Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy Snowy New Year

I love Franklin Ave . . . because I can wake up on December 31st to the thumping bass and piercing off-beat guitar strokes of reggae (courtesy of the guys who build car stereos on Dean just off Franklin), and then look out my window and see this. See you in 2010.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Calling All Crown Heights Artists

("Crow Hill, Brooklyn" by Charles Lewis Fussell, Oil on Canvas, 1890, Schwarz Gallery, Philadelphia)

You don't have to paint the Crow Hill landscape, as 19th century American painter Charles Lewis Fussell did (here's another of his Crown Heights works), to enter your work in the inaugural Breukelen Coffee House Art Show, but it definitely helps if you're working locally and your creations consider the borough in some way. Franklin Avenue artist Candice Chetta is curating, and you can find submission information on her website and Craigslist. The opening will take place on Friday, February 5th at 8PM, and the BCH plans to host regular shows on a 3-month rotation, joining the FP Reading Series (January event info up now) on the the Franklin Avenue cultural calendar.

In other Avenue art news, Five Myles has the work of Haitian artist Engles on show through January 10th.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays!

I Love Franklin Ave will be on hiatus until Tuesday.
Enjoy the holiday weekend!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

New Year's Resolution: Become a Local Leader

If you're looking for a worthwhile endeavor to get the next decade off to a great start, spend the last days of December completing this application. The Crown Heights Community Mediation Center will be offering a Leadership Training Institute starting in January that will train participants in leadership and community-building and connect them to the wider community. The course is a 25-hour commitment in late afternoons and evenings, definitely manageable for students/freelancers but possible even for those with a full-time job. The cohort of trainees will work together on a local initiative, and will doubtless be full of fascinating people.

I talk about ways to build community in the nabe, both with fellow locals and on this blog, but this is a chance to actually take some action. They're accepting applications until the end of the month.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Maiman's Pharmacy

Maiman's Pharmacy is one of my favorite Franklin Avenue throwbacks, with its original neon signs glowing proudly on the corner of Eastern Parkway. The shop opened the mid-1950s, and was family-owned for 50 years before being sold to the current owners. One of the sons of the original owners is a frequent poster on historical posts about the neighborhood. If you have the time, scroll through the hundreds of comments on this CityNoise about Eastern Parkway for a great perspective on the Franklin Avenue area in the 1950s.

I also enjoyed this Flickr photo of the pharmacy with a dusting of snow.

Thinking about development on Franklin and Nostrand

Nostrand Park ran a great post today discussing and comparing the potential for commercial development on Nostrand and Franklin Avenues, something I've also tried to cover in two recent posts. I think they covered almost all of their bases, but that didn't stop me from writing a long response, a few pieces of which I'll recap here. The obvious ones are local demand on the part of new arrivals, easy transit access, and proximity to the wealthier areas to the west, but two others that struck me thinking about this tonight:

1. Franklin is actually pretty well-positioned for some spillover/drop-in traffic from the Heart of Brooklyn tourist attractions, including the Brooklyn Museum, Botanic Garden, and Prospect Park, especially since the closest 4 stop is right here. This works in two ways, the incidental and deliberate. Last summer, I sent four French tourists to Homage when they asked where they could find an American burger. As it turned out, they had come out on the 4 train to the Museum. Traffic from sources like them might be rare, but as word gets out about local establishments, people will also make a day of coming to visit the Museum or the Botanic Garden. Just think about how packed Franklin Park is on First Saturdays.

2. Franklin, measured storefront to storefront, actually has, on average, more sidewalk space (about 5-6 meters on each side) than road (about 10-10.5 meters across). Classon is similarly proportioned (as is Smith Street, though both the sidewalks and roadway are even smaller over there). By comparison, both Rogers and Nostrand are equally wide as Franklin in total (21-22 meters) but devote slightly more of their space to car traffic (12-12.5 meters) and, subsequently, less to pedestrian traffic. The numerical differences may seem slight, but phrased another way, Franklin has 20% more sidewalk than Nostrand. Along with bike lanes and bike-traffic road markings and Franklin's status as a rather minor thoroughfare if you're trying to actually get anywhere (the whole street is only 2.5 miles long), these ratios contribute to a more pedestrian-friendly Avenue.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Since 1895 . . .

I was walking up in Bed-Stuy today (the lady had to swing by the Bed-Stuy Y) and took some photos of the home of FDNY Engine Company 235, formerly part of the Brooklyn Fire Department. Founded in 1895, the company still occupies its original firehouse on Monroe just west of Nostrand, right across from the apartment building with the key-lime trim.

