A Glass Act: Bernie’s Glass & Mirror Shop


Craftsmanship is hardly a word that gets mentioned in today’s go, go, go kind of world. Instead, the words immediacy and disposable seem to be the trend all around us – from furniture, to architecture, to plain old stuff on the street. However, sometimes we are lucky enough to find people that hold on to skill, class, and artistry, and I believe Bed-Stuy is chock-full of those people. A prime example of a ‘keeper-of-craft’ is Jerome Gross of Bernie’s Glass & Mirror Shop on Fulton Street. Since his family opened its doors in 1954 (albeit Jerome was only about 8 years old at the time), Bernie’s Glass has been serving up heirloom quality to the community. Glaziers, someone who works with and installs glass, are one of those jobs that require highly-skilled craftsmen with years of apprenticeship experience under a master to be able to conduct. Jerome is one of these masters. 

Around the shop are hundreds of stories: the shelving and tables built by Jerome’s father in the fifties after immigrating to America; framed black and white photos of the family in the same exact shop with the German Shepard sitting happily on the work-table; and plenty of signs and wall hangings giving psychological snippets into the mind of a craftsman with almost 60 years of experience. The unique tools of the trade orderly placed through the shop are a testament to the irreplaceable skills needed to perform the job of glazier.

I got to walk around the shop with Jerome (known to everyone as Bernie, which is actually his father’s name and business namesake) as he started opening up at around 6am. “I am here seven days a week, usually pulling 12 hour days” he quips, pride in his voice. Jerome is extremely proud of his labyrinthian basement, too, a storehouse of new, used, and recycled materials, and I scurry after him trying to scribble my notes. “You smell that? You don’t smell anything do you? No mildew or stale air, right,” in that quintessential Brooklyn accent. His mind and mouth work faster than my pen and the busy man sternly says “try to keep up.”

I start out with my usual questions about a business: you know, size of the shop, employees, amount of customers, but he stops me in my tracks.”None of that is important, is it? It is about the relationship to the community and the type of service I bring,” correcting me like a concerned father. I don’t think I have ever met someone that is more intrinsically tied to his community than Jerome, his business just being the physical manifestation of a familial love for Bed-Stuy, bred into him by generations of both the good and bad times. “Ask me another question…”

In Europe, prior to World War II, Jerome’s family on both sides were also glaziers. Before the days of cheap and disposable, his grandfather, father, and uncles were repairing and patching hundreds-of-years old windows, born out of a pride for thrift, quality, and history. Bringing those skills to Bed-Stuy in the 1950’s, the family found a niche in full-service glass installation and repair. “I was actually never planning on taking over the business and becoming a glazier,” Jerome tells me as he begins working on a large sheet of mirrored glass, “I was planning on becoming a photographer. But when my father got sick and asked me for help … well you can never say no.”

Bernie’s Glass Shop provides everything from table-tops, showers, sunrooms, to windows and doors. We step outside onto Fulton Street so Jerome can point to a number of neighboring businesses he has built facades for. “No one does house calls anymore except me.” And he takes every size job, too. Small home services to large commercial storefronts, from hipster coffee shops to local bodegas. He starts to rattle off the names of other central Brooklyn glaziers that have closed-up business over the years, and explains how he manages to survive:

“I once sold a mirror to a blind man. What does a blind man want with a mirror, I thought to myself. But that doesn’t matter, he wanted a mirror. So I worked with him to get exactly what he wanted. I took his hand and held it over all of the details so that he could feel it like braille, and he loved it. I make sure that my customers get exactly what they need, the right product for the right situation. I always encourage my customers to think about the long-term application, I consider myself a trustworthy expert to help guide them through the process.”

As he shows me picture after picture of smiling customers, I’d say it is working for Jerome. And he is proud of his shop’s use of recycled materials, from the post-consumer and post-industrial glass and plexi and the acrylics canisters he collects and sends back to the manufacturer, to the rubber flooring he scavenged from a defunct playground garbage pile. “Sure, I painted the pig a bit, but this shop hasn’t changed much in 2 or 3 decades,” Jerome says, as he pats the glass shop table his father built back in the fifties.

Eccentric and unmistakable, Jerome is most definitely one of the bedrocks of Bed-Stuy. As we walked to the backroom, I got to find out more about his love of rebuilding classic cars and his past-life as a photographer: a multi-dimensional guy that still takes photo studies of the beautiful brownstones in the area, and the overflowing patriotism he has for America and its future potential. He even encouraged me to clasp on his camera-flash and step up onto a ladder so I could take some shots. “Every photographer needs to carry a flash and a tripod,” he tells me, and I start to blush as I pop back down the built-in flash on my camera. Jerome is as warm and caring as he is brusk and straight-forward, but his honor and respect for craftsmanship and customer service is hands-down what makes him and his business unique. In a time of rampant consumerism and waste, Jerome embodies an America which was synonymous with quality, value, and openness. If you are looking to apprentice under a master, Bernie’s Glass Shop is the place for you. It’s also a great place to get a glass window or bathroom mirror.

Bernie’s Glass Shop, 1554 Fulton Street on the corner of Albany Ave. 718-467-0649. Check him out on Yelp! or his website. Also check out this great piece on Bernie’s Glass Shop that WNYC did in February.

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Categories: Bed Stuy, Fulton Street, Small Business, Vintage & Antiques

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