Greeschlyn Can’t Fail

words and photography (c) 2013 by Benjamin J Spencer

When will you move?

A new town is called for.

You have your neat grass,
Your dew drops (you reason).

Then again you also have your stinging flies

And your defeated people
who look into empty, empty

shop windows,

Rubbing their hands together.

this is why You must move to Greeschlyn.
Greeschlyn cannot fail.

Why?

Greeschlyn has the most artfully glass-strewn of warehouses.

Greeschlyn’s water is pure lysergic acid.

Greeschlyn is glazed with two centuries of baker’s flour and petroleum

Greeschlyn’s young are clinically insane
(And They find this instructive)

In Greeschlyn, you can fish for starlight in cold, salty puddles
And eat moonlight cake with shy pledge-drive orphan kids

Greeschlyn

You see

Possesses those things that can strum your nerves like a lyre

And peel the skirt right off your pelvis

Momentous things
Glinting things.

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06.05.2011 – Stumptown Coffee Making Inroads in New York

Stumptown Coffee Making Inroads in New York

by Benjamin J Spencer

The Stumptown Brew Bar in Red Hook.       Photo: Stumptowncoffee.com

Red Hook, Brooklyn –  In a sparsely-populated industrial corner of Red Hook, Brooklyn, within sight of sprawling docks and looming ocean-bound freighters, sits a small, unassuming brownstone building. From its looks, it probably used to be an auto shop. Now, from inside wafts not the stench of axle grease, but the thick, dark tang of roasting coffee.

Some might deem the Brooklyn working waterfront an unlikely place for a coffee roaster. But actually it makes perfect sense, since these Stumptown beans, green and oily when delivered, hail from around the world – from small family and co-op coffee estates where owners and workers are paid a premium for their product that is unmatched in the industry.

Steve Goodwine is a barista behind the counter at the Brew Bar, which takes up a small storefront adjacent to the roasting garage here in Red Hook.

“There are two guys in our company who spend about nine months out of the year travelling to different coffee farms around the world,” he says.

At these small farms, batches of coffee are rigorously tested for quality. The conditions of the farm (organic methods, plenty of shade) and workers (well-taken care of) are checked, and new business relationships are forged with small growers. Stumptown set up this year-old Brew Bar specifically to educate the public on the uniqueness of that model in the coffee importing world – and of course, sell some more coffee.

The beans are also roasted with a care and consistency rare in the world of coffee, and at an exceedingly small scale compared to the mega-conglomerates that feed Manhattan’s endless train of Dunkin’ Donuts.  It seems improbable that from this modest and laid-back feeling roasting facility, every wholesale and café- bound order of Stumptown Coffee in New York City is delivered.

“The roasters are just really efficient,” says Brian Philippi, another barista here. “They work really hard.”

So do the brewers, if today’s demonstration is any indication. As he talks, Philippi, bewhiskered and lanky, stands behind a wooden counter currently decked out like some kind of mad doctor’s lab. The Brew Bar coffee is all ground and brewed to order right in front of sometimes bemused customers, but you won’t see any familiar drip machines here.

Overhead racks of fat glass beakers, plastic plunger tubes and presses of all sizes, and other technical paraphernalia attest to Stumptown’s painstakingly scientific approach to creating the perfect cup. Visitors can test four different labor-intensive methods of brewing up to 16 varieties of single-source, direct-trade gourmet beans.

One simple method involves slowly pouring near-boiling water over a pile of dark, coarse-ground joe, while another, called the Aeropress, resembles a large syringe with a stopper that squeezes hot water through wetted grounds with a column of pressurized air.

As the afternoon wears on, bicyclers enjoying the mild weather chain up and file inside in chattering groups. A sense of community takes hold in the little bar. One man tells the three brewers behind the counter that despite his best efforts at home, he can’t quite get his own Aeropress to make a cup as perfect as theirs.

“The difference between here and home is that here, everything’s precise,” he says. “Maybe because there aren’t three kids shooting soccer balls at me.”

Although anyone can order Portland-based Stumptown’s whole bean, direct-trade coffee  via the Internet, New York and Seattle are the only other localities where the company has a physical presence –  and New York’s inclusion was based more on serendipity than any business plan, according to Matt Lounsbury, Stumptown’s director of operations in its Portland headquarters.

