Friday, November 16, 2012

Third Annual Franklin Avenue Roundup: Pace of Change Accelerating?

(Crane at 341 Eastern Parkway; Fatima Restaurant evicted)

It's time once again for the annual gentrification-revitalization-neighborhood change roundup, a yearly look at commercial changes up and down Franklin Avenue, the namesake of this blog and the home base of its author. I started writing ILFA in late October of 2008, three months after moving to Crown Heights. The blog initially started out as more of a personal exploration of the whole borough, facilitated by a job that had me traveling daily to public schools across Brooklyn (this is still commemorated in the tagline "Walking Around Brooklyn With a Camera and a Pen," which itself is hopelessly dated - who uses cameras or pens anymore? It stays because "Walking Around Brooklyn with a Smartphone" is worse). As I learned quickly, however, one can't live in Crown Heights for very long without encountering the rapid changes taking place in the neighborhood, and as I met more of my neighbors and spoke more frequently with local business people and community leaders, the conversations turned repeatedly to the shifting shape of Franklin Avenue. 

Gentrification doesn't lack for attention in the borough of Kings, and many residents profess to being sick to death of the entire topic. Still, it's a process that affects all of us who live in Crown Heights, and one which I think warrants continued critical attention. Over the last four years, I've tried to use ILFA in two ways: first, to report on and occasionally analyze these rapid changes from my own perspective (new-ish arrival, ed-non-profit employee, community association member, urban history graduate student) but with a sympathetic ear to the diversity of local perspectives (from the excited to the disgusted); and, secondly, to create something of a forum (one necessarily limited to those with the time, technology, and inclination to read and comment on blogs) for the discussion of these issues. In that spirit, and without further ado, here's the rundown (and here are the ones from 2011 and 2010)

52 New Businesses Since August 2008 (working north from Eastern - this year's 16 additions in bold):

The Pulp and The Bean
JamRock Kitchen
Mazon Discount
Brooklyn Yoga Collective (replaced Marianne's Hair Braiding)
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
Brooklyn Fit Lab 
739 Franklin
The Candy Rush
Lily & Fig
It Takes a Village (sharing space with LaunchPad)
First Impressions Dental
TasteBuds (replaced About Time Boutique, now online)
Alternative Healing (now closed)
Black Ice NYC (replaced Alternative Healing)
Rosebud Vintage
Little Zelda
The Crown Inn
MySpace Realty
Owl and Thistle General Store
Bella Greens
BNI Express Laundromat
Crow Hill Jewelry (the pawn shop - now closed)
Sweet Basil 
The Pana Store
Modern and Vintage Shop
Calabar Imports
Excelsior Cycles (replaced United Community Church of God)
Franklin Roadhouse (now closed)
Mayfield (replaced Franklin Roadhouse)
Rosco's (replaced A Slice of Brooklyn)
A Slice of Brooklyn (now closed)
Oaxaca Taco (now closed)
Gueros Tacos
Eve and Mike's Pharmacy
The O Experience (salon above Imperial Bikers M.C.)
The Laundromat in the Jewish Hospital (on St. Marks)
Compare Foods
Posh Nails NYC
Kecia J. Weaver Law Office

8 Coming Soon (based in part on rumors):

Pizza Place (in former African Hair Braiding space, 800 Franklin)
Falafel Place (next door, 798 Franklin)
742 Franklin (MySpace storefront, rumored to be Starbucks)
Indian Place (738 Franklin, SW corner of Franklin and Sterlin)
Island Seas (in the old 3Ds space)
Coffee Shop (former Muslim Bookshop space, lost in fire)
Bollywood Bar (in former Ebita Reality space)
1000 Dean Street (to contain beer garden/food court)

25 Renovations & Additions (done, planned, or in progress - this year's in bold):

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)
Barboncino (added yard, event space coming)
Nam's (forever rearranging/renovating) 
Christopher Deli (new awning)
Bristen's/Island Thyme (now closed)
About Time (always keeping it fresh - now TasteBuds)
Community Garden (in a storefront space - now closed)
J&B Deli (now closed, became Chavela's)
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)
Dean Deli Grocery
Organic Deli Grocery (badly damaged in recent fire)

