NYLP: Welcome to the New York Launch Pod, a podcast highlighting new start-ups, businesses, and openings in the New York City area. I’m Hal Coopersmith, and in this episode we’re going to the beach. And what better place to go to the beach than inside New York City itself.
Belvy: Who knew?
NYLP: And stepping onto the Launch Pod, we have Belvy Klein. He is the co-founder of the…
Belvy Klein: The co-founder, co-owner, myself and Aaron Broudo, of Brooklyn Bazaar LLC. Our company does the Brooklyn Night Bazaar, and we also do the Riis Park Beach Bazaar, which is in Riis National Park in the Rockaways.
NYLP: So, we’re talking about the beach…
Belvy: Jacob Riis.
NYLP: Jacob Riis Park. That’s the focus of the summer. Where is Jacob Riis Park, first of all?
Belvy: Jacob Riis Park is, I would say, the southwestern tip of the Rockaways. It’s the closest part of the Rockaways to the city. We have about a mile and a half stretch of boardwalk, a lot of beach real estate. It’s bigger than any of the other beaches in Rockaway or Far Rockaway. And it’s become a thing.
NYLP: Beachfront real estate?
Belvy: Pretty much.
NYLP: How did you get it?
Belvy: We applied for an RFP. The National Park Service came to us. Somebody recommended us and said “These Brooklyn Bazaar guys do this pretty cool stuff. You’re looking for a new operator to put Riis park, and this beach, and the park on the map. Check these guys out.”
So, they looked us up. I guess they went to the old Night Bazaar spot in Brooklyn a couple times and they really liked what they saw. The next thing we knew, they were like “Do you want to put in for an RFP?” and we were like “Sure.”
I kind of didn’t take it seriously. Aaron took it seriously, and the big reason we got it was because of the deck he put together. We worked on it together, but our focus was still on the Night Bazaar. One day we get a call…this would have been last April, maybe end of March…and they were like “Hey, you guys won the RFP.” And so Aaron calls me and he’s like “Hey! You remember that beach thing that we put in for?” I’m like “Yeah, I kind of forgot about it.” And he was like “Well, we just won it.” I was like “Okay… What do we know about running a beachfront operation? Not much.” Our experience is in the event business…bars, nightclubs, restaurants, food, entertainment. But, we were basically like “These guys picked us for a reason. So let’s do what we do in Brooklyn indoors and let’s do it at the beach, on the beach, and see what happens.”
Going into season two now, we just opened last weekend, which was amazing. The first season last year blew our expectations, and I think a lot of other people’s expectations really out of the water, literally out of the water. And, we got a lot of accolades. We were the Number One Summer Bucket List thing on the New York Post. We were the Number One New York City Beach Party Destination in the New York Times. Yahoo Travel voted us the Second Best beach in America. We got all this serious media cred and it’s just kind of become bigger and crazier, and it’s awesome.
NYLP: So you’re actually being quite humble right now, because concessions in New York City is a pretty big business, pretty competitive. A lot of people enter in RFPs, and you won for Jacob Riis Park.
Belvy: We knew there were a lot of people who went for this RFP and applied. We did a walk-thru there initially in the winter and there were a bunch of people, a bunch different operators, that we didn’t know but you could overhear. And a lot of them were basically typical operators who had done things on the beach, whether it was in Jersey, or Delaware, or the Hamptons, or whatever. So we really were like “We’re not going to get this one. What do we know?” But I think they wanted to try something different.
Hats off to the National Park Service for seeing that we were an out-of-the-box-thinking company. We don’t do traditional hot-dogs and fries or whatever. We try to do decent food. Our vendors are pretty kick-ass out there. They saw what we were doing in Brooklyn. And we got voted Time Out’s Best Music Venue. We’re still on the opening credits of Saturday Night Live every week. So, I think they were like “Okay. These guys are not doing what everyone else is doing, but what they’re doing is pretty cool.” I think once we won it and once we were there, it kind of dawned on us that it was a kind of a big deal.
And now it’s a big operation. We have programming six to seven days a week. We have tons of free concerts. There’s free concerts on Saturday and Sunday, and there is a local music series on Thursday, and this thing called Camp Fire Fridays on Friday where it’s like an acoustic thing in conjunction with the National Park Service and people just kind of sit around the fire and play acoustic or tell stories. Tuesday, we have the only beachfront karaoke in all of New York City. Wednesday we host the Rockaway Beach Volleyball League which is the biggest volleyball league in New York that’s on the beach. There are thousands of members, 80 teams, something like 250-person waiting lists. Wednesdays, out there are something out of a Spielberg movie. It doesn’t even seem real…there’s the beach, and you have thousands of people playing volleyball and there’s 50 games going on all at once. It’s hard to explain. It’s really kind of almost magical. I know that sounds cheesy. I feel cheesy saying it, but it really is. It’s really something, and I think everyone should see it. It’s pretty awesome.
NYLP: So you won the contract in April of 2015, March-April of 2015, Summer, unofficial start, Memorial Day.
Belvy: Yeah, it was not a lot of time. We did not have a lot of prep time. We kind of just went for it, and somehow we pulled it off.
