Enter Jeff Stirewalt. This New Yorker has lived in Brooklyn his whole life and has turned his passion for the neighbourhood into a career, by helping visitors unlock its secrets, history and charms.
I am a lifelong Brooklyn resident. After finishing university I combined my business education with my passion for Brooklyn to create my business providing sightseeing tours.
How did you make the transition to becoming a tour guide?
I enjoyed showing people around town and decided to make a career of it.
What does a typical day look like for you?
A typical day for me involves meeting new people from around the world and hanging out in some of my favourite cool neighbourhoods.
The goal of my guiding is to deliver to the clients a strong vivid sense of Brooklyn: the incredibly creative trendy place it is today; why it’s so popular and sought-after; and the deep rich history which moulded and shaped it into what GQ magazine considers the ‘coolest city on the planet.’
What is the best part of your job?
There is a great, special feeling at the end of an excursion when the clients express how much they have taken a liking to Brooklyn, and how they were pleasantly surprised by what they saw and experienced here.
What’s the most bizarre experience you’ve had on a guided tour?
One time at Coney Island, the birthplace of the American amusement park, I had a large group so I was using a microphone to amplify my voice for them all to hear. We were standing near a go-cart track, where there was an attendant using a microphone to make announcements. As I was speaking, I heard the volume of his microphone increase. It began to intrude on my tour. So I raised my own volume level so the group could hear me over him. What does he do? Raises his volume again! I countered again, and then he did. Before you know it we both have our volumes at the highest and are speaking as loudly as we can! There was no option for us to move, because we were in a special place which is where what was considered the greatest amusement park of all time once stood.
All the time! I get folks who have lived in Manhattan for decades but have never really set foot in Brooklyn. I get retirees who lived in Brooklyn as children and are full of animated stories from their old neighborhoods. They’re astounded by how these areas have changed - particularly at the masses of young people who have come and now call Brooklyn their home.
Are there any aspects of your job that you aren’t that keen on?
Brooklyn’s booming renaissance comes with [an] increasing cost of living, particularly for housing. Unfortunately this has led to many poorer folks who have lived in neighborhoods for decades being pushed out in favor of higher-paying newcomers. This is a less pleasant aspect that I must include when painting a picture to clients about Brooklyn today.
What do you believe are the benefits of hiring a guide?
A tour guide is a local who knows the place like the back of his or her hand and is bursting with info that can only be acquired through years or a lifetime of immersing themselves there. This knowledge, orientation and experience means clients are getting the very best a place has to offer – which they have little chance of doing on their own. This is especially valuable if they have limited time and want to spend it getting a feel for the heart and nature of a place; learning about everything that makes it special and seeing/visiting its top destinations.
At least 1 in 7 Americans can trace roots to Brooklyn. On its own Brooklyn would be the 4th largest city in the USA. Air conditioning was invented in Brooklyn. Modern chewing gum was invented in Brooklyn. This place that once contained the wealthiest census tract in America is now considered to be a world leader in contemporary urban culture, lifestyle and youth activity.
If you want to know more, come down to Brooklyn to experience it for yourself!
In your view, what makes a good tour guide?
A good tour guide is someone who bears deep passion for, and knowledge of, their environment and can project this sentiment to others.
Have you got any tips for people who are interested in booking a guide, but aren’t too sure what to look for?
Sure. Look for someone who seems like they know the place and [is] eager to accommodate!
To get a taste of what the Brooklyn tour consists of, check out this short video.