Monday, October 31, 2011

The Annual Neighborhood Change Roundup

It's been a little over three years since ILFA started up (obligatory link to the first post here), and while the blog and its writer have changed quite a bit since then, there's still no shortage of things to talk about on the Avenue. One constant, of course, has been neighborhood change - by ILFA's latest count, no fewer than 35 new businesses have opened on or just off Franklin between Eastern and Atlantic since the lady and I moved in at the beginning of August in 2008, and the past year has been especially active. Thus, without further ado, it's time for the annual breakdown of commercial development on Franklin Avenue. As always, let me know if I've missed anything.

In last year's rundown, ILFA counted 21 new businesses (with 7 more coming soon), 17 renovations, and 15 closings (including two new and two renovated businesses) along Franklin since summer 2008. This year, with 6 out of those 7 projects completed and another 8 businesses open, the grand totals since 2008 look like this: 35 new businesses (with 5 more coming soon), 21 renovations (completed or in progress), and 19 closings (including three new and three renovated businesses). The complete lists look like this:

35 New Businesses (working north from Eastern - this year's additions in bold):

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)
Pine Tree
Away We Go Postal
The Beauty Boutique
The Candy Rush
Rosebud Vintage
Lily & Fig
First Impressions Dental
Alternative Healing
MySpace Realty
Owl and Thistle General Store
BNI Express Laundromat
Crow Hill Jewelry (the pawn shop)
The Pana Store
Sweet Basil 
Franklin Roadhouse (might be closing?)
A Slice of Brooklyn
Oaxaca Taco (now closed)
Gueros Tacos
The Laundromat in the Jewish Hospital (on St. Marks)
Compare Foods
Posh Nails NYC
Kecia J. Weaver Law Office

5 Coming Soon:

739 Franklin (lounge)
The Crown Inn (new bar/restaurant from Franklin Park owners)
Salad Bar (in the former Inkspot Space)
Pharmacy (at St. Mark's and Franklin)
Gym (as mentioned by Tish James at the CHCA meeting)

21 Renovations and Expansions (done, planned, or in progress):

Fisher's/Bob & Betty's 
Gourmet Deli Grocery (Lincoln and Franklin)
Golden Chopsticks
Franklin Express Laundry 
Brooklyn Inkspot (moved up the block)
Franklin Park (the big bar)
Breukelen Coffee House (the back room)
Nam's (forever rearranging/renovating) 
Christopher Deli (new awning)
Bristen's/Island Thyme (now closed)
About Time (always keeping it fresh)
J&B Deli (now closed, became Chavela's)
3D's (said they were renovating, even looked like they started, but I think they've closed)
J's Wong (used to be Happy Wok, moved, but the same guys)
Homage (now closed on account of that fire) 
Lasting Impressions Salon
Franklin Express Deli
Bombay Masala (opened a garden)
Preschool (mural and some indoor work)
Franklyn Deli
Sushi Tatsu (new awning, Thai menu)

19 Closed:

Scarlet Ribbons Thrift Shop (now wino(t), moved to Fulton)
NA Candy Store (deli)
790 Franklin (I think it was an electronics place)
Diana's Desserts (now Inkspot, moved to Washington)
The Spice is Right (now half of Barboncino
Bristen's (now Away We Go Postal)
Nairobi's Knapsack (now Pine Tree)
King Accessory (now The Beauty Boutique) 
3D's (renovations seem permanently stalled)
J&B Deli (now Chavela's)
Off the Hook Communications
El Baron Grocery (soon to be The Crown Inn)
West Indian Cafe (now J's Wong)
Saje (actually closed just before I got here, now the Pana Store)
Homage (renovated, fire)
Muslim Bookshop (fire) 
World Class People's Market (deli)
Insurance (now Oaxaca Taco)
Oaxaca Taco (now Gueros Tacos)

Some thoughts:

- Granted, these lists don't make for easy digestion, but the broad trends are clear enough, and looking at what I said last year (or even in the first rundown in 2009), I think most of it still holds true. There's an obvious gentrifying trend, but it's not quite as simple as bar-replaces-bodega, as several businesses that don't scream "change" have opened and are doing a brisk business (Mazon's, the Pana Store, the Pawn Shop, BNI Laundromat, Compare Foods, etc), while others that do (Nairobi's Knapsack, and now perhaps Franklin Roadhouse - they've been closed a lot recently) - have gone under. Commercial development is only part of the story (many would argue that residential development and displacement are the driving forces behind gentrification, and the most problematic, and there's nothing of that in these lists), but it's a key part, because commercial establishments function as gathering places, cultural institutions, and, of course, sources of sustenance. If a place you can't afford (and don't feel welcome) replaces an affordable place where you knew everyone (not to say that this always happens, just hypothesizing), that's a pretty de-centering and disempowering experience, both materially and symbolically.

