Union Street Brooklyn, NY (shot from 3rd Ave. facing Nevins St)
It’s morning in Gowanus, Brooklyn…and along Union Street between 3rd Avenue and Nevins, the South Brooklyn Casket Company begins rolling out the homes for the recently deceased; Juice Haven pulls up their gates for the morning rush; cyclist zip by, coming and going from Carroll Gardens and Park slope, some stopping at 718 Cyclery for parts, others heading off to work somewhere in this great city. Down at the end of the block the mechanic shop begins popping open the back ends of buses to repair their engines, while Tessa Gordon’s Martial Arts and New Body Boot Camp storefronts remain quiet, until they open later in the day. From the single row of pre-WWII houses on the North side of the street residents slowly emerge heading off to work and sometimes taking a moment to gossip with neighbors about past and present events. This one block…this main road between Carroll Gardens and Park Slope fill with industrial, retail, commercial, and residential, represents almost every aspect of what makes Brooklyn so unique. It has so much going on all at once, yet it seems to somehow all fits together….
But all is not well on Union Street in Gowanus, Brooklyn…
Specifically, all is not well on Union Street between 3rd Ave. and Nevins. Some residents of the eclectic block are not happy. You see despite all the different types of businesses on the block some residents are not big fans of the new Royal Palms Shuffleboard venue. This seems a bit odd if you consider how many of these residence are happy with all the new places that have opened in the area. Residents are actually looking forward to Dinosaur BBQ that’s set to open down the street and seemed completely fine with Runners & Stone and the Pines on 3rd Ave. (both opening later in 2012) being approved each for a liquor license. So… when one sees the signs on every light pole and almost every door of the block that says “No Bar”… one is a little confused. Residents want to keep the Shuffleboard out because they believe it will disrupt the special neighborhood they have built. To understand what’s really going on we spoke with residents who opposed the new establishment and to Jonathan Schnapp managing parter of the Royal Palm Shuffleboard venue. As always there are two sides to every story.
First, how the hell did a Shuffleboard place end up down the street from the Superfund’d Gowanus Canal? Well, it seems it all started when Jonathan Schnapp got to do something as an adult he was did as a child. Jonathan grew up in Westchester and for vacation his family would drive 26 miles down to Florida. Once there his parents would drop him off with his grandparents at a retirement home and his folks would disappear to some fancy hotel. For little Jonathan there was two things to do when hanging out with his grandparents: chill out by the pool and play shuffleboard. The time he spent playing Shuffleboard with retirees seems to have helped define his personality as an adult. In talking with him you can feel his layback leisurely attitude that mimics the Shuffleboarding culture of a time gone by. You can even see this ‘chillness’ by his full beard and Hawaiian shirt that he wore when we spoke. Later in life Jonathan got the chance to head back to Florida to visit his girlfriend’s, Ashley Albert (Royal Palms Shuffleboard), family. Once there he simply had to play shuffleboard like he did as a child. He ventured to the worlds largest shuffleboard facilities in St. Petersburg, FL… where sights and sounds blew his mind! The place brought forth his inner child and offer things for the type of adult he had become. As he exclaimed during our discussion:
There were food trucks…. a live band…. communities coming out and playing together…. it was magic!”
Jonathan loved the venue so much…and was inspired to create his own venue back in New York. After 6-7 months of research, Greenpoint, seemed like the right place for his dream to take place, but the location was too expensive and only accessible by the G train. Then they found a Gowanus location along one of the neighborhoods busiest side streets. Jonathan says the Shuffleboard concept “just fit the neighborhood”! The building chosen has lots room with 17,000 square feet and is close to a popular local subway stop. To Jonathan the place seems perfect for Shuffleboard dream…a dream that now includes: live bands, food trucks that roll into the space, rooftop access, and all the Shuffleboarding one could ever want!
