For one snowy Sunday afternoon before Valentine’s Day, a spacious, Greenpoint warehouse was transformed into a shopping and social hub for sweethearts and sweetheart-wannabes.
The Valentine’s Market, the third annual fair held by Greenpointers.com, a Brooklyn-based blog, featured around 70 vendors on the first floor selling an array of artsy products for every taste and pocket: scented soaps wrapped in felt, grandma-knitted sweaters, handmade porcelain cups, glittering mermaid-dolls, and tiny thumb-size cookies filled with jam.
But on the second floor, things got spicier with a series of activities designed for those who have already been struck by Cupid’s arrows—and for those who are still waiting to come under his spell. At the market, love-seekers could get help composing hand-written valentines to be sent (via snail mail!) to their loved ones, or soul-mates, partners, and sometimes owners and their fuzzy pets, could pose for photos in a booth decorated with a big love sign framed by gold hearts. And star-crossed lovers could also try their luck at the astrologist booth, where doubtful or curious couples consulted the oracle to test their affinity for love.
“You don’t do these things often,” said Hedvig Astrom Kushner, 25, a Swedish-born art director in Manhattan who came to the fair with her husband. “Everything is digital now, so it means more to put yourself into something.” She meant what she said. Kushner and her husband impressed their fingerprints on two hand-made cards, which they said they will exchange on Valentine’s Day.
The love letter writing station, supervised by Brett Bara, founder of Greenpont-based Brooklyn Craft Company, offered up colorful inks, construction paper, cardboards, funny love-theme tapes, and a mailbox with plenty of stamps.
“It is fun, and it is personal,” said Jennifer Cohen, 24, from Brooklyn, who drew hearts and cats on a card she made for her mother. “It’s not like your buying something in the store. You are doing it yourself, so there is some meaning here,” Cohen said.
But the real attraction of the evening seemed to be the “speed friending” station, sort of like “speed dating without the pressure,” or so claimed the Greenpointer website. A table for six had been split into four sections, separated by white lace curtains. A social activity was planned for each section, as a sort of “warm-up” to break the ice: a record-player with old LPs so participants could listen to favorite songs, an iPad for live tweets, a free massage given by two professional masseurs, and a trip to the photo booth for a souvenir picture. Complete strangers had chance to talk for a couple of minutes, then rotate around the table to meet other participants.
They mingled with each other, sipped beers and laughed. Sometimes, the most extroverted ones “broke the rules” and raised the curtains, transforming the tête-à-tête meetings into a social blind date for four. Over the course of three rounds, approximately 20 people participated.
One young man, a 20-year-old student from NYU, who was a little embarrassed to admit it, said he came to meet a girl he has been talking to in an online dating chat room. She told him she would be at event, so he thought it was a good occasion to finally meet her.
“‘Why not show up, if she is there she is there, if not, I can still do the speed dating’,” he said. He didn’t spot the girl, but he was glad he came anyway. “I have met several other people, so that wasn’t bad,” he said, admitting that none of the conversations quite turned into a potential date. Not that he cared too much. “I had a good time, so that was a win for me,” he said.
Kyle Cunningham, a TV producer, had better luck, even thought he admitted he was not wild about everyone he met. “Not everybody can be your friend,” Cunningham said. “It is not it’s always going to click with everybody you meet.” But two encounters seemed promising. “We will continue to hang out later and maybe we’ll have a drink,” he said.
Some speed-friending participants complained that the speed-friending turnover was too quick and didn’t allow much time to really get to know anyone. “Making friends is difficult,” said Jesse Beller, a Greenpoint resident originally from Rochester, N.Y. “New York City is the place where we walk around with an emotional defense mechanism. It is difficult to break through.”
But like Cunningham, Beller enjoyed the game—and its unexpected benefits. His favorite speed-friending booth, however, was the massage, an event that he admits was the least conducive to actually conversing with a stranger. “When somebody came up in the middle of the conversation and started massaging me,” he said. “That was incredible.”