“I’m going to miss my bench.”
It’s 5:00pm on Friday and Martin Brewer is run off his feet in the Bed-Stuy record store he’s built a community around the last four-and-a-half years.
Inside is packed with customers, and outside, on his bright yellow bench, friends and neighbors have come to say goodbye and to sit and chat.
Last Saturday, Brewer’s landlord told him they had other plans for the space where he’s run Halsey & Lewis — at Halsey St. and Lewis Ave. — since 2017. He has to be out this weekend.
Despite the short notice, Brewer was determined to keep it positive. He said he had somewhat of a “handshake” deal with the property owner, and was grateful for the time he’d had.
“It’s their space, and I was happy to be here,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed it, and it seems like other people have enjoyed it as well.”
Halsey & Lewis posted a notice to its website this week announcing the sudden news. It sold books, records, crystals, bundles of Palo Santo and vintage curiosities, but owners had also recently held live music events and it was a space for artists and creatives to gather.
Halsey & Lewis helped distribute PPE during the pandemic, and it also started the initiative www.letsgetonthebus.org to take under served teens down to the Smithsonian’s NMAAH&C.
“Sadly, we are losing the space this weekend. Open everyday until 7:00pm, everything must go!” its notice said. Brewer said people had since come from far afield, including the Bronx , East Flatbush and East New York, to say goodbye.
For those wanting to support in a financial sense, Brewer and co-owner and partner Sonya Farrell have started a GoFundMe to help them relocate at short notice.
The GoFundMe explains that while the business had survived the pandemic, it couldn’t survive gentrification. Halsey & Lewis is reportedly set to be replaced with a pizza and wine bar.
By Friday evening, the GoFundMe had raised more than $22,000.
“The community outpouring has been tremendous and very heartfelt, and I feel very blessed to have been a part of this community,” Brewer said.
With the funds, Brewer and Farrell hope to be able to rent and open a space with a similar vibe, he said. They’ve been to a few viewings already, and hope to find something in Bed-Stuy that they can afford.
“We’d like to maybe get a bigger space and bring in small events, community think tanks, projector movie nights and other stuff where people are included and not excluded,” he said.
Brewer opened the store in Feb. 2017, after previously owning a similar shop of beautiful curiosities in Park Slope. The shop, Tangerine, ran in a pre-gentrified Park Slope for five years from 1997 to 2002, until the rents there got out of his range.
“I was on 5th Avenue and Third from 1997 to 2002,” he said. “This is not a new phenomenon… you know how it goes: it starts out gradually, and then it’s all of a sudden.”
After landing in Bed-Stuy, he’d found a supportive community of neighbors, and a steady stream of new friends to talk to on the yellow bench.
“I talk to a lot of people on that bench,” he said. “From the guy that grabs the cans, to neighbors that walk by every day. There’s some people who have never paid for a stick of Palo Santo or sage, it’s just like, ‘Yeah, I got you.’
“I’m trying to be of the people and for the people as much as I can. I’m not saying I’m that guy,” he laughed. “But I try.”
The record store is planning to go out with a DJ party this Sunday from 6:00-9:00pm. To support Brewer and Farrell in the next incarnation of Halsey & Lewis, check out their GoFundMe.
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