NYLP: What did you need to do?
Belvy: We needed to get our liquor license from the SLA. We needed to put a staff in place. We needed to program it. We need to book it. I needed to call my booking guys to be like “Guys, I need three months of programming. Go!” Staffing was an issue because our core staff people, whether they’re managers or bartenders or sound guys or whatever, 98% of them live in Brooklyn, and probably 90% of that live in North Brooklyn. It’s an issue getting there. It takes time, it’s a little off the beaten path. Those are all issues that we really had to deal with very last-minute. We were like “Okay, gotta get it together and be open by Memorial Day.”
Literally, Memorial Day last year, we were still, like that night, working like 18-hour days that entire week leading up to it, trying to get everything together. There are other things probably that you don’t even think about. There are two or three dozen picnic benches that you gotta purchase and then paint, place on the beach, chain them up, beach umbrellas, beach chairs…all the things that go along with what you would associate with a beach front operation. It was all things we hadn’t done before. And we were like starting to price out things and were like “Oh, where do I get beach chairs from?,” you know, just things we hadn’t done before.
I think as a company, we’re pretty good at having to come up with a concept from scratch a lot of times and succeeding with it. We’re good at that. If you put us in a strange venue or location, we somehow come up with ways to make it pop.
NYLP: So, what’s the formula for doing that and making it pop so quickly?
Belvy: I don’t know if it’s a formula. It’s just kind of what we do. It’s knowing the kind of music that people want, that people respond to, and that they’ll support. It’s knowing the kind of vendors that will be popular. It’s knowing the food vendors that will be popular, the regular merchant vendors that people will like. Having very solid media partnerships with blogs and companies like Gothamist, Time Out, Brooklyn Vegan, Village Voice, Pandora, Vice, and on and on and on. I think all this stuff together makes…maybe that’s the formula. It’s kind of like a mish-mosh of everything. What we’ve done at Night Bazaar…it’s been just trying to do things that, like, just…we were like “Let’s do golf, indoor golf.” “Okay.” “Let’s do black-light mini golf.” You just kind of get creative and think of things that no one’s done before and then just be like “Yeah, let’s try it.” People, now that we’re five, six years into being a company, I think people kind of know what to expect of our brand and what we do, whether it’s at the beach or indoors at the Bazaar or the Night Bazaar.
NYLP: And for people who haven’t been to Riis Park or the Brooklyn Night Bazaar, what’s the draw for Riis Park in addition to being a beach and it being very hot out right now. What’s pulling people there?
Belvy: What’s pulling people is the music. We have a free, all summer concert series. All of our events are free.
NYLP: How are you able to pull in free concerts?
Belvy: We pull in free concerts…we have sponsorships and partnership deals with various companies. That basically enables us to pay the bands, pay the staff, pay the production people and the sound guys and the security guys and on and on and on. It’s how we make the beach work, it’s how we make the Night Bazaar work, it’s how we make the new spot in Greenpoint work. It’s all about partnerships for us. We’re predominantly a free event. Even if we wanted to, we can’t charge at the beach because it’s a federal park. So, even if we wanted to, we couldn’t. It’s different than having your own bar or club where you can do whatever you want. We made it work with the partnerships.
NYLP: How are you able to pull in the partners?
Belvy: You know, we make offers they can’t refuse. At first, it was a little bit difficult. I think now, this number of years in, these brands know what we do and they know the demographic and they want to be associated with it. We do huge numbers with millennials, and all these companies, that’s what they want: they want millennials. That’s our core crowd. We do very well with tourists, and we do very well with people that aren’t millennials – older professionals, urban people, and families – and it’s across the board. That’s basically kind of our core demographic, and that happens to be the core demographic that all these companies want, whether that’s Anheuser-Busch or different liquor companies or that’s Car 2Go, or if it’s Citibike, or if it’s Chase, or Pandora, or Google, or on and on and on. All companies that we work with, and have worked with, and continue to work with, they like what they’re getting. They like the bang for the buck. They get to be associated with this event and this company that literally has the consumers and the demo that they need and that they want, so they’re like “Yes, please. I want more.”
NYLP: When you first started last season for Riis Park, people didn’t know what to expect. Now you have a product. What was it like getting those first couple sponsors? And who were the people that signed on? How were you able to get that?
Belvy: A lot of sponsors basically came along when we got…and we can talk about this later. We lost our space in North Brooklyn to BMW right around the time…it was a very strange kismet.
NYLP: For the Brooklyn Night Bazaar?
Belvy: Yeah. Right around the time that we were told that we were awarded the RFP from the National Park Service, maybe a month after that we found out that the owner of the building that the Brooklyn Night Bazaar was in had reached a deal with BMW for paying basically paying 10 times per square foot what we were paying. I mean, of course he was like “Well, I’ll give you guys the same deal.” We’re like “Dude, we can’t afford that. We’re not Duane Reade. Like, what the hell?.” So, we had a lot of partnerships already in stone from over in Brooklyn that we basically just brought with us to the beach. I think a lot of it was good faith but a lot of it was good faith because they were like “Well, you know you guys have been damn good for us so far. We have no reason to doubt that you guys won’t kill it at the beach,” and you know, freakin’ knock on wood…is this wood?
