The notoriously indie-influenced neighborhood of Williamsburg will soon be home to a major corporate establishment that may seem a bit out of place. Come October, residents and visitors will exit the subway at Bedford Avenue – the heart of the community’s buzzing cultural scene – and instantly be greeted by a Dunkin’ Donuts. The news and impending opening has roused the opinions of several locals.
“It is unfortunately a bit of an eyesore,” said Rachel Quarles, a Williamsburg resident and avid coffee drinker. “That is what I like about Williamsburg – the people and community make an effort to be independent and try to stand out and be different…this sort of cuts into that mentality.”
The large, multi-billion dollar corporation operates 484 stores in New York City, by far the most of any national chain. The new location in Williamsburg will bring the total number of locations in Brooklyn to 11. The three partners who will be opening the new location also operate several other franchises in New York City. They were contacted but declined to comment for this story.
Standing in stark contrast to the endless number of dive bars, boutiques and coffee shops that litter Bedford and the surrounding areas, Dunkin’ Donuts, with its easily identifiable orange and pink lettering, is only the latest in an increasingly longer list of mainstream establishments to enter the area. Williamsburg inhabitants have a history of resisting corporate takeovers in the area, with a Subway up the street and most recently a Duane Reade, also on Bedford Avenue, in 2010.
While some locals are merely irritated with this influx of conformity, others are a bit more pronounced in voicing their disapproval. Last week, a large white Dunkin’ Donuts sign advertised that the location was “Now Hiring.” Within a day, the sign was defaced with several obscenities of displeasure that spotted its white base, and was subsequently taken down.
Oriana Leckert, creator and operator of the popular Brooklyn-centric blog Brooklyn Spaces, has seen several changes as a result of gentrification over the years. She is a bit more practical in her view on the matter, calling the development essentially “much ado about nothing.” She added, “I definitely think this was inevitable. At this point, who else can afford to pay rent in that space?”
It appears the answer to that question is shrinking by the day. The space of the new Dunkin’ Donuts was previously home to Northside Pharmacy, which resided in the location for 15 years. The pharmacy was forced to move two blocks away after being priced out.
Other concerns among locals include the dissipation of the culture that has been fostered and sustained in Williamsburg during the past decade, of which coffee is an integral ingredient.
“There is a really good coffee culture here,” said Quarles. “Hopefully people don’t start ignoring some of these small independent roasters.”
Colin Scott Reynolds, a local barista at El Beit coffee shop, resists that notion: “The local coffee shops will not be threatened. We serve specialty products. [Dunkin’ Donuts] might get some of the tourist crowd, but hey won’t be stealing business from the specialty roasters and brewers in the area. Dunkin’ Donuts has never pretended to be a café; it might be different if it were a Starbucks.”
At this rate, some argue it may only be a matter of time for the likes of Starbucks to infiltrate the area.
“Hipsters, if you want to call them that, are the predecessors to this process [of gentrification],” said Scott Reynolds, from behind a bush of blonde facial hair. “They move in, companies like this come in and then prices go up.”
If precedent has any bearing, fitting product offerings to the public could increase the chances of lasting success in the area for a major corporate chain. Duane Reade has a history of catering store locations to the local demographic – in Williamsburg, that means providing an extensive range of beers, including large growlers and craft brews. Whether or not Dunkin’ Donuts decides to alter its traditional offerings, it remains to be seen whether the considerably unenthusiastic public sentiment towards the forthcoming opening will dissolve over time.
There is one thing that is fairly certain: Williamsburg is changing, for better or worse.
“The atmosphere that is old Williamsburg – or what people still think it is – is just being pushed farther in Brooklyn,” said Erik Grivalsky, a barista at a local coffee shop Oslo. “It has become a tourist destination…I just hope we don’t see an Applebee’s down the street pretty soon.”