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As Brownstoner and Brooklyn Flea founder Jonathan Butler put it, “Brooklyn, along with like-minded cities around the world like Berlin and Portland, is leading the way in reinventing a new kind of entrepreneurial economy. The values and economic power of this movement are very real and, like it or not, Brooklyn has become a global brand synonymous with these qualities.”
In part, the excitement is probably because, all hype aside, there are, in fact, any number of ambitious, creative people out there in Brooklyn doing something great. EnergyHub’s smart meters are ingenious inventions. n+1 is an excellent magazine. Etsy has completely changed DIY.
In part, the notion has probably caught on simply because it’s such a lovely idea. A local, sustainable, entrepreneurial economy in which we each participate according to our passions and our values? It’s hard not to root for something like that. Particularly when every so often something suggests it could actually work.
And, in part, it’s probably because, well, the old economic order—the one that offered things like pensions and health insurance and job security and linear career paths—looks like it might be crumbling around us; and, given that, it seems only prudent that a person should start trying to figure out what, exactly, is going to come next.
This spring, the Strand bookstore went through one of its periodic labor disputes, with the store’s owners and union wrangling over a new contract. At some point during the negotiations, one of the workers drew a comic strip laying out the basic argument for the union’s position. The comic was linked to by The Awl—a website that, though not technically Brooklyn-based, is, in terms of its founding, its business model, its writers and readers, about as “New Brooklyn” as it gets—and was subjected to the broadly sympathetic but gently mocking treatment the site doles out so well.
Given the general tendencies of The Awl’s readership—big-hearted, liberal, community-minded—you might have expected them to side with the Strand’s union. But you would have been wrong. They were almost entirely unsympathetic to workers’ argument—unsympathetic and amused, like people who’d just seen their cat fall off a counter leaping for the fish they’d brought home for dinner.
This isn’t because Awl readers are secretly a bunch of union-busting Pinkertons or rapacious private equity types. It’s just that, in this day and age, in this time of Amazon and iBooks and the brick-and-mortar death spiral, they simply couldn’t pretend that a battle between a union and a local bookstore could be anything but absurd.
“Take care not to keep all your eggs in the ‘unionized independent bookstore’ basket,” one commenter wrote. And this was sound advice. A person shouldn’t keep all their eggs in the unionized independent bookstore basket because, quite frankly, all signs point to that particular basket being screwed.
But still, the question remains. Where then with the eggs? Some people in Brooklyn have some ideas. Maybe a few will work out…