Is the arena food lineup a lesson for Coney Island retail? Maybe, but arena's a premium product, and the nearby malls also suggest a comparison
In the “better” column you can count the food concessions. This is the rare arena that has rejected chain franchises in favor of local institutions, drawn from the rich food culture around the borough. Here, you can get barbecue from Williamsburg’s Fatty ’Cue; Cuban sandwiches from Fort Greene’s Habana Outpost; pizza from Gravesend’s Spumoni Gardens; and, in an inspired old-school-new-school mashup, a confection called a concrete that combines Junior’s black-and-white cookies with ice cream from Blue Marble.If it has been "de-homogenizing the slickly packaged experience of sports and concerts," it has done so by placing all the purveyors under the banner of Levy Restaurants.
Not all the food is to die for, but it’s for the most part a damn sight better than the stuff you get at your average sporting event.
The Coney example
The article goes on to point out that franchises are moving in to Surf Avenue in Coney Island, and suggests that the arena shows "that a strong hometown identity is, in the end, good for business."
I think that's a bit of a category error. My comment:
Note that the developer of the Barclays Center, Forest City Ratner, has no qualms about renting to national chains--Buffalo Wild Wings, Cold Stone Creamery, Applebee's, McDonald's, etc.--across the street at its Atlantic Terminal mall.Another difference, which I didn't mention, is that Coney has had decades to evolve, while the Barclays Center simply arrived, and aimed to "soften" its potentially alienating presence as much as possible.
The difference, I believe, is that the Barclays Center is being pitched as a premium product, while the mall is aimed at hoi polloi.
However much such local food purveyors represent a welcome trend, it's also part of a slick and sometimes questionable effort to exploit "Brooklyn," as I've written.
Also, at the arena, those seeking beer find much more Budweiser than anything else; that's because Bud paid for such prominence.
Maybe, though, Coney landlords are learning. In her Amusing the Zillion blog, which broke the first story about the Coney retail plans, Tricia Vita reports that Thor Equities next summer will offer reduced rents at one building to local Brooklyn merchants.
The biggest surprise of the press release was what Thor CEO Joe Sitt had to say about chains vs local businesses... “While it is wonderful that national chains are now coming to Coney, providing needed jobs and year-round revenue to the community, we must always remember the history of this iconic neighborhood.” Has Sitt, who was reviled in 2008 as the Grinch who stole Coney Island for locking out small business owners on Christmas Eve, evolved into a Santa? Hey, we hope so. Only time and the new building’s tenants will tell.Unlike the Barclays Center, Coney Island--at least since the subway arrived--has been the people's playground. So small, local businesses have been key to the identity, and some are still there--and perhaps more. For decades, though, they haven't offered a premium product.