Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sweets in the City

When A-1 Music closed a few months ago, after doing business in the East Village for 26 years, we wondered what would take its place. The rent was too high, so the only options were, as usual: Bank, national chain, frozen yogurt shop, upscale boutique, or artisanal food something or other.

A-1's replacement is a candy shop. It's artisanal and it's from Williamsburg, Brooklyn. They also make snocones.



And so the sweetness trend continues, as countless such stores have opened across the most hyper-gentrified parts of the city in the past couple of years, from the girlishly gooey Sugar & Plumm on Bleecker Street to the aggressively sugar-jacked It'Sugar on Coney Island.

Why so many, so fast? Is it part of our cuteness overload problem? As Jim Windolf wrote on the topic awhile back, "A studied childishness is a big part of the cute movement, and the cupcake’s surge in popularity is a reversion to the gustatory pleasures of that time in our lives when sweet plus soft plus damp equaled yummy."

The cupcake craze started it all, followed by macaron mania, a billion frozen treats shops (fro-yo, artisanal ice pops, novelty ice cream, etc.), chocoholic extravaganzas, cronut insanity, and candy stores. Have you walked on Bleecker lately? Every other new business will give you a toothache just from passing by.

What is this trend saying about the new culture of New York City? Do hyper-gentrification and self-imposed infantilization go together? Windolf concludes, "Cute culture is soft and brain-deadening. It privileges the inner child, who, necessarily, has awful taste." What does it all mean?

In this week's New Yorker, a Talk of the Town piece on food trends. Says author David Sax, "The cupcake trend reflected a desire for comfort and childhood simplicity in the years after 9/11." Maybe so, but I sense something more sinister in all this sweet-eating.



24 comments:

Anonymous said...

It may mean that if you have small children, they will grow up to be doctors who specialize in the treatment of diabetes.

Anonymous said...

These operations are perfect for money laundering, as the product is tiny & easy to dispense with, yet can be priced at ridiculous levels by being pitched as artisinal.

Imagine the surprise of the proprietors who, counting on the laundering, look on in disbelief as people buy things at 10x their real value, giggling all the way ("only $8 for this yummy candy corn! OMG") - mo money mo problems!

The End of History said...

As a non native American citizen who was born in Europe one of the themes that I have noticed over the last 30 something years is that white college educated Americans really never leave that period of their lives mentally. I don't know exactly why this is but if you're white and college educated in the United States you never really grow up.

BaHa said...

Four candy stores within two blocks where I grew up in Brooklyn. As we used to say "Jesus, things to worry about."

Unknown said...

A lack of other options lead unemployed college grads to dream up business opportunities. The easiest route is a food based business, funded by family money. Also, without generalizing too much, the city is now a safer place for young, white, college educated women with suburban-grown sweet tooths. These business are custom made for that particular demographic.

Anonymous said...

I stopped by and they do have a good selection of the candy someone like me in my 40s grew up with. I try not to indulge in sweets too much but sometimes I can't resist. And I was relieved it wasn't an artisanal bakery or another bar. They guys who work there are also nice and it's independently owned so it's not like going into a Starbucks. I do wonder if they will be able to make a go of it here in this space selling candy. The rent has to be pretty high.

Anonymous said...

artisanal sno-cones? what, they make the water for the ice by buying imported hydrogen and mixing it with organic oxygen?

laura r. said...

snocone is like froyo? frozen yogart? this is all suburban middle america food. wait untill you see all those soft mis shapen bodies. you know, wearing shorts, loading up the car in the parking lot while eating a snoconefroyo? i like the old fashioned borad i front of thestore, but the sinege is loud & tacky.

Anonymous said...

There has always been an element of nostalgia in our culture, we think of the supposed carefree time in our lives and favorite games, tv shows, toys and perhaps foods. The difference with the new "cutesy" is how non-specific its nostalgia really is. The graphics are usually not 70's retro nor obvious 60's or 50's yet somehow say "yesteryear" "fun and good times" to young and old alike. Relive a childhood you never had or wish you had. It may say this is a trusted place even if it is not a national chain it's safe to eat here. From my observations suburbanites avoid unique places that are not familiar. The foodie aspect is all over these places too since the staff usually invite you to try samples and discuss the subtleties of the seasoning and not too sweetness of the "pumpkin pie anytime of the year ice-cream". Speaking of the East Village which has a growing (non-artistic) population from middle America (yes New Jersey that includes you) a new customer base is available to profit from but don't try to find a cobbler, a plumber or hardware store here in a few years because they will be selling whatever food is non-threatening and fun for the whole family.

Anonymous said...

There's a saying that goes: "To be an adult is to be alone". This is the exact opposite.

onemorefoldedsunset said...