30 Closed (11 closures this year, in bold):

African Hair Braiding (to be Pizza Place)
Passion Hair Salon
Translation Services (to be Falafel Place)
Scarlet Ribbons Thrift Shop (now wino(t), moved to Fulton)
NA Candy Store (deli)
Marianne Hair Braiding (now Brooklyn Yoga Collective)
Aissatou Hair Braiding (sign says they moved nearby)
Fatima (one of the best West African restaurants in NYC)
790 Franklin (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 (to be Island Seas)
J&B Deli (now Chavela's)
Alternative Healing (now Black Ice)
Off the Hook Communications (now Little Zelda)
El Baron Grocery (soon to be The Crown Inn)
West Indian Cafe (now J's Wong)
Crow Hill Jewelry (the pawn shop)
Saje (closed just before I got here, now the Pana Store)
Homage (renovated, fire)
Muslim Bookshop (fire)
United Community Church of God (now Excelsior Cycles)
Franklin Roadhouse (now Mayfield)
Ebita Real Estate Office

World Class People's Market (deli)
Insurance (now Oaxaca Taco)
Oaxaca Taco (now Gueros Tacos)

5 New Construction Projects Underway:

341 Eastern Parkway 
Four Story Development (on site of CHCA garden)
505 St. Marks Residential Development
Four-Story Building (fence just went up, NE corner of St. Mark's and Franklin)
1000 Dean Street

Some thoughts:

- The pace of change seems to be accelerating along Franklin. The Avenue added approximately 12 new businesses a year in the first three years ILFA was tracking it, but it added 16 this year, despite a tighter, pricier rental market and increased competition for storefronts. In past years, there have been 4-5 places coming soon; this year, there are 8, and that's not including three or four other storefronts under renovation without prospective tenants, two new four-story developments, and the two looming mega-projects (of which more below). For that matter, new construction on Franklin is happening for the first time since I've been tracking this, and bricks and mortar are flying fast and furious this year. 

- Closures have picked up considerably as well - of the 52 new businesses since August 2008, 6 have closed, and another 24 have gone under as well, for a total of 30 since 2008. Only 4 businesses closed between ILFA's 2010 and 2011 roundups, as compared with 11 this year. Competition for space is picking up, and landlords are looking for new, higher-paying tenants. Fatima, one of the best West African restaurants in New York City, was evicted this week, and four African hair salons in two blocks have been closed over the past year. There was a time when ILFA tried to argue that changes on Franklin didn't conform neatly to typified gentrification trends (citing the openings of JamRock Kitchen, the Pana Store, the Pawn Shop, etc), but that's no longer a viable argument. 

While residential displacement is often at the core of debates around gentrification (with good reason), commercial displacement can play a major role as well. Rent stabilization and rent control are imperfect protections for residential tenants, but NYC hasn't had commercial rent stabilization at all since 1962. When businesses go, especially gathering places like hair salons, community support networks dissipate. Coupled with rising prices for housing and food in the area and zero-tolerance policing, these kinds of closures hasten the process of displacement.

- Prognosticators have been searching for a tipping point since before I arrived (was it when Nam's went organic? When Franklin Park opened?), and while I'm hesitant to ascribe too much significance to one or two events, it seems fair to say that some game-changing developments, most notably 341 Eastern Parkway and 1000 Dean Street, loom on the horizon. These developments, which have attracted millions of dollars of investment from some rather well-known players (you may have heard of Goldman Sachs), are another big reason that the pace of change feels different. Earlier changes were often the work of longtime local residents or merchants, putting their own dollars back into renovations or new efforts. Folks with more Brooklyn-wide restaurant experience followed quickly (the guys at Franklin Park/Dutch Boy/Crown Inn come to mind, as do the Gueros/Rosco's folks), as did first-timers with visions. Still, these folks weren't so big as to change the game by their mere presence. Now, however, citywide/global capital has made its way to Franklin. What will it bring? We'll know soon enough. 

In closing, it's been another year of rapid changes for Franklin, and things don't show any sign of slowing. There are lots of reasons to be excited about the neighborhood - vacant storefronts are now full, crime is down, cooperative community beautification efforts have improved the streetscape and provided great local youth events (including the Kids Day) - and there are lot of longtime residents (and some new arrivals, too) who've worked very hard to make these things happen. There are also reasons to be ambivalent or frustrated about changes, with displacement and rising costs of living (and doing business, if you're a merchant) often chief among them. There's more to say, but this post is long enough, so I'll kick it to the readers: How do you feel about the rapid changes? How can local residents (whether they've been here for a month or a decade) affect and channel these changes to the benefit of the greatest number of people in what is, today, a very diverse community? And what's next for Franklin?


  1. Having lived on Franklin for almost a decade now I'd say that it was probably Franklin Park that seemed to represent the first major sign of a changing neighborhood, though there were obvious harbingers of things to come before then (more cops, the already changing demographics of the neighborhood, etc.).