- The Pawn Shop! Remember that? A community organization brought a diverse community together and forced the closure of a pawn shop, arguing that such businesses are a destructive force with respect to crime and debt cycles (and as I said over and over at the time, the data was and still is on their side) and, more effectively, that the shop was in violation of zoning codes, and won! And then two weeks later, it re-opened as Crow Hill Jewelry (an f-you to said community org) "buying gold and electronics" and making cash loans, but apparently, the zoning code only applies if you have the word "pawn" in your name, so they were allowed to stay. Talk about a toothless law. Anyway, after a year in operation, the pawn shop seems to generally provoke something between grudging respect (many a merchant respects their tenacity, and points out that no great harm has come of one more pawn shop in a larger area that already had several) to eye-rolling frustration (I've gotten more than one email complaining about their garish "we buy gold" banners and the general nose-thumbing attitude they take - "Crow Hill Jewelry," the banners, etc - to the residents of a block that was going to be landmarked). But there they are, after all that.

- Finally, Franklin doesn't exist in a vacuum - Washington and Classon to the west are blowing up just as fast (if you're looking for a symbol of gentrification, look no further than the Kinky Krown cocktail at the Bearded Lady - in the former Kinky Krowns salon spot - on Washington), and to the east, Nostrand has witnessed a spate of openings in the past year that range from high-end to light-industrial (NoBar, an auto body shop, and many more - Nostrand Park, I'd love to see your list for your Avenue!). In last week's openings post, some folks were discussing these issues, so to close, I'll pose some of the same questions they ask: What are your takeaways from the rapid development of northwest Crown Heights, and how does Franklin figure in the larger picture, as compared to Washington/Classon/Rodgers/Bedford/Nostrand)? How about Franklin south of Eastern Parkway (where the past year has seen the opening of a MetroPCS and Roti 'n Dumplings, a series of storefront renovations, and the promise of another Bob & Betty's?)? What do these changes mean, practically, for you and for the neighborhood at large? Finally, even though change is the only constant, it looks different neighborhood to neighborhood (the process is not the same in Williamsburg as in Fort Greene, to take two prominent and well-covered examples). How can/should we, as residents, merchants, and landlords, seek to channel this change in the service of building a healthy community that serves everyone, longtime locals and new arrivals, on Franklin Avenue? Is it possible? 


  1. I've heard that the owner of Franklin Roadhouse is looking to sell the business. It's a damned shame because I really liked that place and planned on showing some of my photography there. I'm assuming that they just couldn't compete with Chavela's after they got their liquor license.

    I for one am glad for the changes in the area. I'm glad some of the old riffraff has moved out and glad to see more diversity in people and businesses here. I'm glad to see the foot patrols late at night when I am on my way to work.

    I've lived here for 36 out of my 41 years and I welcome the change that gentrification brings to the area, after living through the "don't go out to franklin after the sun goes down" years of 20 years ago.

  2. Great post Nick! I love the annual rundown.

  3. The Roadhouse might be closing? That is sad too. I thought their food was decent and they have a fair and reasonably priced number of beers and wines. I also liked the vibe of the place, which was more friendly neighbors and less pretentious white yuppie assholes and obnoxious sports bar idiots (see Franklin Park).

  4. Under the belief that the city benefits from a population that is able to change pretty rapidly, a lot of the housing market is left to the free market.

    However, in response to the things like the historic flight of the middle class (aka White Flight), policies have been enacted to keep tax paying, working populations in place.

    Such policies (Rent Control, Rent Stabilization, Section 8, NYCHA, etc) recognized that constant displacement due to market forces, did not effectively serve the city.

    We now find ourselves in the opposite situation: Much of the city has become a destination for wealthy, educated persons.

    The city no longer has large factories which depend upon large numbers of unskilled persons; Unskilled persons no longer have powerful factory owners to "champion" policies that keep them nearby.

    While support for such programs is clearly waning, units remain for those who can meet ever stricter eligibility requirements. The units can be located on sites like this:

    Except for a select group of subsidized industries, businesses have no such protections: They open and close as dictated by market forces.

    Some people believe that these market forces are as simple as "where can I make the most money?", but in reality the answer is much more complicated.

    The answer to the question is often influenced by the preferences that have always plagued human behavior. Notably, how we define our own identities, as well others on the basis of class, race, religion, skin tone, education, income, sexual orientation, yada, yada, yada.

    Like it or not, we prefer to live around and do business with people who share one or more of our characteristics; it makes us feel more "at home".

    Businesses are no different.

