Whine tasting! Activists, wine-lovers clash outside Industry City event

Whine tasting! Activists, wine-lovers clash outside Industry City event
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

This one was zesty, with notes of sour grapes.

Sunset Park activists uncorked their ire toward Industry City on May 21, demonstrating outside of the Brooklyn Crush wine-tasting, which locals griped was too snooty for the neighborhood’s good. Protestors told revelers leaving the bourgeois bacchanal that patronizing Industry City — the private manufacturing campus that is home to hipster dance parties and Manhattan-fleeing fashionistas — accelerates gentrification in the working-class, immigrant nabe. But the display left a bitter taste in tourist’s mouths, some said.

“To feel the neighborhood go, ‘We don’t want you here’ — it’s like, ‘Alright, well f— you then.’ They’re alienating the people they want help from,” said New Jersian Tom Laughlin.

About 25 demonstrators charged that Sunset Parkers can’t afford to shop at Industry City’s stores, yuppie tourists don’t venture into local mom-and-pops, and landlords are salivating to turn neighboring taquerias into tony organic markets. Hosting private events like the $75 wine-tasting throws gasoline on the fire, activists said.

“They made it clear that their vision is to turn Sunset Park into the next SoHo, the next Chelsea,” said Ana Orozco, a Harlem resident who works for Sunset Park social-justice group Uprose. “They’re hosting events for people with money, and they’re trying to attract people from Manhattan into the space, because without that type of clientele, they won’t be able to maintain the high-end retail or restaurants.”

But protesters were stereotyping — and they stomped on any chances Laughlin and his wife would stick around and soak in some local flavor, he said.

“We’re both blue-collar all the way — neither of us have any college,” said Laughlin, a warehouse manager whose wife works for a forklift-rental company. “Maybe, based on Brooklyn Crush, we would have stayed here for the evening, but based on [demonstrators], now we feel guilty, and so we’re gonna get back to Manhattan as quick as we can.”

Protesters said they weren’t trying to push people away.

“I don’t want to ruin anyone’s good time,” said Sunset Parker and tenant-organizer Sam Wicks, who had a heated exchange with an allegedly tipsy Laughlin. “This is our way and the message we want to communicate. It’s a healthy debate. Unfortunately, it got a little ugly in the end. He was obviously impaired.”

Industry City touted last fall that nearly half the 4,000 workers its tenants employ live within a few miles, are people of color, and have no college degree.

And landlords’ decisions outside the multi-block waterfront campus, are out of the Industry City’s hands, its chief executive told this paper last fall.

“We can only control what we can control, and what we can control is taking a place that had very few jobs and no investment for 30 years and turning it into a place where there are lots of jobs, and a very good number of which go to local folks,” said Andrew Kimball.

But there have been failures. Struggling 3D printer producer Maker Bot expanded its Industry City forge to great fanfare last year, hiring dozens of factory-floor workers and months later announcing it would sack them and move production overseas.

New interest in once-hardscrabble Sunset Park is a double-edged sword, but the city — not private enterprise — is responsible for protecting longtime residents, according to a Brooklyn-raised wine-lover leaving the Industry City party.

“When I was growing up in Bensonhurst, you didn’t come here — it was Bay Ridge or bust,” said 28-year-old Brighton Beacher Aly, who declined to give a last name. “Yes, it will start to develop — that will drive the price up. But at the same time, there was no one coming here that didn’t live here [in the 1990s and 2000s]. We need to find a balance, and that’s something we need to talk to the city about.”

Reach deputy editor Max Jaeger at mjaeg[email protected]glocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.

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