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From Sugar Barons to Shoppers: The Sweet Evolution of DUMBO's Empire Stores

Let's wind back the clock and immerse ourselves in the tale of the Empire Stores, an emblem of DUMBO, Brooklyn's transformative journey from industrial powerhouse to vibrant cultural hub.

You can hear more Brooklyn stories with Gesso’s self-guided New York audio walking tours, which you can experience at your own pace.

The tale of the Empire Stores began in 1869. Imagine a Brooklyn waterfront teeming with warehouses from DUMBO to Red Hook. A veritable cornucopia of goods—from tobacco to cow hides to soap—were stored and sold within their labyrinthine depths. Amidst these behemoths of commerce, the Empire Stores began its own story.

Fast-forward to the early 1900s. The warehouse, having established its place in the bustling commerce of the area, fell into the hands of the Arbuckle Brothers, magnates in coffee and sugar. After the Arbuckle Brothers sold the warehouse in 1945, it stood empty, like a forgotten monument, for decades. It wasn't until recent years that the warehouse saw a revival, a renaissance that mirrors the transformation of DUMBO itself.

Today, the Empire Stores is a sophisticated homage to its industrial past, functioning as a unique, curated shopping destination. A walk through its arches is like stepping into a time capsule, with the original brickwork and timber beams beautifully preserved. Inside, you'll find the chic Time Out Market and an exhibition space for the Brooklyn Historical Society.

Many more Brooklyn stories and New York City tours await. Discover more local history with our New York audio walking tours, and see which nearby New York City neighborhoods you want to explore next!


Gesso was created for urban explorers who find joy in life's hidden gems. Find audio tours on the Gesso app, available via the App Store or Google Play, and share your New York City adventures with us on Instagram.


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