Solomon Berk doesn’t really consider himself a pioneer, just a business owner in search of more space. After 15 years in a third-floor office near Manhattan’s famous diamond district, he is moving his First Class Imports to a new frontier of sorts, across the river to Brooklyn. Specifically, his firm is building at a 25,000-square-foot location, which is more than eight times the size of its current space, within the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
The Navy Yard was one of the nation’s most famous military installations until it was shuttered in 1966. Recently, it has experienced a rebirth as a city-owned waterfront industrial complex with stunning views of the Manhattan skyline.
So why would a company move from the center of it all for jewelry in New York to the equivalent of a gated community in Brooklyn? Berk says with a larger space, his company will be able to expand dramatically, increase the number of lines it offers, and add to its workforce. The business is made up of basic and high-end gold jewelry as well as diamond and precious-stone jewelry, including the company’s own designs contracted out to manufacturers.
But it’s not all about space. Berk says while the diamond district is secure, the Navy Yard offers even more protection since it is gated and guarded 24 hours a day. The Navy Yard is also conveniently located. You don’t have to drive far to find bridges and tunnels to Manhattan, or the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway leading to both Kennedy and LaGuardia airports. This is key for a company with mostly out-of-town customers and staff who travel frequently.
Best of all for Berk, the Navy Yard is a short hop from his own home in Brooklyn. “Every day with traffic it takes us up to an hour to get here,” Berk says about his commute to and from his office in Manhattan. His new commute will take just five to 10 minutes and offer him the tranquility of avoiding the infamous New York City rush-hour traffic.
Several other jewelry importers and designers have also sailed into the Navy Yard with their business. They are among more than 200 other firms from various industries that have dropped anchor there, including construction, computer and office supplies and promotions outfits, and even a movie studio. Steiner Studios is a $118 million film-and-television complex, where the movie version of the hit Broadway musical The Producers is currently being shot.
But leaders in Manhattan’s diamond district don’t believe their ship is sinking. Terrence Clark, executive director of the 47th Street Business Improvement District, says he is unaware of any exodus from the district. “I would’ve heard about something like that,” he says. But the head of the Brooklyn Economic Development Corp., Joan Bartolomeo, says a number of wholesale businesses with little need for retail storefront space are looking to escape Manhattan’s skyrocketing rents. “You are at the mercy of a runaway real-estate market if renting space in Manhattan,” Bartolomeo says, adding that there is more opportunity for property ownership in Brooklyn.