NYLP: This is wood.
Belvy: Okay… It was good faith. They came in and they liked what they got and I think they’re going to be even happier this season.
NYLP: So you brought up losing the lease for the Brooklyn Night Bazaar. Can you talk a little bit more about that? How that made you feel? It was sudden. Obviously, the lease is crucial to the business. You kind of built up something. You get that phone call. What’s that like?
Belvy: It sucks. The initial reaction is anger…pardon my French, but you’re pissed off about it. And then you…
NYLP: Stages of grief.
Belvy: Yeah, stages of grief. But then you…I’m a big boy… Aaron’s a big boy. We basically were like “Okay. Well, we’ve got the beach coming up. We’re going to need to look for a new spot. But in the meantime, this is really going to suck.” It’s our business, yes. But you’ve got to think of, on any given Night Bazaar night, we had between the vendors and our staff and our bartenders and our bar-backs and our door people and the people we had running mini-golf, ping-pong and security…you’re talking, on busy nights, you’re talking 200-250 people whose jobs went…bang, bye-bye, and it sucked. Obviously, I felt [bleep] for us. But I felt really emotionally bad for these kids who you know were really counting on us to pay their rent, to eat. And it was the night that we told everybody, people were crying, and it was really heavy. There was a full gamut of emotions when that went down.
Having said that, being a native New Yorker, growing up here, I understand, you know, you work real estate. I get that changes happen and it’s always been happening, but I think that the rate that it’s happening, especially in North Brooklyn because that’s where I personally live and that’s where the Brooklyn Night Bazaar is…I just think the rate is kind of insane. It’s like a rocket ship. It’s absolutely nuts. You understand that dynamic of New York real estate…there’s always going to be somebody bigger than you. There’s always going to be somebody with more money than you. But it was on to the next, and we’re feeling good about the new spot we have. We know we’re at the beach until at least 2020. I think we’ve really, really put Riis Park on the map. We know that there are three different bus services, shuttles that go to the Rockaways now. We were told last season and specifically even last weekend, 90% of tickets were for Riis…were for us, going to the Riis Bazaar, not Far Rockaway, not Beach 97, they’re going for us. That made us feel really good.
NYLP: So you brought up the Yahoo Travel article. In that article…and I want to get the figure right…they said that for your first year, you were up over 140% from the previous year…
Belvy: Yeah, in attendance levels, yeah. The National Park Service told us that they routinely, on Saturday and Sundays in the peak season, which is Memorial Day to Labor Day, were hitting thirty to forty thousand people. And they have stated multiple times that they hadn’t seen those kind of numbers in 20 years, 25 years. It’s awesome. We weren’t expecting it. We were just like “Okay. Try it here. See what happens. This is the beach. Even if it flops, at least we’re going to be on the beach all day. What could be bad?” But it turned out to really…we wound up hitting out of the park, I guess, beyond our expectation.
NYLP: So you mentioned earlier that it’s a mish-mosh of all sorts of things that kind of led to this success. But what do you kind of attribute? How do you make cool? I mean, you doubled…more than doubled…attendance.
Belvy: How do we make it cool?
NYLP: The park has existed for…
Belvy: The park has existed…this is the Centennial Year for the National Park Service. I think we gave it attention. In the ’60s and ’70s, that was the beach. You can Google it and see these photos where there are like hundreds of thousands of people. It’s insane! And the idea was that they called it the “People’s Beach.” That was the idea when Robert Moses designed it and put it out there. And for whatever reason, it fell into disrepair. It went back from the city owning it to the Feds, and then back again, and then back to the Feds. And it just basically kind of, really, I think the last 20 years, it just really kind of fell to crap and it got…I think it was ignored. It fell into disrepair.
All we did was try to bring our brand to the beach. That was really all we wanted to do. We were like “Okay, what do we do? We’re about music, and we’re about food, and we’re about events, and we’re about cool vendor stuff, and activities. I think that’s why it took off. We didn’t just treat like it “It’s a beach. And we’re going to bring dogs and fries.” I mean, we do some really killer hot-dogs that are all organic and really tasty. We don’t want to just put the same old crap that you see at any typical beach, right? I think people responded to it. People were like “Wow. I can go to the beach and get actually good food. I can get a vegan option if I have to. I can get the vegetarian option. I can get fish, I can get chicken. We gave people a lot of choices that were never there. I think that’s part of it.
The locals really, really embraced us almost from the get-go. We stayed open in the winter, not as the Beach Bazaar but as a bar called Riis Point, and we also stayed open as one restaurant as well. And the locals, I think, really took to that because they hadn’t had anything. I think they felt like the city just forgot about them. And so they were like, all winter, “Oh my god. I can’t believe you guys are doing this thing. Thank you, thank you, thank you.” They would be loyal. They kept us alive through the winter. All the other beachfront restaurants and bars in the Rockaways, they closed down. After Labor Day, it’s “See ya. See you on Memorial Day.” We were just like, “Well, the lease is 12 months, it’s not 3, so might as well see if we can make it work a little bit.” We did odd events here and there, and did like a crazy big Oktoberfest and some cool New Years Eve stuff, whatever. But it was primarily just a bar and restaurant that serve the locals. That was seen as a real good act of good will on our end, and now we’re seeing everyone really support us. And then of course, now that it’s the summer and the beach season, you’ve got everybody from Brooklyn, Queens, and the City coming all the time as well. So you get that extra bump that’s nice.
