Monday, November 01, 2010

Two Years of Commercial Development on Franklin

In last week's blog-birthday post, I casually mentioned that nearly 20 business had opened on or near Franklin between Eastern and Atlantic, since I Love Franklin Ave got started, prompting blogger Queer in the City to ask for a more specific rundown of which stores were new and which ones had closed. In the wake of the debates about gentrification and access to jobs at new businesses that was spawned by the pawn shop fight (there's a nice summary article on the Brooklyn Ink), it seems as good a time to take stock of the changing face of the Avenue. The following lists were compiled with this in mind, so let me know if I've missed anything - the short version is that 21 new businesses have opened their doors since the summer of 2008, with another 7 coming soon. 17 businesses have undergone (or are undergoing) some type of renovation, and 15 business (including 2 new ones and 2 renovated ones) have closed. The vast majority of this action has taken place in the four-block stretch between Eastern and Park Place (18 new business, 4 coming soon, 12 renovations, and 14 closings). For specifics and some analysis, read on:

21 New Businesses (Since Summer 2008, working north from Eastern):
The Pulp and The Bean
JamRock Kitchen
Mazon Discount
Brooklyn Inkspot (the one next to Dutch Boy)
Dutch Boy Burger
The Breukelen Coffee House
Franklin Park
Nairobi's Knapsack (now closed)
Salon (don't know the name) at Sterling and Franklin
Lily & Fig
First Impressions Dental
Alternative Healing
MySpace Realty
BNI Express Laundromat
Community Pawn (now closed)
The Pana Store
A Slice of Brooklyn
Oaxaca Taco
The Laundromat in the Jewish Hospital (on St. Marks)

7 Coming Soon:
Wood Oven Pizza
Sushi (where Nairobi's Knapsack was)
Chavella's (new store on Franklin)
724 Franklin (new bar/restaurant from Franklin Park owners)
Thai (in the former Happy Wok space)
Wine Shop (also from the FP owners)
Supermarket (in the Jewish Hospital on St. Marks)

17 Renovations and Expansions (done, planned, or in progress):
Golden Chopsticks
Franklin Express Laundry
Franklin Park (the big bar)
Breukelen Coffee House (the back room)
Nam's (forever rearranging/renovating)
About Time (repainted the facade a few times)
J&B Deli (now closed, soon to be Chavella's)
J's Wong (used to be Happy Wok, moved, but the same guys)
Homage (now closed on account of that fire)
Franklin Express Deli
Bombay Masala (opened a garden)
Preschool (mural and some indoor work)
Franklyn Deli
Sushi Tatsu (new awning, Thai menu)

15 Closed:
Scarlet Ribbons Thrift Shop
790 Franklin (I think it was an electronics place)
Diana's Desserts (now Inkspot, may have moved to Washington)
The Spice is Right (soon to be Wood Oven Pizza)
Nairobi's Knapsack (soon to be Sushi)
King Accessory (now a salon)
J&B Deli (soon to be Chavella's)
Off the Hook Communications
El Baron Grocery (soon to be 724 bar/restaurant)
Community Pawn
West Indian Cafe (now J's Wong)
Saje (actually closed just before I got here, now the Pana Store)
Homage (fire)
Muslim Bookshop (fire)
Insurance (now Oaxaca Taco)

I'm curious what observations readers have about the trends documented above, but to lead into discussion, a few observations:

- Gentrification is very clearly at work here, and yet, not everything conforms to the expected trends. Certainly the replacement of The Spice is Right with a Wood Oven Pizza place, or the disappearance of a bodega (El Baron) to make way for bar (724) is illustrative of the ways in which the local population is changing and how landlords and entrepreneurs are catering to certain tastes. That said, businesses like Saje and Nairobi's Knapsack couldn't make it, while plenty of new ones that aren't typically associated with gentrification (Mazon's new spot, the Pana Store, etc) are thriving. This isn't to suggest that gentrification is somehow less problematic or less of a trend, but just to highlight that it's one of many forces acting on the local commercial scene.

- Talking with a local merchant about businesses opening and closing this week, I got the sense that despite the rash of new openings, as he put it "a lot of people aren't doing too well." He suggested that two things are at work here - the first is that landlords are upping rents for commercial spaces since demand for them has grown, but secondly, new arrivals haven't provided the customer base some stores expected, largely because lots of them don't shop locally. One of the attractions of local businesses is that, in theory, they're more responsive to customer needs than big chains or well-established outlets, but this only works if people are willing a) to shop there and b) to provide feedback to improve these places. In order for businesses, new and old, to survive in what are still tough economic times, they need active customers.

- Commercial turnover is only part of the story: while I think the lists above are helpful, they'd be much more useful set side-by-side with information about residential turnover, particularly since the biggest problem with gentrification, and the thing that creates the most fear, anger, tension, and resentment, is residential displacement. It's worth noting that three big residential projects are complete or nearing completion on Franklin, two of which (the Ishi Condos and the expanded Jewish Hospital rentals) will likely be agents of increased demographic change and one of which (the city-sponsored St. Mark's Gardens) is intended as an anchor for affordable housing in the area.

