Saturday, March 26, 2016

From Brooklyn Magazine: "The Rise and Fall of Smith Street" (and the FU money)

In Brooklyn Magazine's 3/22/16 The Rise and Fall of Smith Street, food writer Sarah Zorn addresses a glaring, if likely temporary, situation: Smith Street, once an inexpensive thoroughfare where chefs and indie businesspeople could stake a claim, has become so trendy and corporate that landlords are warehousing space and waiting for big spenders.

“It was a work site, one that neither the city nor the residents seemed in any hurry to fix,” trailblazing restaurateur Alan Harding recalled. “There was literally a big trench down the middle, hastily covered over by metal plates. There was a lot of scaffolding, and of the few retail businesses, many were fronted by full-on bulletproof glass. Because of a lack of interest, the remainder of the ground floor storefronts had been converted into apartments. Seriously, if you peeked behind the privacy plywood that had been put up on the windows, you could see hot plates and shower stalls.”

But Betty Stoltz of the South Brooklyn Development Corp. got landlords to make sure those apartments became stores, and the revival began. Since 2012, when Dassara movied in, owner Josh Kaplan, older businesses saw their long-term leases expire and rent has gone up: "Now there are national designer clothing brands with loss-leader spaces paying rents a small business like ours could never consider. An area code suddenly gains cachet and the ‘fuck you’ money comes in and the ecosystem gets totally thrown out of whack. The idea of establishing a sustainable business becomes beside the point.”

Beyond landlords warehousing space, the opening of Trader Joe’s and some other retailers have drawn traffic to parallel Court Street, once considered musty compared to Smith Street.

The entire article is well worth a read. Here's one trenchant comment:
The rot had already begun to set in when I first moved to the neighborhood ten years ago, a victim of its own popularity. It has been a very slow crawl to the death knell. I think this skirts the real issue: the changing demographics of the neighborhood. As more and more of the UES white collar class discovered they could buy a whole brownstone in hip, cool, trendy Brooklyn for the same price as a house and school taxes in Scarsdale, the retail sector began to chase this new money. In the end, Starbucks and Lucky Jeans will be all that is left standing precisely because that is what these people want – the familiarity, comfort and safety of the chain store and cookie cutter New York experience.
And here's some contrast:
As a happy oldster who remembers 1980s Smith Street, when it was crack vials, knifepoint robberies, and a few dying neighborhood social clubs, I just have to say that it was NEVER a high-value neighborhood real estate-wise. This article is correct that the kind of buildings and density just isn’t built in there. Sometimes you can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, even if your name IS Thor.
There was a sweet spot, however, when the street was safe and affordable.

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