The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

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.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

How Stuff Works: Why Neighborhoods Change

The Q feels like he learned more in the last week than his head can contain. Curiosity and impatience seem to be my guiding principles these days.

Monday's joint meeting at CB9 yielded promises of solutions to the Flatbush Trees, Clove Road and the traffic insanity around the triangular BP station plot. The dream of a Frencher Parkside Ave is moving forward. Sanitation is going to start ticketing non-compliance on private store pickup. Delroy got his community service guys back on Flatbush (did you notice how nice it looked out there this week? save, of course, a couple problem spots, like the NE corner of Flatbush/Parkside - I talked to the owner of ParksideZ and he's frustrated too, but I told him "dude, you gotta deal with it or no one else will, and yes you're going to be the one getting all the tickets.")

And then I learned the real story of how Cortelyou Road changed so much in the past few years, from the movers and shakers themselves. I met with Rebekah of Brooklyn Hearth Realty on Thursday, and she outlined her and her partner Jan Rosenberg's role in retooling Cortelyou as a destination for start-up businesses, restaurants and bars, and attracting younger families and singles to the neighborhood. While there are many associated cons with pushing a neighborhood facelift agenda, the story itself is so remarkable, and can say so much to those who decry PLG's lack of amenities, you really must read the story for yourself from (in my view) the prime mover: Jan Rosenberg, who started Friends of Cortelyou and then Brooklyn Hearth Realty. In short, well-respect urban sociologist is tired of the way her neighborhood as stagnated, tries to invigorate her main street, meets indifference, takes matters into her own hands, starts selling coops, encourages startups and farmers markets, works with existing groups, coaxes new amenities to try out the strip, sells more and more houses and rents to more and more folks looking for what her newly discovered nabe has to offer. She gets a ton of support in the effort from many smart and dedicated people. A local blog becomes a must-read that helps the nabe feel like a nabe on the rebound. It's really quite riveting, and a testament to what I've said here many times before - that new energy doesn't just happen. It's made.

The Cortelyou Story.

Later that evening, I went over to trendy wine bar Castello Plan on said Corty Lou (as I like to mispronounce it), and met with the formidable challenger to our current representative at City Hall. Said individual has not yet announced, and it would be incredibly uncool of me to tell you his/her name. Suffice to say, with the rumors about my own candidacy swirling around, I feel the need to say publicly that I am incredibly confident that this person is a strong candidate and while not FROM NORTHERN Flatbush, at least he/she lives in the goddam district, unlike certain other nameless individuals, who (by the way), I have a certain fondness for personally, but can't feel super positive about as a solution broker. I'll speak more to that later when his challenger is announced and relevant issues brought to the fore, but for now I'm very content to work with our guy on the many projects we have going on around here. I didn't use his name in case he's got a google alert set up in his gmail. But word is getting around anyway, so there it is, sans name of said challenger.

After that experience, I stopped off for a nightcap at the lovely home of Ditmas Park Corner founder and editor Liena Zagare and Buzzfeed editor Ben Smith. What a blast. These guys are fun, whip smart and committed to their community. (btw, the story of how Liena's Ditmas Park Blog became Ditmas Park Corner is a great one in itself. I wrote about it at the time it was unfolding, but I'm too lazy now to search and link back. I should really do better in that regard. I could have done it, actually, in the time it took to write those last sentences. But then again, my fingers were itchy to keep rolling). The Q was fortunate enough to also meet super-swell political reporter Ruby Cramer, also of the 'Feed as I'm calling it just for this paragraph. I left with a smile on my face and a helmet on my head. The helmet, unlike the smile, was not there as a result of my time at the Smith/Zagares, but rather because I ride a bicycle, and I've been shamed into wearing one, despite thinking that it makes me look like a major doofus. When you have children, you simply must embrace your inner doofus, or you will never leave the house.

