A historic 19th century warehouse on DUMBO’s waterfront has begun a chic new chapter as a destination for locals, tourists and techies.
West Elm recently moved its corporate offices and flagship store to the newly renovated and rehabbed Empire Stores complex towering over the entrance of Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Based in a nearby DUMBO location since 2003, West Elm is the anchor tenant of the gigantic buffed-up warehouse at 53-83 Water St. that was home in the 1800s and early 20th century to Arbuckle Coffee Roasters, a company that pioneered the concept of selling coffee in one-pound bags.
There is coffee aplenty in the massive (450,000-square-foot) lifestyle shopping complex: West Elm has its own Brooklyn Roasting Co. cafe that features rustic communal tables. The cozy seating arrangement will be repurposed into communal desks for classes in calligraphy, terrarium building, and other crafty urban pursuits on occasion.
Brooklyn edginess — and conservation-oriented architecture — abounds in the 15-foot-tall ceilings, cement and recycled-wood floors, unfinished columns and stacked schist walls.
“This is our global flagship store. All our seasons will roll out in this store before the [99 other] stores in the rest of our fleet,” explained West Elm spokesman Dru Ortega. Plans are also afoot to create a store music playlist featuring Brooklyn-specific music to complement the ultra-local aesthetic.
Eventually, the Empire Stores complex will include a roof garden, contemporary art installations and a 3,000-square-foot museum dedicated to the history of the Brooklyn waterfront, operated by the Brooklyn Historical Society.
Other tenants due to move in include the Detroit-based watchmaker Shinola, a restaurant operated by Soho House, the advertising agency 72andSunny, and a Vinegar Hill House take-away outpost. A ground floor food market is also planned.
Most passers-by welcomed the addition of retail and restaurants, saying that additional options and amenities were needed on the Brooklyn waterfront.
“This area was closed off for so many years but now it’s amazing,” said Jemil Warner, 59, a retiree from the Upper West Side who frequently brings visiting guests to experience the breezy waterfront vibe.
But there was also concern about DUMBO’s rapid gentrification.
Emily Winer, 26, an Upper West Side graduate student in public health, felt the prime waterfront location called for something more public and less commercial that provided “an opportunity for people to gather.”