There are some really beautiful buildings in the Bed-Stuy/North Crown Heights zone around the Nostrand Avenue A Stop, many of which were discussed in the "Walkabout with Montrose" series on Brownstoner.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


The Budweiser/Nassau Brewery complex looked lovely with a fresh coat of snow this morning, which inspired me to take a few quick camera-phone shots of the snowed-in Avenue.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Winter Arrives

It's snowing! Get in the spirit and grab a Christmas tree at Natty Garden on Washington and Dean (this is for CH Quarters, who asked about finding trees nearby a week ago).

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Storefronts and Gentrification

Earlier this week, a friend in graduate school asked me to help him with a project for a spatial anthropology class. The task was essentially to complete a photo-ethnography, 6-10 frames that captured some aspect of the interaction between humans and their environment. Unsurprisingly, I chose Franklin Avenue.

Here's the blurb I wrote him, to serve as an abstract for the overlong post below:

"The shots were inspired by this article ( and the recent attempt at commercial rent control that Bloomberg and the real estate interests squashed ( What I was interested in was what the storefronts in my neighborhood reveal about the community--who the patrons are, what kind of commerce they attract, who the owners are, etc. What you see is a remarkably heterogeneous mix--the stores are black, white, and latino-owned, and while they tend to typify a "rough" or "edgy" area, they include some more upscale spots (including a fashion boutique and coffee shops). A fair number of storefronts are vacant, and some have even been bricked-over and turned into residences, evidence of lackluster retail sales over an extended period of time.

In the bigger picture, the neighborhood is definitely in the midst of gentrification/revitalization, but the process has been slower than in other boom-zones like Williamsburg, and I think the rate has made for a more hodge-podge, diversity-friendly process (I don't think a lot of people have been displaced, yet). Is this an area that needs commercial rent control? I don't think so at the moment, but at the same time, the vacant store you see used to be that great jerk-chicken joint, and I'd put good money down that it won't be replaced with a similar establishment. Especially given NYC's stringent residential rent-controls, I think commercial change, in this case, can be both a driver and reflection of neighborhood change. On the one hand, it seems unlikely that people would start leaving just because a jerk chicken place went caput. On the other hand, it isn't residential pressure that's going to force people out (rent control can stave off much of that), but changes in the neighborhood that make them feel less welcome. A store goes, the community that patronized it loses a node of contact and is weakened, and if this happens enough times, the desire to stay put dissipates as people seek greener pastures or friendlier faces."

I originally planned to pick a more narrow topic--storefront churches, perhaps, or bodegas--but the City Council fight over a proposed commercial rent control plan was fresh in my mind, as was this article on gentrification and "the displacement myth" from New York Magazine. The article cites findings from Lance Freeman's 2004 book There Goes the 'Hood, which looked at gentrification and displacement in Harlem and Clinton Hill. Freeman found that, at least in the short term, "poor residents and those without a college education were actually less likely to move if they resided in gentrifying neighborhoods." An interesting point, though given rent control and the transient nature of the typical gentrifyers--single 20-somethings with high rates of mobility--it's not a terribly surprising finding. The more interesting question (perhaps Freeman answers it, I haven't read the book) is whether these residents are more or less likely to move once a neighborhood starts gentrifying than they were before change arrived.

But the point remains--even as buildings are sold and landlords try their damnedest to get rid of rent-control tenants, a measure of residential stability is written into New York City's laws. However, another finding of Freeman's book, one not cited by NY Mag, was that despite the tangible benefits that gentrification brings (reduced crime, cleaner streets, better local retail), a profound cynicism about change and its agents (city government, private enterprises, and white folks) persists among longtime residents. This cynicism is often attributed to the disenfranchisement that displacement and harassment by landlords and law enforcement produce, but I'd like to offer an addition cause--the disappearance of local commercial institutions which serve as nodes of community interaction. Councilman Jackson's attempt to create a system of commercial rent controls was framed as a way to protect "mom and pop" stores from displacement by rising rents in gentrifying communities, but he could go a step farther and argue that some form of commercial rent control might also be a way to protect and stabilize these communities for their residents.

Consider Franklin as an example. As I wrote about a month ago, the Avenue has added 14 shops, (I only listed 13--forgot Mazon's) a CSA, and a Flea Market since I moved here in August of 2008, many of which are, to some extent, symbols of gentrification/revitalization (enough so that the NY Times came out and wrote an article). That said, retail on Franklin Avenue at this particular moment is, in one sense, about as diverse as any in Brooklyn. There are places you'd find in Park Slope or Cobble Hill (Nairobi's Knapsack, About Time, the coffee shops) as well as bodegas and storefront churches that resemble those in East New York or Brownsville. There are places owned by people of all races serving all sorts of needs, from 24-hour laundromats to boutique clothing and Indian food. There's a significant concentration of businesses, particularly between Eastern and Park, but there are also plenty of vacant storefronts and even those that were bricked up and turned into residential units at some point during the neighborhood's atrophy in the 1980s.

