An Ode To Our Toxic And Beloved Canal: Gowanus Souvenir Shop Blends Local Whimsy, History, And Artistry

Gowanus Souvenir Shop
Photo via Gowanus Souvenir Shop

Bet you never thought there was a Gowanus Swim Club.

Ok, there isn’t. But you probably smirked at the thought. And now, friends and neighbors, you can own the swim club t-shirt. And that’s just the beginning.

Founders and owners Ute Zimmermann and Joel Beck opened the Gowanus Souvenir Shop (567 Union Street, between Nevins Street and 3rd Avenue – updated address) last month, and it successfully captures the local fascination with our beloved Superfund site that wends its way through the liminal space between Park Slope and Carroll Gardens.

Gowanus Souvenir Shop
Photo by Park Slope Stoop

“We can be as curious and interested in history as we’d like,” explains Beck. “The shop has fun, with an ironic twist.”

The shop sits in the same building previously inhabited by Proteus Gowanus, an artists’ collective that lasted for a decade until it decided to close its doors last June.

Gowanus Souvenir Shop
Photo via Gowanus Souvenir Shop

Gowanus Souvenir Shop serves as an amalgam of for-profit gift shop and supporter of local artists and businesses. In addition, the shop has a large, raw space that will serve as an art gallery, event space for local authors, a place to show films, as well as a rental space for special events.

“We want to keep the ghost of Gowanus here,” say Beck, as we pass by a small installation about the Kentile Floors’ fire-resistant tiles, whose iconic sign was taken down in 2014, much to the chagrin of many a Gowanus neighbor.

Gowanus Souvenir Shop
Photo by Park Slope Stoop

And it successfully does that. But in addition to the whimsy of the swim club t-shirts, postcards, sign model kits, Gowanus Slurp Maple Syrup, poison bottles, and a fantastic book collection, the shop also pays attention to local authors, artists, and organizations such as the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, which operates out of the same building.

Ute Zimmermann and Joel Beck of the Gowanus Souvenir Shop
Neighbors Ute Zimmermann and Joel Beck, founders and owners of Gowanus Souvenir Shop. (Photo by Donny Levit / Park Slope Stoop)

Zimmermann and Beck complement each other well. Zimmermann aptly introduced Beck to us as her “partner-in crime.” It makes a lot of sense — Beck is a former gallery owner who has a keen curative eye. Zimmermann formerly worked with Proteus Gowanus, performing organizational and logistical duties for the collective.

As far as future plans go, Beck and Zimmermann are cooking up intriguing programs which will feature a variety of projects — including an upcoming book launch on Sunday, December 5 by artist/photographer author Mikhail Levin and a horror movie poster launch party on Thursday, December 10.

Gowanus Souvenir Shop
Photo via Gowanus Souvenir Shop

Zimmermann tells us that the shop will certainly stay open until the end of the year. “It has been going so well, and we are thinking about ways to expand the shop and create artistic projects,” she says.

“The idea behind all this is to be both specific and expansive,” explains Beck.

Yes, there is definitely a bevy of delectable tchotchkes. If you have folks on your holiday gift list with the right sense of humor, you basically have one-stop shopping. But Zimmermann and Beck’s ideas are indeed expanding. In a year from now … probably sooner … we’re going to have a lot more to talk about.

Upcoming events include:

Mikael Levin: Some Signs Book Launch and Exhibition
Sunday, December 6, 3pm-6pm

Horror Movie Poster Launch Party
Thursday, December 10, 7pm-10pm

Gowanus Souvenir Shop, 567 Union Street, between Nevins Street and 3rd Avenue (updated address), is open Thursdays-Fridays from 3pm-7pm; and Saturdays-Sundays, 11pm-7pm. Check back here for future events. You may also purchase many items from the shop online.

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