Emerging from the Jay Street stop of the R train, visitors encounter a wall of orange, red and white containers behind white fencing that holds up a banner to welcome visitors. Passing through an alley between two double stacks of containers, one enters the picnic area and food vendor section of the market. A simple tent covering a series of simple custom made picnic tables, the utilitarian food court typifies the language of the development. Surrounding the court are containers housing local restaurants and cafes. Baristas at the Joe’s Coffee container said that while the morning sun does beat down upon their metal clad cafe, minimal air conditioning and adequate insulation make it a surprisingly pleasant environment.
Surrounding the covered picnic tables are a series of shipping containers arranged closely end-to-end. Each container is home to a different restaurant, with servings ranging from soul food to cupcakes. Openings have been carved out of the sides of these boxes, and aluminum strip windows placed withing it, sealed, and sometimes welded directly to the corrugated metal facades.
At opposite sides of the picnic area, container gates are made by raising one container and attaching its underside to the top of adjacent crates, using attachments and joints typical of these industrial components. Through one gate, vendor tents flank the pedestrian path, including smaller vendors in the DeKalb Market without the need to lease a container. Through the opposite gate, a modest urban farm and garden sprouts, with separate plots for different organizations and community farms to grow and showcase their produce.
Relaxing to jazzy beats from BBOX Radio, which provides on-site entertainment and is soon to launch online, the hot stroll through various local vendors gains a rhythm as one emerges from the picnic area to a row of diagonally arranged shipping containers. These stores are positioned this way for the most efficient use of space, as original container doors can swing out and rest against the solid exterior of each metal box. A series of aluminum storefronts is revealed, each enclosing interiors finished out in drywall. A proper amount of insulation is placed between the metal and drywall layers; together with air conditioning a controlled environment is created within each capsule.
Every business takes an unique approach to customize its container. Artists Kudu-Lah may be the most extreme case, placing an enormous cardboard cutout of one of its famous monsters atop its crate, and using elaborate moldings and bold colors to make its interior just as distinctive from its neighbors. Some containers, such as BBOX radio’s, are still in a state of flux. The station is collaborating with some local designers and 3rd Ward, an arts collective and fellow tenant in the market, to design furnishings and an inventive extension to its box. While current plans include a touch screen for upcoming programming and a projection screens to accompany music with videos, at the moment a simple DJ booth, sound system, and hammock for relaxing work breaks suffice.
Whether fully finished or still in progress, the vendors of DeKalb Market exemplify Brooklyn’s young new economy. These artistic individuals, innovating to thrive in a period of uncertainty, finally have a home that matches their creativity and improvisational spirit.