Gentrification is a concern in cities around the world. Elvis Alves wants to see what it looks like in one section of Brooklyn, NY.
It is a lazy Friday afternoon in May and I am sitting in Molasses Books in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The Rolling Stones serves as background music. Bushwick is a neighborhood in Brooklyn, like nearly all neighborhoods in Brooklyn, that is gentrifying. This means white people are moving into areas where, say few years ago, only blacks and Hispanics lived, at least in the majority.
Couple minutes after my arrival, the vinyl record on the turntable spins without music—no Pandora here—and the guy who sold me coffee is milling outside the store with another guy I assume is his friend.
In addition to me, there is another customer, a girl, in the store. She casually sips a can of beer—yes, Molasses sells beers too, in addition to used books—and when tired of doing so, rises from the table where she sits and browses the shelves.
The guy milling outside walks in and turns the vinyl record. There is music again. I decide it was the right time for me to introduce myself. His name is Matt and he is the owner of Molasses Books.
I tell him that I have been meaning to visit his store, since reading about its opening two years ago. I do not tell him that I came looking for evidence of gentrification.
The store covers a small space that looks more like a professor’s office than a bookstore. There is sparse art work on its white walls. A lotus flower encased with three circles drawing is etched on the wall above and to the right of the cash register. The drawing reminds me of the wheel in the biblical book of Ezekiel. The artist appears to have started but never finished the piece.
After a brief conversation with Matt, who prefers not to do interviews, I sit and observe the scene in the store, and read the book that I brought along for the trip. My reading was interrupted by visitors to the store.
A mother with baby stroller in tow came in and purchased an art book. “That will be 56 dollars,” I overhear Matt says, before ringing her up. Another customer came in and tried to purchase a book, using a credit card. “We accept credit cards for purchases over 10 bucks,” Matt tells him. He returns to the shelves and pulls another title.
I pull Faulkner’s A Light in August (a book that I plan to read this August) and give Matt six dollars in cash. It is easy to get drawn into the atmosphere that is Molasses Books. The space, even though small, serves as both bookstore and café. Reading is welcome. Talking too.
The guy, who was milling outside with Matt, and a new arrival to the store are now sitting on stools and chatting at the counter. The girl finishes her beer and joins them. They talk about travels, music, and food. Matt offers her another beer, and she refuses because she is cooking dinner for friends later and plans to drink with them then. The evening shift worker comes in and joins the conversation. The talks turn to falafels and where she is from. Ethiopia.
If gentrification is present in the store, it is welcoming, cozy, and causes people to talk without first knowing each other’s names.
Find Molasses Books on Facebook: Molasses Books
—Photo Kyle Pearce/Flickr
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