We have all heard the saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” In the old neighborhoods of
Cobble Hill and Carrol Gardens in Brooklyn, a lot of change has been going on. Row houses today can cost upwards of $3 million, several zeroes more than their original prices. It is not uncommon to catch a glimpse of some celebrities in the ‘hood, like Jay-Z or the British writer Martin Amis, a sign of the new upward direction of the area.
However, along a thirteen-block section of Court Street between Warren Street and Fourth Place there is a group of almost twenty family-owned shops which are, contrary to some expectations, doing rather well.
The mostly Italian-American shop-owners have, in many cases, been present on this busy shopping thoroughfare since the beginning of the twentieth century. The varieties of shops here run the gamut from cafÃ© to clothing, and they all seem to be competing successfully for customers. How is it that these small, mom-and-pop shops have been able to fend off the giant corporate concerns taking over neighborhoods throughout the city?
Two factors have contributed to the success of these stores over the years: one was the foresight of the forbears of the families who purchased the shops when they had the chance, thus freeing their descendants from the ravages of escalating rents. The other factor helping these stores remain successful is their willingness to change just enough to continue attracting new, trendy customers while still maintaining their authentic, “tried-and-true” character.
Take as just one example G. Esposito & Sons Jersey Pork Store. This old-time seller of sausage was able to attract the new, younger families moving into the neighborhood in the 1990s by adding rice balls, pasta and sandwiches to his fare, right alongside the hanging handmade sopressata and pepperoni.
Further down the street the family that owns D’Amico Foods has also made some changes while maintaining the continuity that made the shop successful in the first place.
In 1948 Emanuele D’Amico founded the store, selling just two kinds of coffee: Italian dark-roast and American brown roast. Today his grandson Francis offers a choice of more than 100 gourmet blends of coffee. But Francis’ wife Joan has continued greeting each long-time customer with a hug and addressing them by their first name.
“We’re not your typical businesses,” says Francis D’Amico. “It’s more like a family here than a store.”
D’Amico Foods is a family business that is keeping up with the times, fulfilling internet orders for coffee from patrons as distant as Iraq and New Zealand.