Lounsbury explains that the success of Seattle-based boutique luxury Ace Hotels inspired the chain to start another hotel in Portland in 2007, and they asked Stumptown to run a coffee bar in their lobby. The hotel, and the bar, was a great success, and when Ace set up on 29th Street near Madison Square in mid-town Manhattan two years ago, they asked Stumptown to work the old magic again.

“At first we were like, what? New York City?” says Lounsbury. “We’re just this little coffee company from Portland. For a while we couldn’t quite put our minds around it.”

When they did decide to take the plunge, immediate problems arose. The biggest problem: finding space for their roaster.  Normally, Lounsbury says, if Stumptown can’t build a roaster in a location, they won’t even consider moving any operations there, and for space and financial reasons, Manhattan was simply out of the question. “It’s a freshness thing,” he says.

So they scoured Brooklyn instead, and found the perfect location in Red Hook.

Though the recently opened Brew Bar and the Ace Hotel lobby are so far the only company retail locations in the city, Stumptown does an increasingly brisk wholesale business to area restaurants. In the two years since Stumptown’s introduction to New York City, the business has grown to include wholesaling to dozens of cafes and restaurants in the five boroughs. Several locations in the East 20’s near Baruch College serve at least a Stumptown house brew, including Star Café and the the Mexican chain Dos Caminos on 27th Street and East Third Avenue. In fact, it has become rather a badge of honor to serve Stumptown.

Craig Cochran, the owner of Terri, a successful new vegetarian, vegan and organic sandwich café on West 23rd St. and 6th Avenue, says in an email that since he and his business partner had named their café after their moms (both named Terri), “we only wanted the highest quality products to be associated with us.”

Cochran says that as he relied on his “coffee connoisseur” friends for advice, Stumptown came up again and again.  He had crafted Terri’s menu carefully to appeal to vegetarians and non-vegetarians, with sandwiches that come off like healthy comfort food while being something he could feel proud to serve. So he knew they had to get the coffee right – and preferably socially responsible.

“When I found out that Stumptown also has the highest standards associated with every aspect of their coffee production,” says Cochran, “I knew that this was the right brand to serve at Terri.”

Lounsbury says Stumptown simply got to New York at the right time. Even if their research shows that the term “direct trade” hasn’t quite penetrated into the coffee lingo around here yet, nevertheless, in the past few years, more direct-trade coffee has made it into independent cafes city-wide.

Competitors include North Carolina’s CounterCulture Coffee (served at midtown’s Café Lucid, among other venues) and Chicago-based Intelligentsia Coffee, – along with Stumptown, one of the pioneers of the direct-trade model – with vendors like 9th Street Coffee in Manhattan’s East Village and their own small coffee bar in the Chelsea Market.

“We are definitely responding to a lot of energy around local food in New York, especially in the last year,” said Lounsbury. “We’re starting to see a lot more traction. All across the country there’s a lot of interest in specialty coffees and brewing methods. It bodes well for us as roasters, but also it bodes well for coffee lovers and for independent farmers.”

Not to mention the coffee-lovers on this sleepy stretch of Van Brunt Street in Red Hook. The customers, who might pay up to four dollars for their mug of fresh-ground, exactingly-brewed Stumptown Coffee (depending on the brewing method), don’t seem to mind the extra cost at all.

As one bearded and square-spectacled gent explains to me,  “You pay for precision.”

05.29.2011 – Martha Stewart Posts (Tasteful) ‘For Sale’ Sign – Week On the Web – CRAIN’S NEW YORK BUSINESS

Martha Stewart posts (tasteful) ‘For sale’ sign

Media and home decor franchise explores options, while Albany decides on a property tax limit and hedge funder David Einhorn invests in the Mets.

By Benjamin J. Spencer
May 29, 2011 5:59 a.m

Bloomberg News

Even DIY craft maven Martha Stewart knows when she needs help. On Wednesday, her limping Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia announced that it had hired Blackstone Advisory Partners to evaluate its options, including a possible sale of the company.

The news sent MSLO shares soaring nearly 30%—to all of $5 each. The value of Ms. Stewart’s famed franchise, nearly $2 billion back in early 2005, was a mere $250 million after the day’s trading.

It’s been a hard few years for the media and home decor franchise. Magazine ad dollars dried up; a merchandising deal with Kmart wasn’t renewed. In January, NBC dropped Ms. Stewart’s morning television show and its related spinoffs, relegating them to Hallmark Channel oblivion. The company’s CEO position has been vacant since 2008; Lisa Gersh, a founder of Oxygen Media, is slated to assume the post June 6.

