Amid change, some things still remain
“How long have you lived here?”
That question is a common one, and this time it came from the hairstylist meticulously giving me highlights as I sat in her chair at Hair Metal salon in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She was a 3-year transplant from Virginia via Portland, Oregon, young—maybe 26—and eager, and she spoke enthusiastically about her favorite neighborhood venues, restaurants and bars.
I told her ten years, and that got me a, “wow.”
“So you must’ve seen the neighborhood change, then.”
I have, since late 2005, watched silently and without proper judgment as Brooklyn’s Williamsburg and now Greenpoint neighborhoods slowly and then all at once transformed. This is not something I’ve openly talked about until recently. That is because I hadn’t been able to figure out exactly how to put my observations and feelings into words. But while getting highlights at Hair Metal, a well-loved local salon that has been in the ‘hood just as long as I, I started to find the right words.
As I talked about Monster Island coming down and the revamping of the Williamsburg waterfront, I realized something: even those who have been here for three years have never seen or heard of Monster Island, former home to two non-profit performance spaces. It shut down in 2011.
Today all the buzz is around Vice, whose offices are reportedly displacing at least a half-dozen longtime businesses. As rent increases drove out all three of the neighborhood's staple record stores, Rough Trade moved right in and brought with it a trendy performance space. The luxury apartment buildings continue to pop up. There are now two hip, boutique hotels in the neighborhood, and with them came yuppie tourists. And Urban Outfitters, Starbucks and J. Crew have all stealthily staked their claim to the new, upscale Williamsburg. Next, we hear, is a Whole Foods. And then the transformation will be complete.
But amid all of this change, some things remain—or at least don’t change for anything other than the better. Hair Metal salon is growing, taking over the office next door. They plan to knock down the wall, my stylist informed me, and expand the whole salon to span both spaces. And salon owner, Ed, is just as diligent and attentive as always when it comes to his employees and customers, shuffling in and out to make sure all is well and all are happy.
“Will you turn up the music?” Ed asked as he left to attend to the space next door.
And turn it up, they did.