THE CORTELYOU ECONOMY by New York Megaphone
The New York Megaphone is a community activist newspaper in an active community named Ditmas Park/Flatbush, Brooklyn. We’ve got great diversity, growth, an active merchants association, and a solid community development organization in Flatbush Development Corporation. The neighborhood is affordable and safe, but it wasn’t always that way. Only ten years ago, banks used to “red line” this neighborhood. Even those with good credit couldn’t get a mortgage. A crack cocaine problem chased away Chase Bank.
NYC has a bad reputation for gentrification, or instant growth that happens so fast, original residents and less-privileged folks get forced out. So, how can Ditmas Park grow, but grow for all? This is the question we want to ask, in a two-part series. First, we looked at the positives. We talked to local merchants about growth in the Cortelyou Road area. Next issue, our reporter Sophia Solovyova will tackle the question of who may be left behind.
Tom Kearney, manager and chef at The Farm talks about his restaurant’s steady growth: “This is a unique neighborhood, like a small town within NYC. The Farm has been experiencing steady growth ever since we opened. There are very few restaurants in the neighborhood and a great demand for them. Our goal is to operate as a fully sustainable, but also a profitable business. We are trying to support the local economy, local farming, although this is not always possible because they need to keep prices reasonable. Soon, we are opening a new venue on Newkirk and Argyle, a bistro with French-inspired cuisine.”
San Remo Pizza co-owner Matteo Amato reports that his business has been steady in the middle of all the changes on Cortelyou. “This is an established business owned by the Amato family since 1976. In the past few years we have changed the menu by adding many new items.” Soon, Amato plans to expand the pizzeria into a family-style restaurant.
“This is not the old Giant Bagels shop!” says Giant Bagel manager Steven Silva. “The goal is to adapt to the requirements and changes of the neighborhood.” They will be renovating the front, installing WiFi, and changing the décor. Their most popular sandwiches are the Cuban and the grilled chicken and Silva reports that one customer, a 15-year resident of the neighborhood, said, “The old GB was so gloomy and unfriendly that I walked in and walked out.” Now, Silva says, the 15-year-old really enjoys socializing with the staff and loves the food.
T.B. Ackerson Wine Merchants co-owner Jane Rennert Miller says: “We have definitely grown in the last year. We feel so positive. It’s a unique neighborhood for Brooklyn, or anywhere else in the city - such a combination of newcomers and old time residents without any animosity between the two. We really do get a great cross-section of Brooklyn in our store.” The prospects for growth in the neighborhood are excellent, reports Jane. “I would encourage anyone to open a business here.”
Belle & Maxie owner Gilbert Flores reports strong 400% growth in 2007. “We received many amazing reviews, notably in Urban Baby Daily, and expanded to include local artist Heather Louise Bennett, a doll-maker extraordinaire.” Flores, like many merchants, would like to see more specialty shops, services and restaurants open on Cortelyou Road. Flores’ goals for 2008 include the launch of an e-store at www.belleandmaxie.com.
“My customers are really dear to me. I love the fact that on many occasions they stop in for a chat, see what’s new, find that something ‘special’ and have a good time shopping in their neighborhood.”
Did you know about The Healing Path Yoga Studio? Residents often ask for a yoga studio in Flatbush/Ditmas Park. Maybe they don’t know that Healing Path opened at 1410 Beverly Road in August 2007. Yoga instructor Einat seeks to familiarize people with her style of yoga, which emphasizes meditation, self-healing, and awareness. This is not the fitness yoga most people have become used to. It can be strenuous at times, but her yoga works on a different level - it is more like physical therapy than a workout.
Brooklyn Hearth owner Jan Rosenberg finds Ditmas Park/Flatbush, “a vibrant and increasingly cohesive community.” Jan would know; as a real estate broker she has brought many new residents here. “There is a strong market for buyers and sellers, and excellent opportunities for renters. Ditmas Park has recently become better known and more visible as a real estate market. There are many new business and services that attract people into the neighborhood.” Jan’s husband reports it’s difficult to walk around with her; so many residents stop and thank her for finding them their homes.
The Natural Frontier is the catch-all healthy food source for Cortelyou Road. Recently, the store has been seeing 10 percent growth, each month. “People are really into health. I was really surprised,” says manager Suraj Shrestha. The store opened reached profitability in its third month. Suraj says that the neighborhood can still use a bank but it is a good place to do business.
Vipin Agarwal has a hospitality background from working in the hotel industry in Canada. He bought the Picket Fence restaurant from Graham and Chelsea Meyerson last year. He recently renovated it, adding more seating, fresh décor, bamboo hardwood tables, and improvements to the menu. Locals have been raving about the new food. A neighborhood anchor is in good hands!
Few people have been in the neighborhood longer than Gabe Carino, owner of Gabe’s Camera City, which has been in business for 51 years.
Carino is a survivor of two wars, two hold-ups and many competitors. “I’m up,” he says. “Three big camera stores closed up. They all moved.” In the past year, Carino has seen the growth of high rises, a new influx of people and rising demand for his electronic goods. “People want more!” he says. Carino is probably the most colorful neighborhood story-teller. When he talks about past hold-ups, he waves around a 9 mm Beretta, “now I’ve got a permit, and this is what I use.” Or, he recommends using his sister’s strategy. Years ago, while being held up at gunpoint, she refused to open the register, claiming she couldn’t do it, “unless she made a sale.” The thieves soon left, confused. Gabe is Chairman Emeritus, of the Cortelyou Road Merchants Association.
“This is a neighborhood that is just about to pop. I love working in the neighborhood. It is my home,” reports the new manager at Connecticut Muffin, a newcomer to Cortelyou. CT Muffin reports they have gone through a period of adjustment. They started with a “high end menu,” which has since changed. “We also improved the decor, made seating more comfortable, and put a couch in the back.” One of Mark’s ideas is to bring students from the public school across the street to perform music once a week at CT muffin.
Short Answers from Small Business:
How is Your Business Doing Compared to One Year Ago?
Cortelyou Liquors: “Slower.”
Bill’s Discount: “About the same.”
Punta Cana: “It’s going better. More clients.”
Reported by Igor Kossov, Justin Stec, Sander Hicks, and Sophia Solovyova.
Interviews were conducted and typed mostly by Sophia Solovyova.
Written by Sander Hicks and Sophia Solovyova.