Fairway After the Storm

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Almost two months after Hurricane Sandy made landfall, many parts of Brooklyn are still in the midst of recovering from the devastation wrought by the storm. Red Hook was one of the neighborhoods hit hardest, and its path to recovery continues. Among the many businesses—large and small—that were affected by the storm was Fairway. We had the chance to visit Fairway and find out how the store is rebuilding, what happened to the more than 300 Red Hook Fairway employees, and how the loss of this Red Hook mainstay has impacted the rest of the neighborhood.

When Fairway opened up its Red Hook store in 2006, it signaled a shift in the neighborhood that has influenced commercial and residential life ever since. Located right on the waterfront, at the southern tip of Van Brunt Street, Fairway was housed in a Civil War-era brick factory building and thus was unique from that other big, chain store, IKEA, for being architecturally integrated into the neighborhood.

By 2006, Red Hook had undergone an extreme transformation from what is considered to be its crime-ridden nadir of the late 80s and early 90s, and an influx of small businesses like Saipua and LeNell’s had already started to occur. However, the problem that Red Hook has faced still existed, namely, there are few viable public transportation methods. Red Hook is not served by any subway line and only has the B61 bus available. In fact, Van Brunt Street—one of Red Hook’s main thoroughfares—didn’t even require a traffic light until Fairway opened. The city had determined that there was not enough vehicle traffic to justify the installation. And even though the neighborhood is just a short walk from population-dense Carroll Gardens, that walk involves walking past the heavily-trafficked entrance to the Battery Tunnel and under the legacy of Robert Moses, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. So, for most people in Brooklyn, Red Hook existed at a remove. There just wasn’t much of a reason to make the trek.

Until, that is, Fairway came. When Fairway—and its two giant parking lots—opened in 2006, people from all over Brooklyn came flooding into Red Hook. They were grocery shopping, sure, but they would also stay around to patronize small neighborhood businesses. Soon, Red Hook became home to places like Baked, Fort Defiance, and the Red Hook Lobster Pound. And the area didn’t only become more alluring to people from other parts of Brooklyn, it became more livable for all the residents of Red Hook. Of the approximately 350 people employed by Red Hook’s Fairway, 80% came from the neighborhood. Sarah Ryhanen of Saipua told me that the advent of Fairway had changed things dramatically for her because, pre-Fairway, there had been very limited access to fresh produce and good prepared foods.