NYLP: Food’s good. Activities, beach, waterfront, cool off, music. How do people get there?
Belvy: People get there…we have three different bus lines that shuttle people from all over the city, from Williamsburg, Bushwick, Greenpoint to Downtown Brooklyn. There’s a pick-up by Barclay’s, there’s a pick-up in the East Village, Astoria, Long Island City, like all over – NYC Beach Bus, there’s Rockaway Beach Bus. You can go to our website www.riisparkbeachbazaar.com to see all the options. There’s also the A train. A lot of people take their bikes, bike out there. There’s a really nice ride. It’s not hard. It’s like the Ramones’ song, “It’s not hard to reach Rockaway Beach.” You can take a car and be there in 30-45 minutes. It’s not three and a half hours to the Hamptons. It’s not having to go to the Jersey Shore. It’s literally right there.
I think that was the one thing that really struck me the first time I went out there, because I would go to the Rockaways when I was a kid, but it was the other end. Like I was saying earlier, it was more North. I didn’t know. I guess I knew, but I wasn’t familiar with that beach, with Riis Park Beach. I didn’t know how big it was and I didn’t know how it’s basically…if you’re there and you’re standing and you’re looking at the ocean, at the Atlantic, if you turn around and do a 180, you literally see the skyline, you see Midtown, you see the Empire State Building. And from what I understand, when Robert Moses designed it, that was the idea, was that “Look, there’s the city, but the beach is right here,” so it’s not this thing that you have to have a lot of money to go out to the Hamptons, and like I said, Jersey Shore, or go far away. It’s right there. It’s super close. It’s still one of those really awesome things. You see hundreds or thousands of people do it every weekend they’re just looking and they turn around and then you see Midtown. And the way that that vista is is that you can’t build anything there. It’s protected, it’s landmarked, and so you have this awesome view of the city, and then you turn around and you see the ocean. It’s kind of awesome.
NYLP: Where else can you do that?
Belvy: You can’t do that anywhere. Again, when we first saw that we were like…I mean that’s why our logo, which is on our website is basically just like “These are waves, and that’s the sun, and here’s the skyline. And you’re at the beach, but you’re not super far.” And we wanted to get that across to people. Man, it’s like right in your backyard!” And that was what we felt when we first were there. And we were like “Holy crap, man! People just need…if people knew about this, it would be sick!” And so I think a lot of it was really getting awareness out and like letting people know like “Hey, man, it’s right over there. You can bike here quick. You can get a car here quick. You can get on a bus quick.”
NYLP: And how did the economics of it work? So you have a lease from the Federal government…
NYLP: And then you have vendors. How does everything work for your business?
Belvy: We have subleases with all our vendors, whether they are the permanent food vendors in Bay 9, which is our, like, main food hub pavilion, or they’re in other structures or locations on the boardwalk.
NYLP: Obviously, I imagine business is so much bigger on the weekend vs. the weekday.
Belvy: Of course. Yeah. You just staff it differently. On weekends, we have up to eight or nine bars scattered up and down the boardwalk. During the week, we’ll have one or two. I would love to have eight or nine everyday if volume dictated that, but people go to the beach on the weekend, we know this.
NYLP: The difference between any other bar or restaurant and you guys is that you’re very much weather-dependent.
Belvy: That is true. That is an amazing thing when you have an 85-degree day in May and 30,000 people come to the beach and it’s awesome. It sucks on Memorial Day when it’s rainy and overcast and people just look at the weather forecast and go “Yeah, I was going to go to the beach, but not anymore.” It is 100% weather-dependent and it can be awesome and then it can be like “Aww, man! We gotta like cut the night before.” That’s the one thing. You have all these different weather apps on your phone and you’re talking to your management team the night before and going like “Supposed to thunderstorm…what do we do?” We have these talks. These are talks that we have on Friday night and Saturday night, like “What are we gonna do?,” because we have to prepare for… Saturday and Sundays, our big days. Our staff explodes. It’s much bigger staff…the vendors need to make sure they have enough food, that they don’t run out of food. We need to make sure we don’t run out of beer. We need to make sure we have enough staff on the ground. All that, again, like you just said, is dependent on the weather. It’s sometimes infuriating, but you can’t…it’s Mother Nature. What are you going to do?
NYLP: And so how do you sell the vendors on taking the risk?
Belvy: You sell them. You say “Hey, guys, when it rains, yeah, people don’t go to the beach. You know that. I know that. But you know what? When it’s sunny, you are doing 300-400 covers a day, 600 covers a day, you’re going to go “Yeah, those rain-outs…I can deal with that.” And that’s the trade-off. Everyone is doing such big numbers. “Yes, we’re outside, but we’re going to take the good with the bad.”
