When Superstorm Sandy barreled through the New York City area in October 2012, it devastated many of the tunnels used by the city’s subway system, effectively cutting off Manhattan from its surrounding boroughs for more than a week. Now, four years later, the damage caused by that storm will force the Metropolitan Transit Authority to shut down the L train between Manhattan and Brooklyn — and its crosstown section in Manhattan — for 18 months beginning in 2019, causing front page headlines across the city.
But most importantly for the music industry, the L connects several of North Brooklyn’s creative and arts-loving communities with key venues on both sides of the river: Highline Ballroom, Irving Plaza and Webster Hall all sit within five blocks of 14th street in Manhattan; Brooklyn Bowl, Music Hall of Williamsburg, the Knitting Factory and Rough Trade are all within a short walk from the L line in Brooklyn. And those are just a handful of the clubs, bars, halls and theaters that cater to live music lovers that could be affected by the coming closure — not to mention the musicians that live in the neighborhoods.
“I’ll be curious to see which side of the river gets affected more,” says Heath Miller, vice president of concerts at Webster Hall, located on 11th street in Manhattan. “People from Manhattan will be less likely to go to Brooklyn than ever before. And I think for people in Brooklyn, it’ll be a bigger impact on the weekends than the weekdays, when people are still coming to Manhattan for work.”
For Webster Hall, which is located near Union Square and thus several other subway lines, the effect may not be as severe as it will be for venues in Williamsburg, many of which thrive due to their proximity to the L — and which have few other options in terms of trains. But Peter Shapiro, founder of Dayglo Ventures and owner of Brooklyn Bowl, says that as long as the L continues to service Brooklyn, cutting off the quickest route to Manhattan isn’t the worst thing in the world.
“If Brooklyn was on its own, it would be the fourth-biggest city in America,” Shapiro says, noting that the development around his venue’s North Williamsburg location — several residential high rises and large-scale hotels are scheduled to open before 2019 — have boosted the neighborhood. “I think we’re going to have a lot of people from Brooklyn who are not going to go to Manhattan, [and will be] looking to go out and see shows in Brooklyn. It’s just such a vibrant area. We’re established in such an institutional way… and maybe Brooklyn Bowl will benefit from that.”
While the Manhattan-Brooklyn connection affects concert-goers living in the city, Miller notes that it could also have an effect on people coming in from New Jersey, Westchester or Long Island for shows. But it could, too, have a demographic and developmental effect on the areas along the L, particularly with a nearly three-year heads up for Brooklynites working in Manhattan. While rents in Brooklyn may level off, it could dissuade potential new growth of the music scene — something that could benefit those who are already there.
“Maybe there won’t be a lot of new music venues opening right when this happens, people may want to wait a bit,” Shapiro says. “That’ll be helpful to the existing music venues in Brooklyn.”
Though much is still up in the air, there are some solid bets that can be placed as to how things will shake out. Venues off North Brooklyn’s JMZ train line (like Baby’s All Right, Bossa Nova Civic Club and Palisades) as well as their Manhattan counterparts in the Lower East Side (Rockwood Music Hall, Pianos, even the Bowery Ballroom) could all see more foot traffic. Musicians will likely be more put out than most, particularly those trying to cultivate a cross-borough fan base. And transportation costs for everyone will go up.
“Is it that we partner with a company to provide bus service from here to the L, sell a package or something like that?” Miller muses about what measures Webster Hall might take. “It’ll clearly be a blessing for Uber and Lyft and all those ride share services.”
For now, however, venue owners are setting their sights closer to home while taking a wait-and-see approach to determine what moves to make. “We will likely focus our marketing efforts a little more heavily in Brooklyn rather than Manhattan,” says Bob Reiter, general manager of Knitting Factory BK. “But I am optimistic that we can continue to be successful with the approach that has sustained us in New York for over 27 years.”