The company’s announcement came just as 69-year-old Ms. Stewart, who has had the job title of chief editorial officer the past few years, is set to rejoin its board of directors, ending a five-year banishment due to her 2004 federal conviction for obstruction of justice.

TAX-SQUEEZED SUBURBANITES, REJOICE: Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state leaders agreed to impose a 2% limit on annual property tax increases statewide. The guv says property taxes soared 5.5% per year between 1999 and 2009, and the new cap aims to combat economic decline. Still, the state teachers union said limiting tax increases would devastate low-income schools outside of New York City. Legislators seem set to vote on the cap next month. …

HEDGE FUNDER DAVID EINHORN BET $200 MILLION ON THE METS, buying a minority stake in the financially strapped team. Whether that’s enough to buy a championship, or even downplay owner Fred Wilpon’s recent tongue-lashing, remains to be seen. …

THE HUFFINGTON POST IS NOT OFF THE HOOK, YET. A federal judge declined to throw out a lawsuit claiming the media company’s founders, Arianna Huffington and Kenneth Lerer, stole the idea for the online news site from a duo of Democratic political consultants—a charge AOL Huffington Post Media Group said is “pure fantasy.” …

THE FEDS ARRESTED GERARD DENAULT, the lead manager on the controversial CityTime project, and charged him with receiving $5.6 million in kickbacks from a technology subcontractor. Mr. Denault, who oversaw the rollout of the computerized timekeeping system for more than 100,000 municipal workers, could not be reached for comment. His employer, Virginia-based SAIC, has not been charged with wrongdoing. …

TWO MASSIVE, LONG-VACANT BROOKLYN PROPERTIES WERE FINALLY CLEARED for redevelopment. A judge rejected a community group’s lawsuit and green-lighted a $2 billion redo for the former Domino Sugar factory in Williamsburg. The city is now free to rezone the 11-acre site for a mixed-use residential project. And in Sunset Park, a 1.1 million-acre warehouse shut since 2000 gets its own shot at redemption: The city’s Economic Development Corp. tapped Salmar Properties to redevelop the charmingly named Federal Building #2 for light industrial use.

02.14.2011 – Sprawling Pfizer Plant in Brooklyn Sold – CRAIN’S NEW YORK BUSINESS

Sprawling Pfizer plant in Brooklyn sold

Surprise buyer plans to convert the 660,000-square-foot facility to light industrial and commercial use; sale leaves several large parcels unsold.

By Benjamin J. Spencer
February 14, 2011 2:11 p.m
 Two years after abandoning an attempt to redevelop its sprawling former manufacturing complex in Brooklyn, drug giant Pfizer announced Monday that it had reached a surprise agreement to sell a piece of that property to Acumen Capital Partners of Long Island City.

The 660,000-square-foot plant had been sitting vacant since 2008, when the Manhattan-based company ceased operations in the South Williamsburg neighborhood where it had begun operations in a small factory in 1849. At the time of the closing, 600 jobs were lost, a fraction of those employed at the plant in its heyday.

The buyer is Acumen Capital Partners, a Long Island City-based real estate investment firm specializing in buying empty buildings in the outer boroughs and converting them for light industrial and commercial use, as it now plans to do at the Pfizer site. The conversion should bring jobs back to the area.

“This is great news,” said Carl Hum, president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. “The track record that Acumen Capital has—it’s great at coming up with creative uses for buildings. It’s at the forefront of urban architecture.”

According to its website, Acumen emphasizes environmental sustainability when redeveloping properties, which could mean big changes for the aging plant. In Long Island City last spring, Acumen put a 40,000-square-foot vegetable farm on top of a six-story former auto plant on Northern Boulevard that it had bought a few years earlier.

In 2007, Pfizer sent out requests for proposals for its Brooklyn site, looking for construction of affordable housing, and job creation. Owing to the recession, the company was unable to identify any attractive proposals.

In a press statement Pfizer said: “We were subsequently approached by a party interested in acquiring only the existing manufacturing facility and adjacent parking lot,” a total of about eight acres. The statement went on to note that with the sale to Acumen it “would leave intact all of the vacant parcels north of the manufacturing building for future development.”

“We’re very excited about this project and the benefits it will bring to the neighborhood,” said Pfizer spokesman Christopher Loder.