Last week a reporter from Brooklyn Paper was asking whether the new coffee place was doomed like earlier joints. Not in the least. But in talking to co-owner Kola a bit mid-week, it became clear that he would love to open a sit-down place somewhere down the road. As would many, many others I'm sure. But is there anyone reaching out to him, or the many others, or to other successful business owners in Brooklyn, or to landlords, to help make that happen? Certainly not like it happened on Cortelyou, or Franklin, or Smith, or Vanderbilt or Myrtle, or Dekalb, or Fulton, get the picture. Think about it; if you were an entrepreneur, probably a bit nervous about dipping your toes into a new neighborhood...wouldn't you want to go where the water was warm?


Anonymous said...

I actually prefer our stretch of Flatbush over Cortelyou for its vibrancy and activity - Cortelyou often feels desolate. And Cortelyou is such a wide street with the new amenities very spread out. Makes it lack intimacy, coziness, something. I think the new restaurants there are okay but read Yelp reviews and you'll see people have mixed feelings about them. I've had both great and mediocre meals at Farm on Adderly. Long story short, we can do better here in PLG! The Lincoln/Flatbush intersection can be a nice little hub. And is already going to be between Lincoln Park Tavern being there, Tugboat arriving and if the corner grocery being built in the old Papas is a decent one. Tugboat had a huge continuous line yesterday and all the tables full.

Anonymous said...

Tim, you make excellent points in your post, per usual. Thanks for summarizing your conversations.

I think that one of the biggest challenges in bringing new businesses over to our side is geography. It was pretty inevitable that Park Slope would reach over into Prospect Heights, which then reached over into Crown Heights. If you have a buddy in Prospect Heights surrounded by rents that have gotten super high, you can find an affordable place in walking distance in Crown Heights (for now). Not so in PLG - it's not comfortable walking distance from any gentrifying hood. There is no one in PLG able to say something like, "I'm opening a cafe just one block over from Chavellas," for example (which, for reference, is on Classon).

I feel mixed about our neighborhood's prospects. Tugboat is awesome and I am psyched to see them there. Given the Manor-induced low density housing situation for the more well off, I am not sure that the neighborhood can support the sort of amenities I hear people asking about, like gourmet cheeses, rare olive oils, and what have you. The volume of consumers necessary does not exist.

There are only a few things that I personally would like to see change: a clean grocery store that does not try and pass off expired meat as salable, cleaner streets, less traffic, and more drug related arrests.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Anon: 9:15. Thanks for summarizing the most important priorities. I agree.

I'm pretty sure the new grocery store at the old Papa will satisfy many of the grocery needs. We'll see. Frankly, I would disagree about the low density being a problem. Look at the Census, and we're actually quite densely packed. There are tons, and tons of apartments and coops around here. The sheer number of people at the train stations each day (and don't forget the 2/5 lines!) could support pretty much any kind of well-designed, well-conceived shoppe. I don't know how many kinds of olive oil one needs, but I'll bet someone could figure out how to make money on them! Even those without oodles of cash will splurge if it's something they care about. Whole Foods built its empire on such thinking. AND, don't forget that there are few places east of us that hit that bourgie sweet spot, so folks might head west as far as PLG rather than trek past the park.

The few small business people I've quizzed down aren't just interested in opening "one neighborhood over." They're interested in maximum profits and beating the competition. We have all the right stuff to sell the neighborhood to investors and entrepreneurs. We just haven't anyone doing the selling. We're basically getting beaten to a pulp by other 'hoods advocates.

JDB said...

As always, thanks for taking the lead on so many of these issues. What are some actual concrete ways we can help you to make some of these things happen? I know many people in the hood want to help but may not be in a position to take a leadership role.

Anonymous said...

We have drug dealing to clean up in PLG and gangs. I would love to see some more arrests.

I never put my foot into Associated. Best market here is Pioneer on Ocean/Parkside.

The apt buildings here are simply fabulous and you can do almost anything you want with them.

Anonymous said...

This is getting off the point, but the Pioneer is a huge scam. Usually about half of my items ring up for more than they are listed. They are making a ton of money off of people who are in a hurry and not paying attention. I always buy pretty much the same things and they never correct the prices. Its atrocious.


Anonymous said...

Well, to follow you off point for a minute, Josh -- my experience is that most supermarkets make a ton of money off of people who don't keep an eye on things at check out! That goes for Fairway, Pathmark, Shop and Stop, Key Foods, etc. as much as it goes for the local Pioneer.

Anonymous said...

Just FYI, the people who run Pioneer are the same people who run the Associated. I see the some of the same people working at both. By the way, what happened to that one guy who used to be at Pioneer all the time? Sam(?) Haven't seem him in a long time.

babs said...

Chavella's is now on Franklin Ave which is an amazing strip.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Anon 5:57 PM, I'd heard that rumor so I asked. The two aren't run by the same people. Manager Hector told me that. I mean, perhaps there's some corporate connection he's unaware of, but he says they're totally different. Maybe some cashiers or delivery people work at both? I posted here about that crazy story of Associated being robbed of tens of thousands of dollars. That's where the inflated prices go!

Hector asked me which I liked better, Pioneer or Associated. I told him he'd get my vote if he got rid of the canning operation. Once again he told me that it's not good for business, and I told him to tell his boss - he can't be getting more in half-nickels from the glass 'n' bottle service than it would be worth to have a clean, safe and inviting sidewalk. I just need to go in there and talk to the owner when he's around...I don't know why I've dragged my feet on that one. I'm usually not so, um, shy. I guess I'm usually in a hurry to get in and out of there...which is tough. The aisles are barely bigger than at the PSFC.

Anonymous said...

Pioneer doesn't smell.
We not only have to get rid of that bottle 'service.' Doing the Plaza without getting rid of that?
Almost a total waste of time.

I stay off most of Flatbush and Parkside as much as I humanly can.

Mind you there are businesses on Flatbush that deserve better and among them are Globe Electronics, Hawthorne Hardware, Jamaican Pride, Errols Bakery...but what you have to pass to get to these decent places???? Especially outside the laundromat at the corner of Winthrop/Flatbush.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but Hector is lying. I see the same management type people in both stores, so unless that changed when you spoke to him, I know who I see and I know there is some kind of connection going on. Not that it matters, I still go to both stores, depending on who has what on sale.

LoryHey said...

I'm a bit late to the party on this blog post, but I was chatting with one of the owners at Trixie's - the pet shop on Flatbush - the other night, and he mentioned that neighborhood turnover was a big impediment to his business. When they opened the shop, he was expecting to have a lot of loyal, repeat customers from the house-dwellers. And they thought the apartment building-dwellers would at least add business in around the edges. But, he says, in fact there are only a few of us who stick around and give them repeat business. The turnover in the local apartment buildings seems to have come as a surprise, and the lack of substantial support from the house-dwellers an even bigger surprise. I think it's one thing to grab a coffee at Tugboat on your way out of the neighborhood to go to work, but in order for our neighborhood to truly flourish, we have to wrap our heads around buying whatever we need that is available in Lefferts from Lefferts.

ElizabethC said...

Being a pet owner, I can tell you main issue with Trixies is that it's more than a bit overpriced. I actually walk over to Animal Fare in WIndsor Terrace (another small independent pet store) because their prices are SO MUCH cheaper. I mean, I'm not talking fifty cents or a dollar: I'm talking the difference between a bag of treats for 6.99 at Trixies and 3.99 at Animal Fare. In these trying economic times, you can't just charge more based on being the only game in town. It's already hard enough to get people to buy in actual stores what they can get delivered also have to price your wares competitive to others stores in the area. That being said, they are both really nice and I do try to shop there when I can.

Anonymous said...

Prices are higher in part because volume is so low here, I'd guess. No one's making a huge profit off of selling retail goods in PLG, nor are they trying to wring money from their customers -- they're just trying to cover costs and make enough of a profit to keep going.

It seems inconsistent to complain about the lack of amenities/retail businesses here and then go elsewhere to shop. If we want things to change, we should start spending money in the neighborhood. We need PLG (er, Lefferts) to be a place where businesses like Trixie's succeed, which will help attract other new businesses. Shopping elsewhere won't change anything in our neighborhood, and in fact will hurt it.