    Also, I know you generally focus on north of the Parkway, but the new Bob & Betty's and Pulp and Bean between Union and President mark major changes south of the Parkway that will hopefully continue the progress that has been made further north, and which represents in some ways an even bigger change as the absence of any residential housing between Park Slope and the south side of the parkway has always served as a bulwark against the kind of progressive changes seen on the north side of the parkway.

    Any form of displacement is difficult to stomach, but that's the reality of a capitalist economy, for better or worse. The disruption of social networks is unfortunate. That said, not every block needs multiple hair salons, so it's only inevitable that some will thrive while others won't. The alternative is every block looking the way they used to when every block was populated with nothing but hair salons, bodegas, liquor stores, check cashing places, and second rate grocery stores. The ones that evolve, like Bob and Betty's (again, for better or worse), survive, those that don't go under. It would be wonderful to have the best of both worlds, new businesses and a reduction in crime without displacing anyone, but that's just not feasible. I think you are right that the rate of change is increasing, particularly as the broader economy increases and capital and resources begin to flow more freely again. It should make for another interesting year on Franklin in 2013...

  2. Also, that captcha to post comments is awful. I had to try numerous times before I got it right, and even then it was a shot in the to try to get this comment to go

  3. Lived here six years, I make less than 40kay and work 50-60 hours a week and am white. Rent started at 650 per month with two roomates. Now?

    850/900 I'd be willing to guess for the same if the apartment was open.

    What am I saying? Even if youre a "new old" resident, one who patrons local businesses, one who attends community meetings, who volunteers. Even then it's getting harder to stay.

    Franklin Ave is turning into Realty Darwinism on fast forward.

    What's your thoughts?

    Starbucks Fucking Sucks.

  4. Don't forget the "Hello Living" development on Sterling bw Nostrand and Rogers

  5. I'll agree that Franklin Park was the tipping point. That was the first business that I noticed significant amounts of "gentrified" people coming to from outside the neighborhood. And the pace has been fast ever since.

    Mostly wanted to say a big thanks to Nick for this post (and, heck, all the posts!).

  6. starbucks is delicious

  7. Most of the restaurants/shops that closed had the wrong business model. Sajes (good food horrible service), Bristens (good but inconsistent food and no booze), Dina's Dessers (which was 'Deserts" that tells it all) , Franklin Roadhouse (didnt find its voice/niche), Oaxaca Taco (no booze), A Slice of Brooklyn (looked incredibly ghetto like and didnt draw kids in. Nairobi's Knapsack ( two years too early for the nabe), Pawn shop gone (GREAT). These changes on Franklin Ave very much reflect the fact that residents didnt patronize the businesses...I wouldnt frame this as a gentrification issue.

  8. Many changes, but for me ILFA has been a consistent presence during most of my time here (beat you by a few months, Nick) - very glad for this blog that has provided an open-minded, critical look at gentrification and its consequences. Thank-you.

  9. Assuming that displacement is a solely negative force is nothing but weepy sentimentalism. Arguably, many people ultimately benefit from the change of context. Life is full of surprises.

    And the displacement is itself voluntary for the most part, as a calculated response to economic criteria. Many of the long-time residents of this neighborhood, which has been heavily owner-occupied for many decades, have benefited directly from the rising property values yielding positive impact to their rentals and sales.

    I enjoy your blog, Nick, and I agree with the poster above that it is open-minded and critical, but it's worth noting that you enter the debate with your own specific value foundation and that ultimately there is no such thing as an objective view.

  10. Any thoughts on more specifically what 739 Bar's model is? Seems they had a great style in the beginning then just had no direction.

    Clashing decor, slow service, no outdoor, and a lot of missed potential.

  11. Something new coming to the NW corner of Franklin Avenue & Lincoln Place. Plywood fence is up. Any ideas? Rumors?

    Sadly I agree that 739 Bar doesn't have an identity and isn't going to last if it doesn't figure itself out!

  12. confirming my above comment. someone is renovating the space into a restaurant:

  13. I've lived in Crown Heights for 5 years now, it's been interesting seeing the changes: I can jump on the gentrification is good and bad bandwagon as it's tough seeing neighbors (residential and commercial) being displaced. But I also enjoy and appreciate the clean-up and new businesses. We're also very lucky that what's opened has been small owner run businesses rather than the faceless corporations like Starbucks. While it changes the character of Franklin Ave, it doesn't turn it into a cookie cutter neighborhood.

    I'll also second the request for info on changes south of Eastern Parkway. There seem to be a lot more empty store fronts down there than I remember being on the north side and various talks at a beer garden and Pioneer being reopened as an organic grocery by the Bob & Betty folks.