Pfizer closed the 660,000 square-foot plant in 2008, resulting in the loss of 600 jobs in Brooklyn and setting off a debate over the future of former factory properties in the borough. Mr. Loder said Pfizer’s plans for the approximately five acres of remaining parcels, scattered north of the plant, still include the option of affordable housing.

“Although I wish Pfizer could have found a way to stay in its hometown of Brooklyn, I am thrilled that Acumen is helping to bring more light industry to our borough,” said Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz in a statement. “This new facility will generate much-needed jobs, and attract the sort of innovative companies and artisans that redefine their craft every day.

12.14.2010 – Tour Guide of the Toxic – DOLLARS & SENSE

Tour Guide of the Toxic

Dec 14th, 2010 | Category: Health and Science

By Benjamin J SpencerNewtown Creek

Usually it’s not a great thing when your memory of the first time you met someone person is inseparable from a terrible, gag-inducing stink. But with Mitch Waxman, it comes with the territory.
A lifelong New York City resident, Waxman is an indie comic-book artist, photographer, advertising retoucher, prolific blogger and self-taught expert on Newtown Creek. In recent years, he has taken upon himself the task of giving curious visitors to the fetid, horribly polluted East River tributary a uniquely grand ecologic-historic tour. The experience is eye-opening – and often nose-wrinkling.
“You smell it?” Waxman asks as we approach a major combined sewer outfall at Maspeth Creek. He turns his face toward my friend Steven and me, his dark beard peppered with gray. I can only nod and try to keep from breathing in. “Come here in the summer, brother. Holy God!” he says, cackling.

“The funny thing is, this is actually what I do for exercise,” he says later as we hoof it past the Maspeth Creek tributary. “A lot of people run through parks. I walk through toxic waste dumps.”

Despite that less-than-glowing appraisal of the Environmental Protection Agency’s newest Superfund remediation site, Waxman’s infectious love of this area shines through. Pointing out the sights as he strides along – sidestepping refuse and muck, black trench coat flapping, digital SLR camera ever at the ready – he gleefully delves into the kind of gasp-inducing history that most communities would rather paper over.

One complication for future EPA dredgers, Waxman says, could be the tendency in the past century for waterfront gangs and organized crime to use Newtown as a dumping area for their – um – internal problems.

“You know,” says Waxman. “I have a bunch of friends who are on the job, and they say they’re gonna be pulling bodies out of this. This is gonna solve like half of New York’s murders.” (“On the job” means police officers.)

Of all the landmarks in New York City to develop a fascination – bordering on obsession – with, Newtown Creek might seem an odd choice. But Waxman has a fierce interest in all things neglected, misunderstood, or conveniently forgotten by the powers-that-be.

“It’s the kind of place which strains your sense of the real,” Waxman says of the creek. “The history of the watershed is so tremendous. So over the top. It’s just a magnetic, terrible, beautiful place which is largely unknown. And right in the dead- bang center of New York City.”

Waxman knows a lot about New York City, most of which he can recite from memory with the same casual ease as one might read from a newspaper. Though he now lives in Astoria, Queens, Waxman grew up in Canarsie and Flatbush in Brooklyn, the grandson of Jewish-Russian immigrants who fled persecution in Europe in the early part of the past century.

“My uncles fought in World War I, my dad in Korea, my cousins in Vietnam,” he says. His grandfather, he says, fought in France during WWI as well – though, as it turns out, he didn’t quite join up out of the usual swell of patriotism.

“Funny story,” Waxman says. “My grandfather got off the boat at Ellis Island. And a guy in a very nice set of clothes with a really nice haircut says to him, ‘Son, you wanna be an American?’ My grandfather goes, “Yes. I want to be an American.” So the guy says, ‘Sign here’. My grandfather signed. The guy says, ‘Welcome to the United States Army!’ And he didn’t even get to go into New York. They put him on a boat, they sent him back. He did basic (training) on the boat.”

Waxman pauses. “You know, all Jewish humor comes down to bein’ a schmuck. And that’s a classic schmuck story.”

Waxman himself narrowly avoided death, though perhaps not in quite such a dramatic fashion. After a very close call with his health seven years ago (chronicled by Waxman himself on the comics website, www.weirdass.net), Waxman started walking around the neighborhood for exercise.

“I found the creek,” remembers Waxman. “I started looking into it, you know, started researching it – and Holy God, it’s the classic puddle, you know. You go to touch it and you go in up to your shoulder.”