NYLP: So, it’s a Friday night or a Saturday night and the forecast is for rain. What happens? What are the conversations like?
Belvy: I start stressing out. Dana’s like “Just relax. You can’t do anything about it.” So, there’ll be conversations with me and Aaron and our management team and we’re going like “Okay, well, let’s keep 9A open, maybe 9B. Basics will be a game-day decision. The satellite bars…yeah, let’s not do those.” We’ve gotten fairly proficient at it, I guess, now. But yeah, that’s what happens. It’s 10:30 on Friday Night, I put my GM, bar manager, Dom and Brian, call me and they are like “Forecast is looking pretty crappy. It look’s like thunderstorms.” And we’re like “Ugh, thunderstorms.” Not only do you have to reduce your staff, but you’ve got to call your booker and be like “Dude, we can’t have people playing in lightning.” The parks won’t allow it, right? But it’s also dangerous, obviously. So, in a thunderstorm, I gotta call up one of my bookers and be like “Sorry, man. We can’t do this tomorrow.” That can be tough, but that’s management.
NYLP: You have a weather app? Or, how many weather apps do you have?
Belvy: I’d say, at any one time, there’s a lot of different ones. I probably use weather.com the most. The guys on the ground use a lot. There’s a lot of ones. I don’t even know what they’re called, but they’re like the ones that the surfers use. They’re a lot more accurate. The one thing is you can’t just put in “Brooklyn.” You’ve gotta put in “Breezy Point” or “Far Rockaway,” because the weather out there…it can be crappy here and overcast and rainy, and out there it can be gorgeous and awesome, or vice versa. Today, it was awesome here in the city, people were walking around in shorts and t-shirts, but all day there, today, it was fog. When I was walking up to the building, my GM calls me and he’s like “Man, it’s all fog here.” I was like “What? It’s gorgeous here. I just got off the ferry. There’s not a cloud in the sky.” He’s like “Dude, it’s just all mist and fog, and like…ugh!” I was like “Well, at least it’s not raining.”
NYLP: Have you ever received any criticism for what you’re doing?
Belvy: I don’t know if it’s criticism. Certain people…you were talking about that New York Times article that came out last year. I think certain people had a pre-conceived notion of what we are without really doing any research on us. That New York Times piece, basically, like we were talking about it earlier, came out and said…
NYLP: Do you want me to read the quote?
Belvy: Yeah, it was like…yeah, go ahead.
NYLP: So, they were talking about a $10 Ginni Hendrix cocktail with Hendricks gin.
Belvy: Which is extremely high-end gin, thank you.
NYLP: And you top it off with a paleo chocolate mousse made from cacao…
NYLP: …dates and cashews. The quote is “Every one of these things, completely delicious. It feels a little like flying privately to a mullet toss at a State Fair. As one beachgoer in front of me at the seafood line so aptly put it, I think it’s all great. But then again, I’m a gentrifier….
Belvy: Okay. A) We are not gentrifiers. That is an absurd statement, or to even infer that, which is what that entire article was. We were booted out of our space by a freaking multi-national corporation. How is it even possible that we could be gentrifiers? B) If we were gentrifiers, we could easily go in there and charge double, triple, all that. What this woman neglected to say in this article was that she ordered the most expensive drink. She didn’t order the $5 beer. She ordered the $10 Hendricks margarita. She didn’t order the two tacos for $5. She didn’t order the $3 hot-dog. She willfully went out of her way to basically write what her pre-conceived notion was, and she completely kept out all the affordable items that we had because she wanted to portray us as these gentrifying Brooklyn yuppies who are trying to gentrify the beach.
She also made it sound like Black and Latino families who grill there have been doing that since, like, the ’50s and ’60s. There’s an area for grilling, and people go there and grill. Whatever. And she made it sounds like we had pushed these people away off the boardwalk and segregated them, and it was like “No, no, no. This is what they do.” But they also like come up and grab stuff from us. It’s like, if anything, it’s more New York of a beach than anywhere else because it’s a melting pot, because there’s an LGBTQ part of the beach, there’s a very specific Black and Latino and Brown families part of the beach, there’s White families, there’s Irish and Italian families, there’s Hasidic families that go there. The other one has hipsters and people from Bushwick on the beach. The thing is because you have all these different groups, they all melt together. It’s basically New York on the beach.
There are so many misconceptions in that article that really ticked me off. I mean, it was great to be in the New York Times, great a lot of people read it. But I was really offended by the tone. And she didn’t mention that we do these all ages free concerts and that we do free karaoke, and the volleyball, and on and on and on. She didn’t mention any of that stuff. I think it was really myopic and asinine. I think a lot more people saw the positive press that we got from the New York Post, and the Daily News, and the Village Voice, and Gothamist, and Time Out especially. There are other things in that article that are so completely off. There are actually falsehoods in there and we asked for retractions and they wouldn’t do it. It was like “Really, New York Times? You can’t get your fact-checking correctly? Really?”
