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The Twee Party

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Partly it has stayed because of inertia, Eisenstadt, the current CEO, says, and partly for sentimental reasons. “My grandfather taught me to play chess here. My dad still comes in every day.” Five employees have been here for more than 40 years, and 200 have been here for more than twenty. Some employees are the third generation in their families to work here, and 200 live within walking or cycling distance. While Cumberland has lost some workers, it has never laid anyone off. It has never had a strike. “Job retention and creation were a big part of our mission all along,” Eisenstadt says. “We could automate and make more money. We could move to New Jersey and make more money.” The rent would be cheaper. The company could avoid the $80 per truck in tolls that it currently pays to bring materials across the Hudson. But the Eisenstadt family has resisted selling. “If private equity came in, the jobs would be gone.”

In other words, what’s keeping Sweet’N Low in Brooklyn isn’t all that different from what motivates many of the anti-industrial young artisans. But it’s hard to pin a borough’s economic hopes on sentimental attachment, especially since the most successful companies will have the fewest reasons to remain in Brooklyn: The bigger they grow, the greater the economies of relocating for cheaper labor and land. Hard, but not impossible.

Eisenstadt sometimes plays golf with Steve Hindy—a former AP foreign correspondent, now 63, who learned homebrewing from diplomats in Cairo who had perfected the process while stationed in Middle Eastern countries where beer wasn’t available. After he moved back to the U.S., in 1984, he and Tom Potter, a onetime Chemical Bank loan officer, launched Brooklyn Brewery. At first, they had all their beer made by a brewery upstate, but in 1996, the company, which projects sales of $40 million to $45 million this year, built a brewery in Williamsburg. Its capacity is now 60,000 barrels a year, and it will soon grow to 100,000. The brewery has 57 full-time employees in Brooklyn, and a $12 million expansion is under way.

When Hindy told one of the original investors that “we wanted to call the beer Brooklyn, even though he was a lifelong Brooklyner, he said, ‘Are you sure you want to? I’m not sure it will play well in other places.’ At the time, in the early eighties, Brooklyn had a very different image.” Back then, Brooklyn meant shuttered factories and ruined neighborhoods and had yet to be reimagined as a garden of artisanal delights. “But I guess it takes a guy like me, from the Midwest, to believe in Brooklyn, to be taken by Brooklyn. It’s turned out to be a very good name.”


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