  5. Please expand on Bob and Bettys south of Easter Parkway... where is that going to be?

  6. It'll be where Pioneer (the other Fisher brothers supermarket) is now:

  7. I think Roadhouse would do better if they figured out what the heck they were. Are they a pizza place? A beer/burger place? I hate how incredibly awkward it is - tables but you order at the counter - and the counter isn't a bar - and the person behind the counter isn't always the person you're to order from....I like their pizza a lot and cheap beers are always a plus, but it is the weirdest vibe ever. - Liz

  8. I like what Anonymous has got to say about Roadhouses confusion, but my #1 issue about it is that it's just so uninviting. Did they really think painting the inside black and offering picnic tables as seats would draw people?

    As for the other questions the writer posed, I'd like to speak not only as a born-and-bred Brooklynite (Ditmas Park, represent!) but as a resident of the Avenue down between Bergen and Dean, where a lot of these changes are VERY slowly creeping towards me. I'm far from the thick of it: I see a lot more of the characters from the Men's Shelter than from that wonderful little Dutch Boy/Franklin Park/Tattoo Shop/Bruekellen Coffee House Hipster Hovel.

    That being said, I really dig the vibe of the more recently developed block that I visit much more often and will be visiting more if the Crown Inn is anything to write home about. Talking about Park and Prospect, I'm happy to see a burgeoning Yoga Collective that is snapping up Launchpad's calendar because it seems like although that is a sign of gentrification, the long-standing suggested donation is clearly a sign that all are welcome regardless of economic standing. Whether that changes with this new collective, I don't know. Also, although I don't frequent it, I've very happy to see a community mainstay open the old school candy shop that is just as geared towards kids as it is towards the 30's-the-new-20-year-olds.

    What I like about Crown Heights that I feel is not as apparent in other gentrified or gentrifying neighborhoods is the sense of community that exists. I try to be involved in some positive community organization wherever I happen to be living, and the one that calls out to me is SOS: Crown Heights. After the horrific shooting on Labor day, it's obvious that attention needs to be drawn to this issue and I think anyone interested and available should do whatever they can. Granted, I've only been to one meeting, (this is not the place to discuss, but the volunteer outreach and communications at SOS has failed to reach me here and there) but I made good on my offer to flyer the Avenue for the Peace March and that felt good.

    I had an interesting interaction with one of the owners from The Crown Inn when I came by with a resume after hearing from ILFA that they were hiring. I gave him my pitch, knowing that they were looking to hire locals. I figured it didn't get much more local than me, but then I realized although I'm grew up fifteen minutes away and I currently live three minutes away, I'm not from this neighborhood. Obviously one great way to channel change and build a healthy community is by creating jobs for locals, especially in transformative industries, but does that mean me?

  9. SOS is lucky that it receives federal, not state funds. Many similar programs were just cut.

  10. By the way, the IBO released a report today detailing which NYC industries and businesses have received preferential treatment to stay in the city.

    ...their reports are pretty readable:

  11. Daily Press is here, too, shiiiiiit.

  12. I think we need an AREA Kids on Franklin!

  13. Great roundup! I originally moved to Franklin in early 04, got relocated in 07 after my building was repossessed by the city, then given to Neighborhood Restore, and eventually passed on to a new management company, before finally returning to my renovated building south of the Parkway earlier this year. Your blog was a great source of information for keeping abreast of all the changes in the area while I was away (over on Kingston). When I first moved here, I was inclined to demonize gentrification. After seeing dozens of shootings and being forced to travel halfway across the borough for decent vegan food, I've got to say that anything that improves the quality of life around here is a good thing. I'm fortunate in that my building is now rent stabilized (as part of the 3rd party transfer program), but I think that long time residents potentially being displaced is about the only downside to what has otherwise been a wonderful experience. I never would have thought Franklin would look the way it does now when I first moved here. The fact that people come from other parts of the city to hang out here just blows my mind. It's what I always hoped would eventually happen here, though I am a bit surprised at how rapidly the change has occurred. I, for one, am happy about it. Though it all depends on how it's affected your personally. In my case, it's the reason I don't plan on moving anytime soon. Franklin Ave. for life! ;-)

  14. The Roadhouse is (hopefully "was") a joke.

    There's really no place for a guy who opens a bar and then tries to sell it within six months after opening. The owner should have looked at what was going on inside and if he's the tough guy who sometimes mills around, then it's even worse, because he watched the service essentially turn customers away.

    Look at the list of new businesses on Franklin? You really think you can run a business like the Roadhouse and expect to turn a profit? The place just makes me mad.

    What I expect is someone willing to invest some effort and dedicate his or her time will buy the place and make something out of the bar with more character than what you'd expect to see in a freshmen dormitory.