- That said, commercial displacement acts as both an agent and symbol of change. Practically speaking, the cost of living increases when certain businesses arrive and certain ones leave, and community gathering places can be lost as well. Symbolic changes matter, too - people feel alienated and frustrated when their home stops looking like home. To capture all of these things, check out this comment from a post earlier this week. There are a lot of people, new and old, who are excited about the ways in which the Avenue is growing and changing, but there are discontents, too, and they're part of the picture of neighborhood change. In closing, then I'd pose a question I posed last year in a similar post - what, if there are any, are the best strategies for making changes (and changes are inevitable) serve the widest portion of the neighborhood possible?


  1. Wow! Thank you for that insightful and comprehensive list and well thought out and detailed write up!!

    As also, you Rock!!!

  2. right now we are missing a nice sex shop
    and we can also use a good fried chicken place
    maybe a juice bar or a cigar bar we need cash loans and a gun store

  3. One point worth making, I think, is that all of this change has occurred despite the worst recession since the Great Depression. Once the economy recovers, the pace of positive change and unwanted displacement will quicken. Given the pace now, that prospect--particularly as it relates to the issue of displacing longtime residents--is very concerning.

  4. Thank-you so much Nick for your considerate voice in this ongoing discussion about gentrification in our neighborhood. I appreciate and respect that you consistently represent multiple viewpoints surrounding this issue. For that reason, your blog is a treasure for people who are trying to grapple with this issue and the changes in the neighborhood.

    You ask: what, if there are any, are the best strategies for making changes (and changes are inevitable) serve the widest portion of the neighborhood possible? I agree that this is the question that we need to be asking, but what I find interesting is that the tone of the discussion about this same issue is very different on the Brooklynian message board. There, most people advocate the free-market system and portray rapid gentrification - and its results in our neighborhood - as inevitable and even as progress. Most of the comments there reflect no concern with serving "the widest portion of the neighborhood possible" and only with meeting the needs of the incoming residents. Granted the people who post to the board are an insular community themselves and don't reflect the thinking of all incoming residents, but I wonder if you have any ideas about how to breach the gap between groups of people with such different philosophies?

    As far as an answer to your question, it's really hard. I was pleased to see many new businesses on your list that are owned by local residents. I was dismayed by the opening of Oaxaca Taco which I know is not owned by locals. Is there any way a neighborhood can stipulate local ownership? I also think that the community needs local spaces and events to facilitate face to face meetings by residents. CHCA has done a great job in initiating such spaces and events, such as our Community Garden, and I also think Launch Pad is a gift to this neighborhood because it sponsors events. Do we need more of this?

  5. Great post Nick. A few questions for you:

    1) When did Scarlet Ribbon close?

    2) About Time and Bristen's are relatively new as well, though perhaps they predate summer 2008. But I think About Time was an '08 addition.

    3) Franklin Park is opening 2 new establishments???

    4) Do Mazon and/or Pana own the building? Could account for the longevity.

    5) How many storefronts - occupied, vacant, or otherwise are on Franklin North.

    To reach the community:

    - Hire locally. And not just new locals. But veteran locals and their kids. If people aren't ready to work for you, let them know that they can get training at places like the city's Workforce 1 center.

    - Sponsor the programming of local non-profits that are working (effectively) with the local community. Examples - Crow Hill Community Association, LaunchPad, Urban River Arts, Crown Heights North Association, Five Myles, PR-G, Nostrand Park, Weeksville Heritage Center (you know I gotta get a plug) Ask them to help promote your business in return.

    - Start an apprenticeship program so that young people can get meaningful resume building experience (I believe About Time does something like this).

    - Host a program for the broader community (like Kid's Day from About Time, the Halloween Parade that CHCA/Launchpad did, or the back-to-school give back that Super Wings did) (1) as a way to promote your business, but (2) as a way to serve the community.

  6. I just ask owner of Franklin Park about a wine shop and he was very surprised about this news.
    Nick are you sure its Franklin Park.

  7. Franklin Ave is on the rise!

  8. I could well be wrong about the ownership of the wine shop - heard about it from a local realtor, but I may have misunderstood or conflated it with the 724 place.

  9. But what about SOUTH of Eastern Parkway? I am recently new to Crown Heights, and living south of Eastern Parkway on Carroll, and I honestly don't see myself here after my lease is up. This all sounds and looks great, but the fact is nothing is moving or happening down in my area. I guess it's nice since it's not as loud or busy down my way, but I'd like a nice restaurant or bar, not just nail salons and fast food places.

  10. @anonymous - Carroll St. is not that far from the "action" north of EP. Have you had a chance to venture north and check out some of the businesses over there.

    FYI - there is a sushi bar coming to Nostrand: As someone pointed out, this is all happening in an economic slump. Imagine when the economy picks up.

  11. Concerning the expletive laden post from last week: Screw that opinion. While maybe on the whole a lot of the newer people moving here are younger (read: students) and are predominantly white, it's really lazy stereotyping. What about the middle class black, hispanic, and asian devils? They don't count? What if the shitty coffee place is owned by someone who isn't white? Are they considered white for owning a coffee shop? Does that mean I'm black since I make minimum wage but drink coffee mostly at home? Real gentrification is both displacement AND the absence of community forming. As far as I can tell over the last five years or so I've been here it certainly seems like a community to me, but everyone's making a big deal over the more transitory and more privileged(?) students who come and go? Maybe the onus does need to be place on shopping locally and NOT AT TRADER JOES.

  12. @LaurelB- I have traveled north of Eastern Parkway and it's great, no doubts about that. But it would be nice to see some of those same places down here. It's a totally different vibe when you get south of the parkway.
    And that sushi place will be between Atlantic and Pacific, again above the parkway. There are lots of empty storefronts down here too.

  13. What's the new wood oven pizza all about!?

  14. the more business the better. I don't care who owns them.

  15. Well said, Anonymous person on NOVEMBER 3, 2010 at 2:34 PM

    I am white but work in the community and barely make ends meet. I am a public school teacher in a hard-to-staff school and am trying to support a house hold.

    I shop locally as much as possible -- although I have a tough time at the local grocery stores sometimes as a vegetarian. I buy what I can in the area, but sometimes have to venture out to get things besides blocks of tofu or beans as protein. I am excited for Fishers' to do their remodel soon - we'll see what sort of food they will be providing then.

    I think it's lazy, absolutely, to say it's a white/non-white thing with gentrification. I have lived here for a few years and I don't understand why this is always said, when a LOT of the new places are not white-owned/run. Just on my block is Lily and Fig and About Time. And then places like Mazon and Fisher's have been around for a long long time and are trying to make the area better.

  16. I really don't understand the "hire locally" movement. Do people really think businesses on Franklin ave. segregate based on what neighborhood you are from? How does one do that? It's not a black/white issues - there are plenty of black employees on Franklin ave.

    Businesses on Franklin should hire the best people for the job. They have no responsibility to employ the local residents.

    As far as gentrification, above Anonymous post got it right - both displacement AND absence of community forming. I have lived in NYC for 6 years and have never seen a stronger community. Two years ago I went to my first CHCA meeting and there were a total of 8 people there. Now, the launchpad is packed. Perhaps the evil gentrifiers are not so evil? Perhaps they have found a place that feels like home and want to work with the longer time residents to make a great neighborhood for everyone?

    Most importantly, here's my question to the long time Crow HIll residents who feel threatened by the gentrifiers:

    Where was the community involvement 2 or more years ago, before the wave of gentrification? Why was Eve Porter pretty much by herself fighting for improvements?

    Although there are many in this neighborhood who live hand to mouth, there are many who could have and can still afford to buy a place in the neighborhood. To those people who can, why haven't you bought a home here? Why haven't you put some skin in the game and put down roots in a place you care about?

  17. i'm almost positive franklin park is not opening a wine shop on franklin ave. can you confirm?

  18. 724 Franklin will be a high end cocktail bar - 100% confirmation.

  19. It's remarkable that there is no sympathy within these comments for the view of someone who is clearly feeling enormous powerlessness about what is probably inevitable displacement. No, it's not as simple as a white/black "thing," but I'm sure it feels that way to many as white faces keep arriving.

    Thank-you, Nick, for continuing to include such voices on this blog. I would hope that at least sometimes their presence will lead people towards an acknowledgement of their own privilege.

    "Real gentrification is both displacement AND the absence of community forming" is just a bit of dissembling.

  20. Some of these new places will fail as they guess wrong on the present needs of the neighborhood.

    But for new locals and long time locals, the ability to SHOP locally will be valued.

    Lots of the long term residents are at no risk of displacement, and stand only to gain. Not only is this not a black/white thing, it also isn't a new resident old resident thing.

    Once a bunch of businesses realize the area is a safe, profitable place to do business, more will follow.

  21. This was a very insightful post. I have to say, that as a longtime resident on Franklin Ave (18 yrs) the "gentrification" has absolutely been for the better. When I moved there it was because of the affordable rent. I did try to shop locally, but for the most part, I got more value and variety for my money elsewhere. I resided there, but aside from take out,did little else to support the community. I went to my first CHCA meeting this week. I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged, with the amount of attendees. I have gone to yoga classes at Launch Pad. I am now willing to volunteer, to support my community. Unfortunately, I was not motivated to become involved, until I saw many others doing so. Shame on me, but better late than never.

  22. Just to clarify, Happy Wok at Franklin and St. John's is turning into a Thai place? Any idea of timing?

  23. Oaxaca Taco should be moved to the closed section. Gone a month ago, and much missed.