Many of these stores serve a wide variety of North Crown Heights residents, but there are also those that serve as hubs for particular communities. Restaurants and bars including Kelso, Liza Sports Club, and Siempre Amigos, anchor New York City's largest Panamanian community, while similar spots (B&B, 3Ds, JamRock Kitchen) cater to migrants from the English-speaking Caribbean. 95 South, right around the corner from Franklin Park, attracts an almost exclusively African-American clientele (this was the topic of some chatter on Brooklynian a while back). There's not a lot of crossover at some of these spots, but that doesn't mean they don't enrich the neighborhood--laments were long and loud when The Spice is Right disappeared a few weeks back. Many longtime locals have expressed their delight at the pace of change (as did Raphael, the co-owner of Nairobi's Knapsack, when he saw me taking photos of his place), but others have expressed their displeasure, often alluding to people "trying to turn this place into Park Slope or Manhattan," as one person put it to me.

I swear there's a point in here somewhere, and this is it: Franklin is in flux. The current commercial diversity on the Avenue, serving several different economic and cultural communities, may or may not hold, and if retail here does take off, it is inevitable that the stores that anchor some communities will be pushed out. Residents may be protected by rent control, but if American Apparel one day replaces Kelso, it wouldn't be surprising to learn that the Panamanian folks followed their restaurant to wherever it re-opened. When I wrote that post about Franklin's retail boom a month ago, I was able to skirt this issue because not a single shop had yet been displaced. I don't know what happened to The Spice is Right, but it's possible that they were victims of a rapid rise in commercial real estate prices on Franklin. The day I stopped to take a photo of their vacant storefront, a realtor had asked if I was looking for property in the area and put a card into my hand before I could put the camera away.

Is commercial rent control a way to stabilize lower-income communities threatened by gentrification, or would it be a dead weight that sinks the kind of creative, entrepreneurial boom that has blossomed on Franklin (in the midst of a recession, no less) in the last 18 months? I don't know, and the loss of one (albeit, one excellent) jerk-chicken joint is not enough evidence to work with (and maybe it will be replaced with something spectacular, who knows?). Almost everyone I talk to, locals and newbies alike, loves the direction the neighborhood is taking, and I'm with them, but we're still at the beginning of what could become a more contentious process as storefronts and apartments fill up. I can't think of a way to conclude this ramble, so I'll cop out, and kick it to the readers--any thoughts?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

All Living Things Have Shoulders

Dutch Boy Burgers, the latest venture from Franklin Park's Matt Roff, pulled down the blue tarp and revelaed its facade earlier this week. Soon, you'll be able to enjoy the reading series with a juicy burger in hand!

Last night's Reading Series featured four poets from divergent schools that kept things interesting. D.W. Lichtenberg (who endorsed the reading on this very blog--clearly a man in the know) opened by pacing the length of the bar reading pithy selections from his new collection, The Ancient Book of Hip, in a nasal, staccato monotone that elicited laughter and applause. He was followed by Columbia MFA student Ethan Hon, who kept his body behind the podium but ranged far and wade with his long, free-form verse. After the break, Rebecca Keith read poems that meditated on distance and travel, including a great set of pieces inspired by errant postcards that arrived at her Greenpoint apartment.

In a rare turn of events, it was the night's headliner, Nick Flynn, who provided the local connection. Reading from his new memoir, The Ticking is the Bomb, Flynn reminisced about riding the subway to the end of the line at Utica and then paying a dollar to gypsy van cabs that would take him along the avenue to the schools where he worked as a writing tutor, training teachers. Part of the Columbia Teacher's College Writing Project, Flynn's days in NYC schools provided a series of beautifully-crafted anecdotes about the way writing allowed students to investigate their own self-worth, and included an hysterical story hinging on his discovery of a discarded student assignment bearing only the words "All Living Things Have Shoulders" (you had to be there).

Another great night from Penina--swing by on January 11th for short fiction and surprise guests!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Poetry at the Reading Series Tomorrow Night!

Don't miss the latest installment of the ever-popular Franklin Park Reading Series tomorrow night, which earned it's second mention in Time Out New York (as well as a nod in the Daily News) with a stellar lineup of poets. Congrats to organizer Penina Roth, who has built the event into a fixture of the Brooklyn literary calendar.

The complete rundown on the readers is below - see you at 8PM on Monday for drinks and poetry.

