Gowanus…with its legacy Native American name begins the meandering history of this iconic poster child of the industrial age: by turns a spectacle of waste or possibility, of desolation or hope, of scorn and admiration—forever both trash and treasure; a marshy tidal creek transformed into the fascinating, somehow still loved Super Fund Site that is today the Gowanus Canal, this most unlikely of newly designated tourist destinations in New York City.
Yet, these newly arrived tourists follow in the footsteps of over 400 years worth of sailors, tycoons, immigrants, longshoremen, pirates, smugglers, bootleggers and gangsters, scientists, bird watchers, abolitionists, prohibitionists, eco super criminals, artists, nature lovers, speculators, politicians, and even still the odd floating body, who have all been magically drawn into the canal’s tidal current. The canal’s lore of once pristine nature, Native American roots, early colonial enterprise, the American Revolution, the industrial revolution, seafaring and the mafia sets the stage for an encompassing lens for viewing ecological issues, industry, history and real estate speculation in Brooklyn, New York and America.
The Gowanus Souvenir Shop is dedicated to this complex story of the canal and offers souvenirs that riff on the many facets of the canal’s mystifying and troubling yet often humorous and darkly fascinating history. For sale are a mix of in-house produced classic souvenirs that run the gamut of T-shirts, beach balls, temporary tattoos, postcards, lapel pins, snow globes, and shot glasses to artistic editions created by high-quality local-area artists. Additionally, the store promotes the abundant economy of unusual makers in Gowanus by featuring a rotating collection of objects with a conceptual twist, from furniture and vases made from trash, perfume, custom neon signs, jewelry, to locally grown starter plants.
Prices range from 99¢ cents to $50 most typically, with special editions selling between $100 and $5,000. The notion is that the objects for sale can transcend the purely touristical into the realm of art, but at a tourist price and with the light(hearted)ness of a simple souvenir.
Located on Union Street, the objects for sale are blended with vitrines of curios and historical objects and artifacts, historical books and literature related to the canal, below a mural depicting the canal’s history, all to create a truly museum-like space that invites the visitor to linger and explore.
The result is part small town tourist stand, curio shop, antique books and map store rolled into one.