Jonathan Schnapp standing inside his Shuffleboard dream location
Things were ready…all that had to be done was to lock in a lease for the Gowanus locale and let the press know…but maybe not in that exact order. Back in April, long before the lease was signed (July 1, 2012), a posting appeared on Gothamist’s asking Why Aren’t There Any Real Shuffleboard Bars In NYC?. Jonathan and Ashley had an answer for Gothamist… ‘There’s A Shuffleboard Club Opening In Brooklyn…in Gowanus’! Gothamist posted this news on April 25, 2012. The rest of the press, as they always do, immediately began rehashing the story adding in their own flare, including Brooklyn Paper’s piece that implied the shuffleboard was another rip off of the elderly by “hipsters”. At some point before the lease was signed, the residence across the street from the Shuffleboard location, heard about the new venue. It is unclear if the presses consistant illustration that the venue as a ‘hipster hangout’, painted a specific vision for residents along the block. What is clear is that they began talking to one another about the selling of liquor, the loud live music, the people on the roof, and the large crowds moving up and down their street. These neighbors, some of which have been in Gowanus for decades, were shocked that no one bothered to check with them to see if it was okay to put a “club”, as some call it, across the street from their family homes. These residents got angry. One local resident states that the Shuffleboard Club:
…will be open late and will bring lots of noise during odd hours”
and that the Shuffleboards patrons will:
be coming out of the club, drinking, and smoking…being loud…not respecting the neighborhood we built over the past 30 years.”
Some even mentioned that the venues population would hurt the amenities they’ve added to the street that include benches and large potted plants. These angry residents quickly mobilized with neighbors and formed a group called Union Organized. This group of residents began placing signs all over 3rd Ave and Union Street, which read “No Bar”! Some time past and residents not in favor of the venue continued putting up signs that state “No Bar”, despite the fact that some signs were mysteriously being torn down. Finally, Union Organized and the Royal Palms agreed to meet. Mikael of Union Organized said his group wanted to give the Royal Palms:
an opportunity to present their case, and for us to present our concerns.”
Both Union Organized and the Royal Palms indicate that the meeting, which GYFO not invited to, was cordial. The residents asked questions, while Jonathan and Ashley from the Royal Palms responded. Many topics were covered including the roof access, the crowds, the liquor license, and the noise. Mikael says many of the concerns like ‘rooftop noice’ were met with no immediate solutions:
We said the roof was going to be noisy…they said it would be sound proof…but that they had to talk to [their] designer about specific sound reduction… but didn’t really have a plan.”
Others in the group mentioned the liquor license as major point at the meeting. Many feel that the liquor license will bring a certain clientele that’s way different from even a beer and wine place. Daniel from the Union Organize says he asked the Royal Palms at the meeting if they could open without the liquor license:
they said at first they couldn’t…and later that they could…”
The confusion of this answer and the lack of details about the specific plans seems to have almost added to Union Organized’s frustration with their new neighbors. The residents want answer now, but technically the Royal Palms just signed a lease at the beginning of July… despite the declaration by the press months ago that the Shuffleboard was coming to Gowanus. In a discussion a few days after the meeting between the Royal Palms and Union Organized an unnamed resident indicated their continued frustration with the situation:
We built this neighborhood…and for someone to come in and not have answers…it makes us feel like what we made here isn’t important…. We want to know exactly what’s going to be done about the noise…the characters walking on the block…how they are going to keep drinking off the street…[and] what’s going to be done about the smoking out front….”
Daniel along with others member of Union Organized have additional questions. Amongst these questions is one that involves toilet usage of the large population that may visit the Royal Palm. This issue is driven by a flooding problem that sometimes involves sewage in the area. Daniel wonders:
How is this neighborhood going to take thousands of extra flushes a day?.”
Since flooding is such as large issue in the area, we went ahead and reach out to the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, a not-for-profit that deals with Gowanus Watershed. We asked them about the increased flushing in regards to flooding. The Gowanus Canal Conservancy responded:
We do not feel that we have enough information about the proposed shuffleboard establishment and the environmental benefits or consequences of their project in order to provide any comment.”
Although, the Gowanus Canal Conservancy did say they would be happy to review any technical information in regards to this issue. At some point the venue will have to have a plans regarding toilets and pretty much all of the issues being brought forth by Union Organized members. Since the Royal Palms isn’t opening till next year there is still time for the venue and Union Organized to find common ground. When we asked Jonathan directly ‘if he thought a solution would be found’, he replied:
Yes, definitely…. We want the neighborhood to be apart of this place!”
In our discussion with Union Organized members, it seemed like they were willing to listen to plans when they are available, but the concerns regard the roof and the liquor license overall seemed non negotiable. Only time will tell if this disagreement will be resolved.
Residents houses across from the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club
Bonus Your Face Off
check out the residential houses, of which most have not changed, in this 1960s photo on Brooklyn Historical Society website: 1960s Union Street