NICK FLYNN’s memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City (2004), won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award, was shortlisted for France’s Prix Femina, and has been translated into 13 languages. He is also the author of two books of poetry, Some Ether (2000) and Blind Huber (2002), for which he received fellowships from, among other organizations, the Guggenheim Foundation and the Library of Congress. His poems, essays and non-fiction have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and The New York Times Book Review and have been featured on National Public Radio’s “This American Life.” His film credits include “field poet” and artistic collaborator on the film Darwin’s Nightmare, which was nominated for an Academy Award for best feature documentary in 2006. He teaches at the University of Houston one semester a year. His latest memoir, The Ticking Is the Bomb, will be released in January.

REBECCA KEITH's poems and essays have appeared most recently in Best New Poets, 2009, The Laurel Review, and The Millions. She has received honors from the Atlantic Monthly and BOMB magazine, was a finalist for the 2008 Laurel Review/GreenTower Press Midwest Chapbook Series Award and has twice been a poetry finalist for the Salem College Center for Women Writers International Literary Awards. She holds an MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College and is a founder and curator of Mixer reading series in New York City. She also sings and plays guitar and keyboards in the Roulettes and other projects.

D.W. LICHTENBERG, a 24-year-old San Francisco resident, is a writer, filmmaker, caffeine addict, and obsessive cleaner. His new poetry collection, The Ancient Book of Hip, is an exploration of the phenomenon of hip and has just won the 2009 Michael Rubin Book Award. He is also the recipient of the 2009 Wilner Award in the Short Story. His filmography can be found on IMDB, and he attended NYU, where he obtained a BFA in Film.

ETHAN J. HON will receive his MFA from Columbia University in 2010. His poems and prose have appeared in Boston Review, Tin House, and Cannibal. Along with Emily Wolahan, he is co-founding editor of JERRY: A Magazine. The first issue is available online at

SantaCon Brooklyn (and a Chanukah Party)

Franklin Park was one of the 5 starting locations for SantaCon NYC this year. The bar is really getting into the holiday spirit this year, hosting hundreds of red-and-white revelers yesterday and a Chanukah Party today at 4pm.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Holiday Market on Franklin Today!

Pour Gourmet and Planet Ert are braving the weather out at Franklin and Sterling to hawk their excellent wares, and they'll be joined by some other vendors soon. Step out into the holiday season and swing by!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I Love Franklin Avenue Gets a Mascot

The lady and I were convinced to adopt a kitten from a stray's litter today. We named him Franklin (Frank for short).

Last Minute: Swap Meet to Benefit NYFA Current in Brooklyn Today

There's more holiday not-exactly-shopping fun to be had in Brooklyn tonight at the New York Foundation for the Arts Swap Meet in DUMBO. Basically, you bring your old stuff and barter it around for new stuff, sort of like trading your strawberry pop-tarts for your best friend's oreos back in the elementary school cafeteria. Given the cool crowd NYFA attracts, there'll definitely be some fun stuff to be had.

It costs $5 to participate, but it all goes towards supporting NYFA Current, the Foundation's Art Magazine. Their current issue has a nice article on Brooklyn's own Laundromat Project if you need a reason to go.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

All Your Holiday Needs on Franklin - Flea Market this Saturday

It's that time of year, and if the weather won't co-operate with fluffy snow, local merchants are happy to oblige with seasonal items and great gift ideas. Get out and get your shopping done on Franklin Avenue--you'll be rewarded with good deals and friendly faces (instead of the anonymous crush of insanity that is Manhattan this time of year), and you'll be keeping our local merchants in business for another year. Holiday shopping accounts for a huge chunk of yearly retail profits, so make sure you spread the wealth where you live.

- Nam's has a great display of seasonal evergreen displays (pictured), and they're a steal! I surprised the lady with an $8 potted Christmas tree, and they also have poinsettias, wreaths, and clippings. Step inside to grab a bottle of their newest item, fancy-schmancy beer, for the holiday party (corked Belgian-imitation ones are always fun).

- The trio of coffee-shop/cafes has something for everybody. Pulp and Bean (stop in and taste their soups today if you're chilly--the split pea is great) will stock assortments from Brooklyn's own Tumbador Chocloates in Sunset Park. The Breukelen Coffee House continues to offer breads, pies, and cakes mad to order from Balthazar along with their great lineup of homemade vegan desserts, and you get get Brooklyn-made breads and sumptuous sweet things down the street at Lily & Fig.

- Grab something to represent the Avenue and share the Brooklyn love with family and friends at About Time or The Pana Store.

- UPDATE: A comment from Emily (below) reminded me to mention Nairobi's Knapsack, which join Lily & Fig as a participant in the Shop Brooklyn initiative. I'll let her make the case:

"Don't forget Nairobi's Knapsack--I picked up a set of t-shirts for my niece and nephew the other day. Where else can you find a Che Guevera t-shirt in a size 2T?"

- Get great gifts from the Franklin Flea this Saturday, when this summer's merchants will return to their spot at Sterling and Franklin for a holiday encore on both Saturday and Sunday from 10 AM - 4Pm. I've already ordered some sauces from the Pour Gourmet, snagged a wallet from Frank, and grabbed some great recycled gifts from Planet Ert. The market will feature seasonal fun including hot chocolate and music, and the weather looks to be cold but clear--see you there!

Monday, December 07, 2009

Brooklyn Bread at Lily & Fig

I stopped in at Lily & Fig for some of their newly-introduced weekend bread on Saturday, and was rewarded with a crusty loaf of challah. Their bread baker, Katya, is a local Franklin Avenue resident, and she keeps a great blog of her baking adventures and creations called Second Dinner. As it turns out, this is her first professional baking gig, which makes the high quality of the loaf I had all the more impressive. The other loaves on the racks throughout the weekend included a sourdough, a raisin bread, and the one above, which I want to say was a multi-grain sunflower loaf of sorts (though I may have made that up, I honestly don't remember).

Lily & Fig has been quietly and steadily turning into a fantastic bakery and cafe spot, even while the coffee shops further south grab the headlines. They've still got the best chocolate chip cookie anywhere around for only a dollar, and the steady stream of clientele, along with Lily and Ike's adorable son, makes for a warm family atmosphere. They've always got seating, they've got free wireless, and when the afternoon sun hits the windows, it's one of the prettiest spots in the neighborhood.

I'm not knocking the other spots, of course--just sayin' that Lily & Fig has earned their mention alongside them. Stop in for some bread!

Maps Maps Maps

I'm a map geek--represented my elementary school in the state geography bee, as a matter of fact--and a friend recently sent me this map of NYC income distribution by neighborhood. Interesting stuff, especially when you comapre it with the New York Times mayoral election map and homicide map.

One question: how does it work that the median income in four out of five boroughs (including Manhattan) is lower than the citywide median income (according to the map above)? Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx all have significantly lower median incomes, and Staten Island, the one borough above the median, is only 2% up and isn't that big (relatively)? I don't have the data, but it just doesn't seem possible.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Just a Citizen Making Her Neighborhood Beautiful

This probably isn't news for the Prospect Heights crowd, but I met a fantastic character the other day. My friend and I were admiring the wild little tree boxes that have popped up around Washington and St. Marks over the course of the last several months when a very pleasant woman walking by said "oh, hey, that's me!" We turned, surprised, and she continued "I do those." We told her they looked great, and she chuckled. "I'm from Central Florida" she said, "this is just me doing my hick thing." As it turns out, the freelance streetscaper has a day job on Wall Street, but she gets a kick out of turning the standard little tree boxes into rock-lined berms with hostas and other perennials peeking out of the earth around the tree.

I did a little community gardening in a prior life, so I tend to gush over block-beautification things like this, but seriously, what's not to like? This sort of activity costs next to nothing, and it goes a surprisingly long way towards making a block feel cared-about and lived-on, which encourages everything from outside investment to participation in local/community politics. Here on Franklin, the Crow Hill Community Association does similarly good work.

I thanked her for doing her thing (she laughed me off) and suggested she start working her way down the Dean Street Industrial Corridor to Franklin.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Have Hunger, Will Travel

A few weeks ago, a good buddy of mine invited me to join him and his friend from high school on a low-budget culinary bike tour of Queens. I jumped at the chance (eating and biking are easily two of my top-5 favorite ways to spend a day) and, with another mutual friend, we met in Astoria for one of the most memorable evenings I've had in New York City.

Our tour guide, whose business card is above, knows the city as well as anyone I've met. A born-and-raised New Yorker with a wealth of commercial tour guide experience, as well as a general love of food and an inexpensive good time, he plotted us a 10 mile route with no fewer than 8 stops for one-of-a-kind ethnic grub. He's got a name for this budding business -- Historically Hungry Tours -- and though this first one was on the house, I'd gladly pay to have him take me and some out-of-towners around again.

We kicked things off at 30th and Broadway in Astoria with a kebab, shwarma, and falafel plate from the King of Falafel and Shwarma cart, recent Vendy finalists who make a mean pile of food. Fortified for our journey, we rode a few blocks for an early dessert of galaktoboureko, a fluffy Greek custard baked in filo dough and drizzled with lemon syrup. From there, we stopped at Rizzo's Fine Pizza, a Queens institution that makes all the "best of" lists, and then kept the Italian theme alive at an old-time deli under the last N-train stop with everything from the old country, including a fried rice ball with a minced-meat center. We finished our round of Astoria with a pitcher at the Bohemian Beer Hall and Garden as the sun was setting.

That line-up would have been enough for most people, but our fearless leader was just getting started, and we rolled over to Pio Pio, on Northern Boulevard in Jackson Heights, for a massive order (the "small") of Peruvian fried seafood slathered in marinated onions and served with a potent, brandy-heavy sangria. We got the whole order to go, including the pitcher of sangria, which was served in three pint-sized deli cartons with straws in them, and devoured it like a pack of wolves on a bench outside. From there, we headed south to a taco truck under the 7 Train (lengua, anyone?) and a quick bite of Pandebono at a Colombian bakery (I grabbed some to go for the lady) before entering Elmhurst to find our penultimate stop, hand-drawn noodles.

For those who have never seen noodles drawn by hand, it is INCREDIBLE. Maybe it was the sangria, but I gawked like a kid at FAO Schwartz while the chef made batch after batch, one of which went directly into our order of soup. Finally, we embarked on the last leg of our journey, which took us to Rego Park's Cheburechnaya for the evening's prize: Bukharian food. Equal parts Eastern European, Middle Eastern, and East Asian, the dishes were fantastic and far too big for our already-stuffed stomachs. We gave it our best shot, but in the end, we surrendered, took a bunch of it to go, and headed home very, very satisfied.

So the next time your folks or friends are in for a day and you need something to keep busy with, forget the Rockettes or the open-topped buses--grab a bike and call this guy. He knows Brooklyn as well as Queens, so he could take you through the best fare our borough has to offer, and to places you'd never find otherwise.

One final, unrelated note (because if you read this far, why stop now?): One of our foursome asked to borrow a bike. When he showed up, he took hold of the handlebars with a wary, confused look and said "I'm a bit rusty." It quickly became clear that, in fact, he had never ridden a bicycle in his life. Since there wasn't anything else to do, he took a few shaky spins around the parking lot at 30th and Broadway, and then just jumped into it.

The result was a comic disaster--he crashed into everything. EVERYTHING. He hit parked cars, moving cars, us, other bikers, and a delivery guy on a moped. He tried riding on the sidewalk and hit pedestrians, parking meters, and buildings. He ran clean into a stoplight pole and nearly got himself run over by a city bus (which he promptly hit). He crashed through shrubbery,and into trees, over curbs and into potholes, and responded to every single impact with the same grunted obscenities and resolute look as he clambered back onto his loaner bike. It would have been a lot less funny if he had actually hurt anyone or damaged anything (he did manage to get one driver out of his car and screaming at us after he hit it, but he didn't leave any marks), but as was, he never got going fast enough to be a danger to anyone besides himself. Several scuffs and bumps later, he was an experienced NYC cyclist.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Someone should open up at 738 Franklin

In keeping with the local chatter about Franklin Avenue's continuing development, I have a question--why hasn't anyone snapped up the space at 738 Franklin (pictured above, on the southwest corner of Franklin and Sterling)? It's a great location--right across from Bristen's and the Franklin Flea, three blocks from the 2-3-4-5 stop and very much a part of the little corridor of development that includes both coffee houses, Nairobi's Knapsack, About Time, Bristen's, Lily & Fig, and Franklin Park. From the outside, the place appears to have three large windows, and there's ample space on the Sterling side for a patio if a restaurant were to open up.

I had a chat about this and other local development with one of the guys from MySpaceNYC at the Franklin Park reading series last month. Having been in the area for six years, he's excited about the current bounce in dining and retail, and cited Jim Mamary's (of Smith Street Restaurant Empire fame) comment in a NYTimes profile in 2008 that "Crown Heights looks pretty interesting,." Mr. Mamary re-iterated this sentiment last month at Brooklyn's Real Estate Roundtable, also mentioning Greenpoint as a future gastro-destination. Having already drawn Matt Roff's attention from Park Slope and Williamsburg, it doesn't seem so far-fetched that someone like Mamary or his partner Harding might think about opening a spot nearby. Our local realtor also made the point that Franklin has everything a real estate agent looks for in a potential boom-zone: a narrow, one-way thoroughfare with wide sidewalks that doesn't attract too much traffic and is pedestrian friendly (this logic helps answer the question posed about Washington Avenue by a Brooklynian poster), ample transit access, and lots of storefronts waiting to be renovated.

A few weeks ago, a post asking for a "real restaurant" on Franklin drew plenty of comments on Brooklynian and raised some general questions about the direction residents want to see the neighborhood moving. If a restaurant is what people seek, 738 seems like a perfect location, but I'm curious if that's the number-one thing locals want on Franklin. Thinking about it raises two more questions: The storefront has been shuttered since I moved here--does anyone know what used to be there? If it was to be renovated, what would you most like to see move in?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Great Brooklyn Links

I'll be back in full force tomorrow, but in the meantime, check out these great links:

- Brooklyn Ball Parks: Great histories and photos of past and present facilities in borough.

- Re-Brooklyn: I've only just discovered this great blog, which has been around at least as long as I have. You can spend almost as long clicking through it as Wikipedia. The creator also has a fascinating hand-drawn history of Eldridge Street (Manhattan, boo, hiss) here.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Franklin Ave: Coffee and More!

The New York Times article that appeared on Monday generated a fair amount of chatter up and down Franklin Avenue, with conversation turning repeatedly to a particular line describing "the lackluster commercial strip of Franklin Avenue, dominated by hair-braiding salons, discount stores and takeout restaurants." Some folks took offense, while others argued that the line captured the current look of the Avenue without giving due credit to its ongoing transformation. The article itself struck me as pared-down, editorially speaking, so I'm going to take the blogger's unasked-for, un-granted prerogative and fill in the gaps as I see fit.

Where to start--how about with the coffee shops themselves? Our current symbols of economic transformation (what Nostrand Park might call "uncommon gentrification indicators") are in the process of expanding their bustling businesses, as I learned by stopping in at both on my way home. At The Pulp & The Bean, Tony Fisher will be taking credit and debit cards after the holiday, per customer requests. You'll be able to use your magic plastic to pick up their latest menu additions, which will include freshly-pressed panini, wraps, soups, and salads. They've also added a full-size brownie, which comes with the lady's stamp of approval.

Down the street at the Breukelen Coffee House, Jay, Frank, and Leeza continue to offer all manner of baked goods on order from Balthazar, as well as their in-house items. They've also signed a lease to expand their shop into an adjacent space that goes all the way back to the edge of Franklin Park. The added seating will come with a significantly expanded menu that the owners promise will be vegan-friendly and almost completely vegetarian (though the barbs exchanged with laughter between the three suggest that the final decisions are still open for debate). Look for a fantastic opening celebration sometime soon.

Asked about their 15 minutes in the Grey Lady, both Tony and the Breukelen Three expressed their pleasure at being mentioned but agreed that the feud (which caught the eye of Gawker--thanks for the link, guys!) was a less exciting hook than the story of Franklin Avenue's renaissance. Playing down the Brooklynian spat, Tony reiterated his best wishes for his counterparts down the street, which Jay echoed. "That's what we've been saying from the beginning--it's all about the betterment of the block. We all love the block."

So what of this lackluster strip? Since I moved in and started prattling away into cyberspace in August 2008, the following shops have opened up on Franklin between Eastern and Atlantic, or very close by:

- A Slice of Brooklyn
- Franklin Park (with the winter bar added in November 2008 and the burgers coming soon)
- Nairobi's Knapsack (toys/playspace, celebrated their first year in business this weekend)
- The Pana Store
- JamRock Kitchen
- Lily & Fig (also offering bread now!)
- Breukelen Coffee House
- The Pulp and The Bean
- J's Wok (coming soon)
- First Impressions Dental
- MySpace NYC (realtors)
- Rapid Realty
- 24-Hour Laundromat (at Park, the name escapes me)

During that same 16-month span, Bristen's owner Carleen Haughton has created the Franklin Flea, Nam's has continued its renovations as an overstuffed organic bodega (now carrying some high-end microbrews), Bombay Masala has opened a back garden, and the Crown Heights CSA has just finished a successful first year. All this, of course, has taken place in the midst of what many experts are calling the worst economic conditions since FDR was in charge.

Franklin's still the Franklin of yore (the one that made my Brooklyn-born boss exclaim "oh shit!" when I told him I was living there) on occasion, whether through the benign, colorful presence of 7 storefront churches and at least 10 bodegas on the commercial strip or the malignant tragedy of the shootings that rattled the avenue this summer. But to quote Buffalo Springfield, there's something happening here, and that, to my mind, is the story.

Monday, November 23, 2009

If you haven't seen it . . .

The NYTimes came out to Franklin and did a piece on our pair of new coffee shops.

To recap, the news-making chain of information goes like this: the first word of the two new additions was on Brooklynian, then it hit your friendly neighborhood blogs, then the borough-wide superblogs, and finally, the paper of record.

Post your thoughts on the article here or at Brooklynian.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Frank's Barbershop at Chauncey and Rockaway, Ocean Hill. Click on the image for a larger view.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Run Crown Heights!

Nostrand Park declared this past week Crown Heights Health Week, and I wanted to sneak my two cents in before it ended. Their coverage has touched on everything from where to find healthy eats to the city's latest report on the dismal obesity statistics in Central Brooklyn, and something particularly near and dear to my heart, running in the neighborhood. As a thoroughly addicted runner , I wanted to make a case for running/walking/jogging in Crown Heights--it's a great way to see the neighborhood and get some exercise in the bargain.

There are lots of numbers and studies to throw around about the value of physical activity, but the simplest statistics are the best. According to several surgeon generals, past and present, a moderate amount of exercise--defined as 15 minutes of jogging or running or 30 minutes of brisk walking--most days (4-6) per week produces significant benefits to your health. Benefits include considerable reductions in the risk of heart disease, high cholesterol, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and depression. The best thing about running and walking, of course, is that you don't need a pricey gym membership, expensive home equipment, or even other people to join you for a game. You can get a run in any time, anywhere. Many of the folks I work with tell me that they'd run more, but it's frustrating to not know how far they are going and they don't have a track nearby. I completely agree, which is why today I'm offering a beginner's guide to running Crown Heights!

- The area has some lovely streets for running (I covered my favorites in a post last spring), and the easiest way to get started is to just step out your door and hit the pavement. Though the neighborhood grid isn't as perfect as Manhattan's, it's not bad for measuring your miles. 18 short CH blocks (between the places/streets) will give you one mile, as will 7 long blocks (between the avenues). You can do an out-and-back or a loop--for instance, if I need an extra mile after a run, I can just head up to Eastern Parkway from my place on Dean and back down, or I can go over to Bedford, up to Sterling, and back down Franklin (the distances aren't perfect, but they're close enough).

- If you prefer to do your jogging amidst the trees and shrubs of Brooklyn's parks, I've mapped out three of the main loops at local parks above. Six loops at Brower Park will give you a mile, as will 4 loops at Mt. Prospect Park behind the Brooklyn Library. Lincoln Terrace Park is a hilly challenge, but you can get a mile running on relatively flat ground by covering the loop in the third image 5 times. If you want more, the daddy of them all, Prospect Park, is 3.38 miles around on the main park road. If you enter the park at Empire and Flatbush and turn right once you hit the main road, you'll soon come upon the starting line for a 5k, after which the road is marked every 1/4 mile. Those in search of a fleeting moment of woodsy solitude can wander into the trails in the middle.

- If only a track will do, Boys and Girls High at Utica and Fulton has morning hours for the community. You can also venture westward to Brooklyn Tech's track at Vanderbilt and Fulton, or south to Wingate Park's 5-laps to the mile track (the others are quarter-mile ovals).

- I tend to lay out my runs with Gmap-Pedometer, a handy little site that lets you draw out routes and tells you your distance and lots of other useful stuff (calories burned, etc). It's how I made the maps above.

If anyone has a suggestion for a great Crown Heights run, post it here. The weather is supposed to be perfect this weekend, so get out see your neighborhood. If you see a big dude lumbering along in a yellow, shirt, give me wave!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Place to Be

(Said Sayrafiezadeh and Amy Sohn read at Franklin Park last night)

Penina Roth and the Franklin Park Reading Series hit another home run last night, with a great event that earned a mention in the Times and featured four fabulous readers. I've been to enough readings to know that there's a difference between writing well and reading well, and last night's quartet were not only excellent writers, but engaging, entertaining readers. As my buddy put it at the first one we attended, "when someone stops reading and it's only then that you realize the place was totally quiet, they were doing it right." In yet another show of support for the Series' burgeoning success, Franklin Park has officially put them on the calendar long-term for the 2nd Monday of every month, so now there's no excuse for not being there.

It was also a great night to meet some very cool new folks and chat with the local legends, including Jay and Frank of the Breukelen Coffee House, who hinted at more big things to come at their new place and mentioned that the second episode of "From Brooklyn to the Berrics" is now available for your viewing pleasure (you'll like the DMX remix. trust me.). The Franklin Flea crowd was also out in force, including Jason and Ayelet of The Pour Gourmet, Danyel of Planet Ert, and Frank of Frank's Fantastic Book Covers and Wallets (ok, I made that name up, but Frank's stuff is great--I wrote about all three merchants in the post linked above). Jason and Danyel both mentioned that they're taking Christmas orders, so if you're looking for a great local gift for the folks back home, drop them a line.