Meet Wilfrid Compere and Delroy Wright, president and executive director of FEPMA (Flatbush Empire to Parkside Merchant's Association):
For his part, Delroy Wright also has strong ties to the neighborhood and to its unique brand of politics. He was the owner of a popular bar (Handyman) for many years, one that used to stand where Rhythm Splash (previously Lime) currently resides. He moved his joint further south on Bedford near the Sears, but Compere and others convinced him he was much needed up our way to help organize the recently too-dormant commerce collective.
A little history: the once mighty PLGNA had money and a storefront on Flatbush, and they started FECMA (when Clarkson was the southern edge) in the '70s. FECMA signs can still be seen on lampposts along the rue.
What does it all mean, beyond organizing FEPMA's revived annual street fair? Potentially, it could mean a whole lot, because there are myriad problems and opportunities to address. The landlords of Flatbush are notoriously absent and lack vision, a fact that Wright confirms. So barring a concerted effort on the part of these owners to make the area more amenable to business, the merchant's are the best bet to turn around a street that is a mere shadow of what it could be. Wright calls it the Illusionary Avenue, the way it SEEMS to hold promise and the makings of a strong commercial district, and yet there's something not quite coherent about its character, leaving one to wonder why so many shops open and shut in short order.
Mr. Compere believes he knows why there's so little permanence. He says the amount of street and pedestrian traffic, coupled with the storied Flatbush name, give the blocks an outsized allure to new businesses. Landlords are quick to take high rents from the often un-savvy prospects who are lured by visions of easy money. They see "gold" on Flatbush, but Compere knows better. By day there are precious few real "shoppers," and folks mostly pass by the storefronts to and from work, often spending their walk-around money elsewhere. Add to that the fact that many of the newcomers to the neighborhood aren't familiar with or comfortable with the current offerings, and you're talking serious disconnect. That's not to say there aren't plenty of transactions happening (legal and not so)...just not the level you'd expect from such a busy neighborhood.
Delroy says of the 120-140 businesses open at any given time along the stretch, you've got nearly 20 grocers, 35ish beauty spots, and 20 or so restaurants, mostly super-casual and take-out. Add to that my own rough count of 10 tax places and 12 cell phone stores, and that's nearly 100 joints right there. There are a few truly unique boutique type places (the awesome Tafari Tribe's Sandra Marshall-Haye is also a committed FEPMA volunteer), but many of the businesses are not of the sort that typically forms the backbone of merchant's groups. There are no banks. There are no sit-down destination restaurants. There are no wine stores (on the avenue) or comfy internet coffee houses (on the avenue). Few new stores cater to the ever-yuppifying demographics around here. It's all quite baffling, and not just to me, but to the men who've been doing this for a long long time. (A note about the beauty places: neither Delroy nor the Q see this is a negative in the slightest...the neighborhood is known worldwide for its great stylists. Some shops are clearly the labor of love of a single proprietor, but many merely rent chairs by the day or week, making it difficult to organize avenue-wide efforts around such transience.)
Here's the piece. They have a BID (Business Improvement District) over there with paid staff, and they won grants to redo storefronts and are in the midst of a serious upswing.
I don't doubt for a second that the reason money, ideas, vision and traffic calming are coming first to Church Avenue is leadership - it has a powerful ally in CAMBA and the BID, which by the way used to be helmed by one Marc Dicus who tried to make similar improvements up here before being unceremoniously rejected by his own Board. Church Avenue was glad to have him though. You can read that sad story here...
We wish Mr. Wright and Mr. Compere well in their endeavors. I think they need all of our support. We could all be better served by a stronger, safer and cleaner commercial Main Street. Email Delroy here if you're a business person or prospect or interested resident who wants to get more involved. The Q will be checking in with FEPMA regularly to keep you in the loop and update you on their progress.
NEXT MEETING: MARCH 8th AGENDA: Security, Spring Cleanup, Street Fair, Membership Drive, Restaurant Week on Flatbush (I think this meeting is at Tafari Tribe - email Delroy if you're interestested)
The Q at Parkside
News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.