But apart from that, I don’t think we’ve gotten, really, much criticism. I think it’s been the opposite…people have really embraced it. Like I said earlier, the locals who live there embrace it. People I think over the city have embraced it. It’s just been overall a really positive thing. I think you’re always going to have haters, you know? That’s life. It’s New York.
NYLP: Well, anytime you’re a hit…
Belvy: Yeah, of course…
NYLP: …and you double the…
Belvy: People are like “Ah, this guy.”
NYLP: It’s different than it used to be, and people…
Belvy: Right. Right. It’s different than it used to be, but it doesn’t make you a gentrifier. If we go in somewhere that hasn’t had anything for years and it’s been run down, we’re not going in there and raising rents and we’re not doing anything that you would typically associate with gentrification. We’re just putting in…we’re freaking selling beer and snacks. I’m sorry. That’s not anything that’s gentrifying anything. We’re actually trying to give you decent beer and decent snacks if you want, but you can get the cheaper stuff too. That is not us.
NYLP: Or you could bring your own snacks.
Belvy: You know what, that’s the other thing. It’s a national park. You can bring your own beer. You can bring your own snacks. We’re powerless to control that. And people do it, and that’s fine. It’s the least gentrified beach you’re going to freaking see anywhere.
NYLP: So we talked a lot about Jacob Riis Park and the beach, and you brought this up throughout…but Brooklyn Night Bazaar left us for a little while. Now it’s coming back. When’s it going to come back? What’s it going to be like? How different is it going to be?
Belvy: So Brooklyn Bazaar. We have a new space in Greenpoint. It’s a three-level, former Polish wedding, catering, events space. We’re looking to open the first weekend of August. We’re doing a ton of work right now. So the basement will have private karaoke rooms, arcade games, ping-pong, indoor black light mini golf, and a bar. The main floor, the street level, will have an anchor restaurant and bar that will always be open seven days a week. Next door to that is what used to be the main ballroom. That will be where the Night Bazaar vendors live on Friday nights, Saturday nights, and Sunday afternoons. There was also a bar in there. Well, we also have seating for people so when they’re shopping if they need to sit down, they can. And then you go upstairs. That is a concert venue, which has about a 400-person capacity. There will be another bar up there.
And the coolest thing about this space – it was formerly known as Polonaise Terrace – it basically looks like a three story club that is modeled after The Shining and Scarface meets American Horror Story. And it’s got crazy floor-to-ceiling mirrors, creepy red rugs that look right out of the hotel in The Shining, mirrors on ceilings. It’s really a unique space. There’s no other space like it in New York, and we’re really excited to get going. We’re going to do a lot of things. We’re also going to be operating…you know, it’s not even going to be called…the Night Bazaar will happen on the Friday, Saturday, and Sundays but during the week we will also be doing ticketed shows and we’ll be doing private events. We’ll be doing movie nights, and trivia nights, and the restaurant and bar will always be open as well. So, this is going to be just called Brooklyn Bazaar straight out because it’s not just Brooklyn Night Bazaar. We have all these other things going on under our umbrella. So, we’re really excited about it and people are really going to be pretty…what’s the word? They’re going to be pretty impressed, I think.
NYLP: So this is the second iteration of the Brooklyn Bazaar?
Belvy: No, this is the one, two…so it’s the fourth version of the Bazaar. We started outside at DeKalb Market in Downtown Brooklyn. Then, we moved to Williamsburg in 2011 and 2012. So the Downtown Brooklyn space we lost to condos. And then we lost the Williamsburg space to condos. Then, we moved to Greenpoint and we lost that space to BMW. So, we’re really good at being the anti…we’re the victims of gentrification over and over and over again. So yeah, this would be the fourth incarnation of the Bazaar and I think it’s going to be…I mean they’ve all been really memorable, but I think this is going to be one of the more…I think it’s going to be one that people really do not forget. Just the stairway alone that leads upstairs to the venue is just something I think people are going to be Instagramming and posting on their blogs like all the time. It’s got mirrors on the walls and on the ceilings and you walk into this crazy live room with more mirrors and more crazy carpet.
And I just think it’s basically going to be one of those spaces where… You know, if you go to Terminal 5 or Bowery Ballroom or wherever and are like “Oh, I went and saw Weezer at T5 and it was freaking awesome!” You don’t hear people going like “Dude, those walls at Bowery Ballroom are sick, right?” No one’s ever going to say that because every venue is usually a box, and it’s usually a black box, a dark box, whatever, whether that’s Bowery Ballroom or Terminal 5 or Knitting Factory…you go venue after venue, they’re all fairly the same. I think this is going to be one of those places where people are like “Yo man. I don’t even know what that band was but did you see that room? And those mirrors? What the hell was that?” It’s the kind of place where the excitement level for people to see this, I think, is really going to be palpable.
NYLP: How did you first come up with the concept of the Brooklyn Bazaar?