There's one of those awful It's Sugars in downtown Brooklyn too, in the grand old Municipal Building, along with a Sephora. Horrible. When family or friends come to visit from England, they're always amazed by the sweet obsession here. Over there people graduate to alcohol and savory foods at a very early age ...

Mitch said...

The problem for a place like A-1 was that there is no way for them to match the prices and variety for music stuff of an online store or a big place like Sam Ash. It's part of the same problem that afflicts small bookstores.

So if these small stores - in general, not just music - are losing their reason for being, what's left to fill the gap are service-oriented establishments - nails, food, etc - for which physical location is paramount and an internet store is irrelevant.

I live across the street from a 16 Handles froyo store and while I can imagine better things that could be there, in some small ways it does play a Jane-Jacobsesque role of being the place everyone in the neighborhood goes to hang out and see each other. Yes it's a chain and the people who work there are not real regulars in the neighborhood, but so was the Baskin Robbins or Carvel back in my youth. I do wish their yogurt was better, however.

Anonymous said...

This is the 40something again who was in there. I don't remember them describing the sno cones as artisanal. They were saying they were going to be serving sno cones once the weather got warm. It sounded like they were doing old fashioned sno cones. Is there a sign that says artisanal or something? Or did they say they were going to be artisanal? I hate that damn word. I just want a regular old sno cone!

Anonymous said...

RABBLE RABBLE RABBLE. KIDS TODAY WITH THEIR CANDY AND SODA POP

ShatteredMonocle said...

Big Dental conspiracy.

Pat said...

Snocone? De Robertis' on 176 First Avenue has been serving Italian ices since the year of the flood.

Renée M. said...

I think the whole cutesy candy thing became popular because the generation of now young adults that were raised eating cupcakes with gummy bears on them never grew out of them. In America we have consistently been moving toward food aimed only at children. So what happens? The children never really grow up and still want to eat the same immature food. Not that I have anything against candy and cupcakes, in moderation, of course. But this is the diet staple of an entire generation of young adults, who when not eating candy and cupcakes are stuffing their mouths full of bacon and cheese smothered "artisanal" fast food style burgers. Look at the proliferation of Shake Shacks and Five Guys all over the place. Same phenomenon.

But really, I blame the whole thing on Dylan's Candy Bar. Rich Daddy, no creativity, want to cash in on the cutesy trend so what do you do? Open a candy store.

Gojira said...

We are a nation that now finds it perfectly acceptable to have adults take their vitamins disguised as gummy candies. I think back to the 1940s, when 18-year-olds were flying B-17s and commanding a crew of 10, to the booze-and-sweets-obsessed wankers of today, and realize just how much America has infantilized.

Anonymous said...

Can I bring up the obsession with "dress up" fun the 20 -30 somethings can't get enough of. The proliferation of comic-con. santa-con, etc... which is a parallel infantile trend.

onemorefoldedsunset said...

And how about this "dessert speakeasy", Spirited, opening soon?

"The bar will also be true to its “speakeasy” name by creating semi-secret drink specials patrons can order — but only if they provide a secret password, which will be posted to Twitter and Facebook each day, to the bartender, Wetherell said.

While the space takes its theme from Prohibition-era watering holes, Wetherell says the speakeasy name came from the subtle, under-the-radar taste of the booze in her desserts — rather than the quantity of alcoholic content.

“The alcohol’s in there and you’re going to taste it for sure, but you’re not going to get drunk off of it,” she said. “It’s kind of flying under the radar.” "

http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20140430/prospect-heights/dessert-speakeasy-take-over-former-beast-bar-location

Not a parody, alas.

Anonymous said...

To be honest, I really like this place. They have a good selection of interesting candies, the people who work there are nice, and it's not a cacophonous hellhole like It's Sugar or one of the other by-the-pound candy stores. It disappoints me that music stores and other purveyors of culture are moving out and usually being replaced by food vendors of various sorts (and not usually "food" food, more like fun but non-sustaining snack food). That said, as food vendors go, this place is nice and I like it.

Charles said...

Could the tourism economy be driving it? It's a cliche that tourists always flock to spots selling sweets like fudge and taffy. As the number of tourists on the street continues to rise, businesses are presumably trying to cater to them.

Joey Blau said...

B-17 Commanders were mostly 22 years old.

“I was a B17 pilot. We were all young, I was 22-years- old and I was a flight commander. That was the average age…for the officers. The gunners were usually 18-years-old. We were very sharp, clean kids.”

Anonymous said...

I find it very ironic that on one hand everything overpriced seems to be inorganic and healthy (like the surge in kale salads that seem to be on every menu these days) and on the other hand there are these junk food shops.