Mitch Waxman likes to take the curious on tours of Newtown Creek. Photo by Steven McCann c/o Shearwater Films
That love of mysterious history informs his non-creek work, as well.

When I suggest, on the evidence of his blog posts and comic-book artwork, that he might have a minor obsession with the early 20th century cult writer H.P. Lovecraft, he scoffs.

“Minor? You haven’t been reading carefully enough. The guy was a genius who ‘saw’ the 20th Century and did very, very careful research. There’s a million little things he opined about that modern science is just proving.”

True to Lovecraftian form, Waxman’s comics, drawn mainly between the late 1980s and 2008, are replete with monsters, sci-fi mash-ups of history and mythology, and fedora-wearing gumshoe heroes. In his first major series, “Plasma Baby,” a four-issue black and white that he created while studying under comic visionaries such as Will Eisner at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, he explored his fascination with the ancient Aztecs.

“They were clipped out of history just as they were attaining their apex,” he says of the Aztecs. “The analogy I always use is, imagine if Caligula’s Rome just disappeared one day, an entire culture at the apogee of their civilization, just gone.”

All very academic – but of course, this being Waxman’s “baby”, as it were, there is a twist. In this version of history, after 400 years of exile the Aztecs seek revenge on the world that deposed them by calling up a monster-sized infant formed of pure plasma to wreak havoc. The series’ subtitle is “Vengeance of the Aztecs.”

Another of Waxman’s projects was “The Starry Ones,” a long-running 3-D online comic written by Ancram Hudson, illustrated by Waxman and serialized on the pair’s website,  www.weirdass.net). Remarkably, Waxman and Hudson created an original, wildly colorful multi-panel entry nearly every week for 173 weeks (2000-2003), detailing an original universe of warring alien empires and mystical gods – complete with esoteric references to real ancient cultures and technologies.

For over 20 years Waxman has been involved in just about every aspect of comics – production, publishing, writing and drawing. But he says as he grew older, the long hours, low pay and sedentary nature of the work became more and more oppressive. As he puts it, the comics industry “eats its young and isn’t interested in its old.” And after he became, as he says, “fat and sick” seven years ago, he realized that the rigors of comic art had taken a dangerous toll on his mental and physical health.

“Comics is a really insular life,” he explains. “You stay home and you draw fuckin’ Spiderman for 18 hours a day.”

At the same time, he says, the work is so sedentary that “your muscle tone turns to jelly. And it’s one of those things – you’re alone all the time, you’re sitting in front of the board. It makes you crazy.”

So, the last few panels Waxman drew in 2008 for weirdass.net might be his “swan song” in comics – at least for now.

But it is simply not in Waxman’s nature to sit on his laurels. He immediately relaunched himself in photography, freelance advertising, walking tours, and regular activities with the non-profit Newtown Creek Alliance, where, he jokes on his blog, he fulfills a role not unlike that of “Gleek the supermonkey” from the 1970’s cartoon show “Superfriends” – “often used as comic relief”. He started several blogs, the most renowned of which is the Newtown Pentacle  www.newtownpentacle.com). The site is a showcase both of Waxman’s peculiarly compelling urban landscape photography, and of his exhaustive historical research into New York City’s most sordid characters and events – along with stream-of-consciousness direct from his own fertile (okay, morbid) inner mind.

Waxman recently published a photo and history book chronicling the Newtown Creek area (“Newtown Creek for the Morbidly Curious) and a compendium of the first six months of his and Hudson’s “The Starry Ones” comics saga. As if all this weren’t enough, Waxman and his Newtown Creek Alliance cohort, Bernard Ente, lead frequent boat tours up the creek, and are slated to head up a Centennial celebration walk over the Hunter’s Point Avenue Bridge on Dec. 11.

“This is all part of our ‘getting away with murder’ thing me and him do,” says Waxman of his and Ente’s exploits. He laughs. “We were parade marshals twice last year!”

All in all, it hasn’t been a bad recovery for Mitch Waxman.

“You know something?” he says. “I’m lucky. In midstream, I actually found something new I’m very interested in, and it’s led to a whole new group of people that I never thought I’d be meeting. So, you know. It’s cool.”

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT MITCH AND HIS MUSE:
http://www.newtowncreekalliance.org
http://www.newtownpentacle.com
http://www.weirdass.net and http://weirdasscomics.wordpress.com