Belvy: Brooklyn Bazaar was originally my business partner’s idea, Aaron Broudo. He had spent a lot of time after college going to the night markets in Southeast Asia. My fiancee and his wife grew up together. I met him probably in 2009, maybe 2010. And he knew my background in music, which later moved towards owning and operating bars and clubs. He was like “What do you think about this? Would this work in Brooklyn? What do you think?” We were just over drinks at first. I was like “I don’t know, flea markets? Whatever, dude.” And then, the more we talked about it, we were like “Well, what if we add music, and we do it at night, and we add some lights, and you add DJs, basically just make it sexy?” And then we were like “That could work in Brooklyn. The world doesn’t need another Brooklyn Flea.” We decided that we definitely weren’t going to be that. We were going to have vendors, but that’s just a part of what we do and what we are.
And we were like “We’ll do games.” “What kind of games?” “I don’t know. Let’s do mini-golf, but let’s do black light mini-golf. Let’s do ping-pong, but let’s do ping-pong in a giant freezer and convert it to a ping-pong club. Let’s get cool old-school video games, arcade games.” The space that we had in Williamsburg, two spaces ago, we had a indoor…it was so big. We had like a 20,000 square foot indoor soccer field with bars and vendors surrounding it. Give us a space, and we’re going to come up with some things that no one has done before. Again, it was originally Aaron’s vision, and then we just kind of tweaked it and continued. We’re always trying to improve on it and come up with new things that people haven’t thought of before, like, there’s no private karaoke in Brooklyn. All these things are in the city. We’re like “Why not do this?” And everybody we talked to is like “Oh my god. That’s amazing. That’s so cool.”
Being that this was primarily a wedding hall for so many years, there’s these bridal suites downstairs, these private bridal suite rooms that have like crazy mirrors and rugs and shag carpet on the walls and, I mean, it’s pretty trippy. So, we were like, we’re going to make those rooms private karaoke rooms. So, you know, if you want to go out with four or five of your friends, you can actually rent time in that room. We’ve got like three or four of those rooms downstairs that we think people are really going to like.
NYLP: So this model works well for you guys. I mean, you’ve had four iterations of the Bazaar, working at Riis Park. When did you think “This is a model that we want to pursue”?
Belvy: We did the initial…the initial event was just a one-day, one-off at DeKalb Market, which is, like I said, Downtown Brooklyn. It’s very close to Barclays and is now condos. And that one was really crazy successful. We really kind of literally had no idea. We had never done anything like this. And it was just like…there were, like, lines that were like four blocks long. We were like “What the hell are we doing? This is awesome.” The next day, of course, Aaron and I were like “We gotta do this again.” The idea from day one was always to try to find a home. Originally, we wanted to do it outside and we did do it outside, but getting that amount of real estate outside in New York, we tried and tried. It just didn’t work.
And then we were like “You know what? Let’s try to do this inside. Okay, there’s warehouses and we’ll try to do it. So we found a space in Williamsburg. In 2011, we did a couple weekends right around the holidays, and those nights were phenomenal. So then the next year, we did it for an entire November and December holiday market and those were really, really successful. We really, really did well with those. And we were like “Okay. The next thing is we need to find a permanent spot.” And then we found the Greenpoint spot which was a former bakery with 23,000 square feet. We went in there and just made it our own.
NYLP: How do you convince the first couple vendors to say “You know what? This is something you should pay a fee for and we’re going to generate people for you.” I imagine that’s always a constant struggle.
Belvy: How did we do that? That’s a great question. I think a lot of that was just a lot of research. A lot of it was our vendor director at the time and Aaron and myself just reaching out to vendors and people at other markets. I mean, we poached some people and we did what we had to do, and we made sure that the vendor fee was substantially lower than other markets like Brooklyn Flea or Smorgasburg or Hester Street, and on and on and on. We made sure that these were like “You know what? Even if you do this and it bombs, it’s no big deal. It’s not a lot of money out of pocket for you.” And so that’s why I think people were like “We’ll give this a shot. People were like “Who are these guys? What are they doing?”” And then the fact that that initial event was so successful…I think we clocked something like 7,000-8,000 people that went in and out that day.
It was just like beyond what anyone expected. We were hoping for like 700 or 800 people. We really were like…we didn’t expect what happened to have happened. So that put us on the map. And then people were like “Oh. Those guys? We were at that first one? It was pretty crazy. They’re going to do what? All right, we’re in. And the vendor fee is a little more? That’s okay. We know these guys.” So we proved that we could deliver something and it’s basically just the market, and your prices can kind of go up a little bit. At that same token, they know that it’s okay because they expect that we’re going to generate a certain amount of people, we’re going to generate a certain amount of media attention, and we’re going to generate a certain amount of buzz, and it’s all things that they themselves as standalone vendors aren’t able to do. Under our umbrella, they get to be part of something, this much bigger thing, therefore getting their brands and their products exposed to so many more people than they normally would.
NYLP: And it can just be a little outpost and people can find out more about…
Belvy: Yeah, of course. I mean, there’s so many companies and businesses that got their start as little pop-ups with us and now they have brick and mortars. That’s great to see. It’s cool. And a lot of these guys, you know, they can’t afford right out of the gate to do that. They need to kind of start…they need a little foundation to create awareness of their brand. One of the vendors at Bunker, the last Night Bazaar space, Ice and Vice, they won a Vendy for Best Dessert, you know, in the city… and it was because they were only at the Night Bazaar. And now they have a store front. There’s dozens of examples like that. It’s awesome to see, almost like a proud parent, like “Good job, son!”
