A DUMBO entrepreneur has ended years of peaceful anonymity and started a riveting neighborhood debate by simply hanging a sign.
The new sign, with the eatery’s name on it, was installed last week outside the DUMBO General Store on Front Street and provoked a surprising backlash from some regular customers who preferred the obscurity of the previous sign, which merely advertised, “Café/Bar.”
“I liked the vague insider-feel of the old sign,” said Maya Polton, a Park Slope resident who works in the neighborhood. Polton only learned the establishment’s true name from a veteran co-worker who has spent years down beneath the Manhattan Bridge overpass.
Other regulars also told The Brooklyn Paper that the recently installed sign disturbed the hideaway vibe.
“It used to be like a speakeasy,” said one man, who declined to give his name because he didn’t want to upset the owner.
The manager of the General Store acknowledged that the brown sign with white lettering provoked a “mixed reaction,” but said that the prior nameless entrance was not ideal for generating business.
“Secretive is nice to a degree,” said the manager, Thom Pitts. “But to actually have customers, it doesn’t pay.”
It’s worse for attracting employees.
Pitts, who’s been working at the General Store for two months, said he couldn’t find the café when he was scheduled to meet the owner for a job interview.
The proper signage, of course, can eliminate these snafus. But the newest sign is allegedly causing some confusion among visitors.
Tourists are often disappointed that they haven’t arrived at a frontier-style trading post, said Pitts. (That disappointment often changes, however, when they have the coffee or the sublime breakfast sandwich.)
That something as trivial as a relatively minor alteration to a storefront can provoke such a response is both a testament to the lingering small-town atmosphere in DUMBO, as well as the role the General Store played in the evolution of the previously derelict warehouse district.
When Anna Castellani opened the DUMBO General Store, about nine years ago, it was actually an arts supply store in a neighborhood emerging from a post-industrial torpor into a hive buzzing with creative output.
Back then, there was a post — the first of three — which identified the shop as the general store.
The transformation to coffee shop began when Castellani bought a cappuccino machine for personal use because it was impossible to get a gourmet cup of joe nearby.
Soon, friends and neighbors started dropping in for coffee and Castellani switched to selling an artist’s most-important supply — caffeine — and almost no one paid attention to the name.
“First, we just called the store ‘Anna’s,’ then the insiders called it DGS [for DUMBO General Store,]” said Marc Dennis, a 10-year resident.
Whether people love or hate the sign, it’s put the DUMBO General Store on the map.
“It does its job,” said Dan Gunderman, who works in DUMBO. “Now, everyone knows where it is.”