Nineteenth-century brownstones, federal-style frame buildings, architecturally significant churches and tree-lined streets all add to the charm of Brooklyn Heights as one of New York City’s best tourist destinations. But there is one more gem in the neighborhood’s treasure chest of tourism: its people.
From all walks of life, Brooklynites are getting involved in community tourism to promote their beloved districts.
A former radio personality and new hyperlocal news reporter, John Loscalzo started his own Brooklyn Heights walking tour last spring, with the purpose of sharing the stories he had accumulated over years of living in and knowing the neighborhood.
“I initially wrote it as a murder tour, then thought it’s a kind of a downer, so I rewrote it to be a little more positive, a little more real history,” says Mr. Loscalzo, who later decided to name his tour “Homer Fink’s Hidden Brooklyn Heights”.
Skimming architecture and textbook history, Mr. Loscalzo’s unusual 2-hour tour tells the odd, weird, controversial and amusing stories of America’s first suburb. To the tourists’ amusement, a historical Brooklyn Heights resurfaces with haunted houses, brothels, murders, and all the gossip that you can get from a local folk.
And gossip is, sometimes, exactly what tourists love to hear.
“I like history, but I don’t always want to hear about the old-fashioned, official tour about architecture and stuff,” says Manhattanite Tiffany Lewis who took the tour recently. “So I love this tour because the tour guide knows all the gossip, and tells me the real stuff that people live in the neighborhood would know, not just stuff that you could look up yourself in the history book.”
Some tourists live just around the corner. Andrew Swetonic, who just moved to downtown Brooklyn , paid $10 for the tour to learn more about the new neighborhood he now calls home.
“It’s always interesting to find out new things about the neighborhood that either you live in or you are going to live in,” says Mr. Swetonic. “And it’s fun because the tour guide is interesting too, and has pretty good personality and humor.”
Encouraged by the positive feedback and an increasingly diversified crowd of tourists, Mr. Loscalzo believes community tours like his are a positive addition to tourism in New York City.
“We live in the neighborhoods so we should know very well about it, and we have a lot to offer,” he says. “And there is a story behind every building in New York, there are hundreds of stories behind the buildings in New York that the tourists would love to hear.”
Throughout Brooklyn, there are many other community tourism initiatives, especially from local businesses, according to Carolyn Greer, Director of Tourism for the Office of Brooklyn Borough President. Such efforts to promote tourism have contributed to attracting 15 million visitors to Brooklyn last year, according to estimates from the office.
“A lot of local shops go out together and say ‘How can we promote one galleria rather than just our own personal store?’ So it’s very from the ground up,” says Ms. Greer.
In the Fulton area, many local business owners came up with an idea of designing a postcard featuring different stores, and distributed them to tourists with the help of the Brooklyn Tourism and Visitors Center BTVC.
“It is a really successful campaign, and it helps drive tourists into that particular community”, says Ms. Greer. “The efforts they have put on together are totally not organized by some greater being, but from the community.”
Some other Brooklynites involved in community tourism simply by volunteering at BTVC. Brooklyn Heights resident Wilfred Landry, 68, has introduced his beloved neighborhood to hundreds of visitors who stop by the center.
“I love to meet people, and enjoy telling people things to see and do,” says Mr. Landry. “I enjoy knowing they enjoy Brooklyn, and hopefully that will make more of them come back to Brooklyn.”