Kerry Jones opened her small shop featuring artesian goods in Greenpoint more than a year ago. The neighborhood that is transforming from an enclave of Polish immigrants to a world of artists and young professionals was her favorite place in the city. Then, she began to notice the neighborhood’s famous drinkers who often sit in front of her store on Greenpoint Avenue. It isn’t her favorite place any more.
Jones said that the drinkers in the neighborhood make lots of noise and fight with each other all day long. “They are obnoxious and rude,” she said adding that she worries their presence might make her customers uncomfortable and could potentially hurt her business.
In the last two years, Greenpoint residents and business owners registered 57 public drinking complaints to 311. It is the highest number of complaints about public drinking in the city. Sunset Park in Brooklyn ranks second with 35, and Williamsburg comes in a close third with 33 complaints.
Community Board has not responded to phone calls and emails about the matter.
The neighborhood’s drinkers gather around subway stations, parks and main shopping strips where they occasionally ask passersby for money. They are there early in the day, all day. Some sleep on the streets, others push supermarket wagons filled with clothes. Empty vodka bottles and crinkled brown bags occasionally lie on park benches. The majority of them appear to be homeless.
“I know them by name,” said long time Greenpoint resident, Tony Torres, who works for a Polish parcel agency that picks up packages in the area. He added that a majority of the drinkers appear to be abusing alcohol, and often refuse to get help. And sometimes things end tragically.
“Two guys died right here two years ago,” he said, pointing to a corner of Manhattan and Greenpoint avenues, just by the entrance to a subway station. “Another one died over there.” He added that he knows five drinkers who died in the last two years.
Some business owners, like Jones, worry about the bottom line, but most just hate the idea of drunken people hanging out just outside their doors.
“They stink,” said Ania Siemieniaka an owner of a beauty salon on Nassau Avenue, another shopping strip often habited by drunk and homeless people. But even though she would like to gather somewhere else, the Polish beautician said that the drinkers don’t influence her business that much because most people don’t make a direct connection to her shop.
But most residents seem to have accepted the drinkers as a part of the life in the neighborhood.
“It doesn’t really bother me that much,” said John White who moved to Greenpoint 10 years ago and was one of the first non-Polish residents there. “It seems that every time I have a beer I get busted but they are not.”
Kerry Ferris who is the third generation of Greenpointers said that there is fewer drinkers on the neighborhood streets than when she grew up. As a 48-year old Brooklynite, Ferris remembers when Greenpoint was full of Irish and Italian people who also drunk on the streets.
“It used to be very, very loud neighborhood,” she said adding that the high number of complains is connected to the neighborhood’s asset – three large parks.
Lauren Was and Adam Eckstrom, a couple of artists living in Greenpoint, said that they feel bad for the drunk people whom they often see in McCarren Park.
“These people need support to help them through the rough times,” Was said, adding that the solution is to help addicted people, but not to call with complaints.
“I think that drinking should be public,” she said. “People would have nice social life then.”