NYLP: And, music in the Brooklyn Bazaar and Riis Park, you mentioned, are very important to the atmosphere. What’s it like being an independent concert venue in the city? I’ve heard it’s very tough.
Belvy: Yeah. It can be very, very tough, especially when you’ve got Bowery Presents, Live Nation, AEG, basically, are like the three big monsters and they gobble up most of the acts. We’re a DIY company, you know, and we can’t say, “Hey, if you play here, if you play Mercury Lounge, then next year you’re going to play Bowery and then you’re going to play Music Hall and then you’re going to graduate to Terminal 5, and then…” We don’t have that. Live Nation has similar venues and things like that. But I think, one of the things that we’ve offered is an atmosphere and an experience for bands and music that is unlike other clubs and other venues. I think that a lot of… Having been in music for years myself as a touring and recording artist, I still have a lot of connections and friends who are in that world and they’re all like “Dude, your spot is so dope. We’re definitely playing there. We can take a little more money from Bowery and play this show and that show, but this is really cool and the record label likes it, or our management really likes it, or our press guy loves it.” So there’s a lot of things that we can present.
At the end of the day, if there’s a bidding war, we’re probably going to lose 99 times out of 100 because we don’t have the pockets of freaking AEG or, like, Live Nation that we can go “Yeah, sure. Write the check.” For us, it’s very, very close to the vest in terms of what the financials are. So, we’ve got to be smart about it too. You can’t just throw money away and be like “We’re just going to spend $10,000 on these guys and $20,000 on these guys.” We can’t do that. We’ve gotta be smart about it and still give you bands and music that the people like, but we’ve got to make it work economically for us. One of the things I think that we’ve been really successful at is being…or why we’ve been successful is because we give you the opportunity to see a band that would play Bowery or Music Hall or Brooklyn Bowl or whatever and you’d have to usually pay $20 or $25 dollars to see them. We’re giving you a free show. We’re giving you these guys who you paid $25 to see eight months ago…you get to see them for free. And that’s a huge draw. That helps us draw people in. It’s helped us become what we are in a lot of ways, I think.
NYLP: So, whether it’s food, a venue, a musical act, it’s all about the atmosphere.
Belvy: Yeah. Activities, music, food…yeah, it’s all about the atmosphere. It’s all about creating this thing that’s unlike anything else. It’s not another cookie-cutter club, it’s not another cookie-cutter bar, it’s not a cookie-cutter restaurant, it’s not a cookie-cutter arcade. It’s all these different things, and it’s all under one roof, or one beach, or whatever. And with the beach, or whether it’s indoors at the Bazaar, if you don’t like the music, you can go down there and hang out on the beach, and you can go play volleyball. You can go to the other end of the beach and go to the shuffleboard courts. There’s options. Same with the Night Bazaar. You don’t like the music, you don’t like punk rock. Okay, that’s cool. Next week it’s acoustic singer-songwriters. The week after that, it’s hip-hop. After that, it’s EDM. But even if you’re there and you don’t like it, go downstairs and go play some video games. Go have a couple drinks and do your best Billy Joel imitation in the karaoke rooms.
The idea is to always give people so many different choices that, you know, people stay there. At the end of the day, we need people to stay there and to buy things from the vendors and to buy drinks and buy food. We need people to stay in your venue as long as possible, and one of the ways why people do that is you’re giving them all these things. You’re like “Oh wait! I didn’t…Ah! I want to play ping-pong! Let’s go play ping-pong!” “Oh crap! I didn’t know that!” And they’re like “Oh my god, there’s Buck Hunter? I used to love Buck Hunter! I gotta go play that!” Then they go back. “Oh wait, that band is playing at 10:00? They’re awesome! I saw them last year!” and then run upstairs. So it’s just always giving people just all these different cool options, because, you know, if you go to a show somewhere, then you’re at that show. You’re there, and there’s really not that much else going on other than maybe going to get a drink, but that’s it. So, we’re like, “You can see that, or you can do that, or you can go there.” It’s just having a lot of…it’s just giving people a ton of choices and a ton of things to do so they don’t get bored, so it’s always just kind of like “Wow!”
NYLP: So, how do people find out more about you? Jacob Riis Park? Night Bazaar?
Belvy: Go to our websites. www.riisparkbeachbazaar.com. www.brooklynbazaar.com. We are renovating the Brooklyn Bazaar website as we speak. Should be launching in a couple weeks, I think. The Riis Park Beach Bazaar website is alive and kicking. We have everything on there from the calendar of events, operating hours, how to get there, the different bus, train, bike, car options to get to the beach. So it’s going to be a busy summer for us.
NYLP: Belvy Klein, you’re doing some great stuff. Thank you for stepping onto the New York Launch Pod and sharing your time with us.
Belvy: Thank you, Hal Coopersmith, for having me.
NYLP: And if you want to learn more…
NYLP: Cheers. And if you want to learn more about the New York Launch Pod, you can visit www.nylaunchpod.com or follow us on social media @NYLaunchPod.SHARE THIS: