The Local published a fun little investigation of Fort Greene/Clinton Hill's Putnam Candy Store the other day, prompting links from Brownstoner and Clinton Hill Blog and this dismissive, cantankerous response from The Real Fort Greene. Not wanting to be left out, I figured I'd jump in with this shot of a similar retail establishment on Wilson Avenue in Bushwick. The door was slightly ajar, but from what I could see the Wilson Candy Store does not sell a terrible lot of sweets.
The Putnam and Wilson Candy Stores are not unique, at least in my experience (I base this statement entirely on anecdotal evidence from wandering the borough). One or two "stores" of this ilk seem to pop up along many of Brooklyn's commercial thoroughfares, places with big signs announcing their goods but nothing much to sell. Some, like the Wilson shop pictured above and the now notorious Putnam Store, lack the big windows of a typical retail, while others, like the former restaurant/bar/barbeque joint that sits on the NW corner of Dean and Franklin, no longer even have signage.
These stores may be fronts (I'm sure some are), but the fact that so many exist strikes me as a larger trend, a product of the long decline of the 1970s and 1980s when once-profitable storefronts either lost their customer base or became targets (as in the Blackout of '77). Some of the changes might also be generational: old-hand shopkeepers passing on and leaving their property to relatives with less business savvy or desire to maintain the stores. For those who retained or inherited these properties, the spaces offered room to gather away from home, either formally or informally, and they became social clubs, as one poster on TRFG called the Putnam Candy Store.
What would be really interesting, speaking as a history buff, would be to sit on the other side of the door at one of these gatherings and hear what the older folks had to say about the place.