Friday, December 28, 2012

... on a visit to Etsy.

Earlier this year I spent a few days in New York.
I've been before - twice - and so even though I knew what to expect I was still... what? Amazed. Incredulous. Horrified. Overwhelmed. Delighted! Me and my bro and Ma each booked single cabin-like rooms at The Jane in the West Village, which I can recommend on the proviso that you're happy walking down the hall to the bathroom and aren't surprised that the tiny rooms really are as small as they are described. It has a grand cafe and a fabulous bar, and is full of history. The survivors from The Titanic stayed there upon their arrival in New York. 
From The Jane, it's a short walk to one of my favourite New York places; The High Line, an old elevated railway that's been converted to a wildly-planted and beautiful public space. A gentle ramble from end-to-end early on a drizzly morning would take you about an hour, and you might run into an on-location filming of CSI: New York like I did.

This time, though, one day was a little different, because I'd Made An Appointment.

I don't really know why I wanted to go and visit Etsy HQ in Brooklyn. What was I expecting to see? An office from which a website is run? Does anyone visit eBay!? I'd emailed Etsy some weeks before, enquiring whether it might be possible, and was delighted to receive a reply; that yes, they welcome pre-arranged visits so long as the visit can coincide with a non-busy time for them. Someone would be available to show me around. I later found I'm not the only one... they get visits from Etsy sellers from all over the world who are curious about the home of this thing that has become a big part of their lives.

So, I rather nervously took the subway over to Brooklyn, where the Etsy offices occupy several floors of an old warehouse in Dumbo, next to the Manhattan Bridge. It was hard to find. I mean, I found the address okay, but when I entered the foyer of the building I was faced with the type of lift that you need a security pass to use, and what's more, there was no tenant directory to be seen. Thankfully an Etsy person came along and took me up - lucky, as you also needed a pass to get into the curiously-unsigned reception area. No drop-in visitors for them!

A lovely girl called Nicole had been teed up to show me around. I really wish I'd taken some photos but I didn't because I was too engrossed in trying to take everything in. The airconditioning ducts yarn-bombed with miles of knitting. The desks, each unique and handmade - some with drawers, some with nooks. The huge industrial felt room-divider that all the staff had helped make, which was being fiddled with by their 'in-house craftsman'. They have an in-house craftsman! No partitions and, get this! No phones on desks. If someone wants to make/take a call then they go into a quirkily-furnished booth at the edge of the open-plan spaces. There was a conference area hung with intricate quilts, and the walls were festooned with handmade things and artworks commissioned from Etsy sellers. Nicole told me that new employees are given $100 to spend on Etsy to furnish their desks. There was a large interesting-looking kitchen, and a plant-filled eating area looking out onto the Manhattan Bridge. All food scraps and compostable servingware are collected and every so often someone takes a load down to the local composting station using a purpose-built bicycle. They serve communal meals often which, Nicole said, were a great way to meet the other staff working in the building - I think she said there were over 300 of them now. In the IT section I was introduced to a fellow Australian, Marcus, who works as a programmer, I believe. There was a large bank of screens covered in realtime graphs; it reminded me of a stock exchange. Marcus said that any time Etsy 'breaks' it all goes red, "... but that doesn't happen very often!" he said. Almost every person who we passed looked up and gave me a smile or a comment. I was made to feel very welcome, and I came away from there clutching a little box full of Etsy goodies and feeling like I was part of something quite special indeed.

Afterwards I walked back to Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge - the steps up onto the walkway are just a couple of short blocks from Etsy HQ.
So. As far as 'good things to do on a visit to New York' are concerned, I've just about crossed everything off my list, at least for now. I guess that's the best thing about New York. There's always going to be something new or undiscovered!

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