The New Face of 21st-Century Brooklyn

After a fire demolished the original structure, Empire Stores was rebuilt in the late 1860s and remains one of the last cargo warehouses lining the East River waterfront to inspire Brooklyn’s historical nickname “The Walled City.”

The Many Lives of Empire Stores

In the first half of the 20th century, Empire Stores was owned by coffee industry pioneer Arbuckle Bros. and used as a storage warehouse before it was sold and left abandoned for decades.

As Brooklyn evolved from its industrial past to its place as the hippest borough in the world, Empire Stores was finally restored to the stunning, modern-day hotbed of culture, commerce, and gastronomy that it is today.

This timeline was developed in partnership with Brooklyn Historical Society DUMBO. Located on the 2nd floor of the Empire Stores building, Brooklyn Historical Society DUMBO is home to the exhibition and multimedia experience, Waterfront, that brings to life the vibrant history of Brooklyn’s coastline through stories of workers, artists, industries, activists, families, neighborhoods, and ecosystems.

Learn more about Brooklyn Historical Society at www.brooklynhistory.org.

1869

After the original warehouse burned down, Empire Stores is constructed by the Manhattan-based firm Nesmith & Sons. Sixteen years later, architect Thomas Stone makes additions to the site.

Empire Stores, 1890
Joseph Hall
V1991.90.9.1
Brooklyn Historical Society

1901

The New York Dock Company acquires Empire Stores after purchasing two and a half miles of industrial waterfront from Red Hook to the Brooklyn Bridge in the largest foreclosure sale in Brooklyn’s history.

Dock Workers, Brooklyn, 1924
V1973.5.917
Brooklyn Historical Society

The Early 1900s

Coffee magnates John and Charles Arbuckle purchase Empire Stores as part of their 11-block coffee and sugar complex. The building serves as a storage facility for unroasted coffee beans for Yuban Coffee, a subsidiary of Arbuckle Bros.

Ariosa Coffee, 1880s
Brooklyn Ephemera Collection (ARC.272)
Brooklyn Historical Society

1920

Arbuckle Bros. extends the company’s private rail line—the Jay Street Connecting Railroad (JSC)—to include Empire Stores. Today, remains of the abandoned freight tracks still run along Dumbo’s Belgian-blocked streets, a reminder of the neighborhood’s industrial past.

Freight trains at the New York Dock Company docks, circa 1920
V1973.5.878
Brooklyn Historical Society

1945

Arbuckle Bros. sells Empire Stores, and the warehouse sits vacant for most of the second half of the 20th century.

Warehouse at Water Street and Dock Street, May 22, 1936
Berenice Abbott
V1976.2.286
Brooklyn Historical Society

1977

The New York Landmarks Preservation Commission designates Fulton Ferry as a historic district, protecting Empire Stores from demolition.

Site of Empire Stores, DUMBO, 1968
Dwight B. Demeritt Jr.
V1973.5.909
Brooklyn Historical Society

2013

After years of failed attempts to revitalize the deteriorating warehouse, Brooklyn Bridge Park and developers Midtown Equities and HK Organization announce plans for an adaptive reuse of Empire Stores. “All across the waterfront, we are reclaiming and renewing areas that have long been abandoned or neglected, and Empire Stores and the Tobacco Warehouse are the latest examples of that work,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the time.

2017

Empire Stores opens to the public with 360,000 square feet of restaurant, retail, office, and event space. The building’s historic charm is preserved with original architectural details like the iconic brick masonry and iron-shuttered façade, schist stonewalling, and, as a nod to its heritage, coffee chutes, and hoisting wheels.