the film, which will employ a professional crew, the producers will create a study guide intended to incite conversation in schools about teen-to-teen interactions and the role each individual can play in creating a more just, tolerant world.

Students will continue to develop the film in the recently-begun acting workshops, with production scheduled for mid-May. To get a feel for where this project is headed, check out the movie that came out of the 2008 program it's based on.

Produced by Dance Theater Etcetera.

Open Call for Artists at Work/Wassaic




Work Gallery and The Wassaic Project team up again in 2010!

Submit work of any genre to be exhibited at the red tin shack on April 17th, 2010 for our Spring fundraiser. All work will be donated to the two organizations and the proceeds will benefit the exciting duo.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

NYC DOT Greenway Planning workshops

The NYC DOT will be hosting a series of workshops over the next couple months so that community members can provide input into the development of a Greenway master plan. The first round of workshops is listed below. There will be additional workshops scheduled on later dates relating to specific open spaces along the route, such as the park on Columbia between Degraw and Kane. Please participate in this process and make your ideas heard!

Community planning workshops for the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, led by NYC Department of Transportation, will begin on Thursday, March 25th. The community workshops will inform DOT’s master plan for constructing the greenway, so please mark your calendars and tell your neighbors. Four workshops will be held, one in each broad geographic area along the planned 14-mile route. Brooklyn Greenway Initiative and Regional Plan Association are co-sponsoring the workshops.

Please RSVP to brooklynwaterfrontgreenway@dot.nyc.gov. Make sure to specify which workshop(s) you plan to attend:

Downtown Brooklyn (CB2)
Thursday, March 25th
Borough Hall
209 Joralemon Street

Sunset Park (CB7)
Thursday, April 8th
St. Michael’s Church
352 42nd Street

Red Hook (CB6)
Tuesday, April 13th
Red Hook Recreation Center
155 Bay Street

Greenpoint/Williamsburg (CB1)
Thursday, April 22nd
Brooklyn Brewery
79 N. 11th Street

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

5 Burro Cafe coming to Pit Stop space

Alternate post title: Petanque exchanges pastis for margaritas as the drink of choice

A while back we reported that a Mexican restaurant would be moving into the Pit Stop space, which has now been confirmed by New York Magazine's Grub St. blog. NY Mag reports the good news that it won't be just any Mexican joint, but will in fact be a satellite location for 5 Burro Cafe, a very popular Mexican restaurant in Queens.

The article says that the 5 Burro owners plan to keep the petanque courts, possibly expand the outdoor space, and will offer many of the same items as the Queens location, as well as some items unique to the Brooklyn location.

TWOCS: Pit Stop to Become Mexican Restaurant
NY Mag: 5 Burro Cafe Coming to Red Hook?
NY Mag: Confirmed: 5 Burro Cafe Will Open Outdoor Margarita Spot in Red Hook

Image of Pit Stop backyard from NY Mag

Uncle Louie G coming to Red Hook

This Spring, Uncle Louie G Gourmet Ices and Ice Cream shop is moving into Space 414, previously an art gallery, at 414 Van Brunt between Coffey and Van Dyke streets

According to a press release that we received yesterday about the space, the shop will offer 60 flavors of ices and ice cream, as well as shakes, slushies, waffle and brownie sudaes, and other "yummy lip licking delights." The release continues to say that there will be a sidewalk serving window and a 10 seat indoor "totally kid friendly" space. They have also planned ahead for colder months by stating that they will offer soups, wraps, and paninis.

It's time to shop for PS 29!

P.S. 29's PTA is hosting an online auction to raise funds for the school through March 14. Dozens of local businesses, including Columbia Street-area establishments such as Alma, Kotobuki, Calexico, Margaret Palca Bakes, Old Brooklyn Wine and Liquor, Woof's n' Whiskers, the House of Pizza and Calzone, the Super Movers, and Elite Fitness Studio have generously donated goods and services for sale.

Click here for the auction link

Anyone can bid on most of the 250 amazing items, spanning the gamut from dinner at Gramercy Tavern to sessions at swanky summer camps. Also included are unbelievable restaurant meals, clothing, spa services, vacation homes, sporting goods and designer jewelry. The only items that aren't up for sale to the greater community are the teacher experiences--those are limited to P.S. 29 families.

This year, one percent of our auction earnings will go to the Haitian relief effort.
BID AWAY, HAVE FUN, AND raise critical money for the school, even more critical given that P.S. 29 will be starting to prepare next year's PTA budget towards the end of March (and to a large extent it will be influenced by the success of this event).
Thanks for your support!

Monday, March 1, 2010

BK Folk Fest Preview and Benefit Concert @ Jalopy

Jalopy will once again be hosting a folk festival this May in partnership with the Down Home Radio Show, but for those of you who can't wait that long, you're in luck! There will be a folk festival "preview and benefit concert" on March 13th featuring a strong lineup of folk bands.

According to the website Cross Harp Chronicles Network:

Proceeds from this fabulous show, featuring some of the New York folk scene’s brightest young stars: Mamie Minch, Alex Battles and Banjorama, The Dust Busters, and Blind Boy Paxton, will go towards organizing and producing the 2nd annual Brooklyn Folk Festival, to be held May 21-23rd at the Jalopy Theater.

Lineup for The Brooklyn Folk Fest Preview/Benefit Concert, March 13th:

9pm: Mamie Minch
10pm: Alex Battles and Banjorama
11pm: The Dust Busters
12am: Blind Boy Paxton

$10 Entry /Doors @ 8 /Raffle prizes to include a class at Jalopy, books from Abrams Books and records and goodies from Down Home Radio!

Check out Jalopy's site or the Down Home Radio site for more details on both the preview show and the festival in May.

Image above from Down Home Radio site