Cursed Corners?

BHB photo by C. Scales

BHB photo by C. Scales


Brooklyn Daily Eagle: “Is it poor management, bad timing, or just a terrible location?” When a commercial corner location in toney Brooklyn Heights remains perpetually empty, or even when occupied it is home to short-lived enterprises, one might ask that question.

One of these unfortunate corners (photo above) is at Clark and Hicks, in the St. George Tower building. Its last occupant was Palmira’s, which closed three years ago. Last year, many BHB readers cheered when it was announced that a branch of the popular Park Slope establishment Tea Lounge might open there; however, in October the Lounge’s owner announced that lease negotiations had broken off because of “absolutely ridiculous” demands by the St. George Tower co-op board. According to the Eagle, the co-op is now using part of the space as locker rooms for building staff.

BHB photo by C. Scales

BHB photo by C. Scales

At the diagonal opposite of the St. George complex, Henry and Pineapple, this large, below ground level space, which formerly housed the Hotel’s electric generator (the St. George, formerly the largest hotel in New York City, was “off the grid” and produced it s own power) and pumps for its famous salt water pool, has stood vacant for many years.

BHB photo by C. Scales

BHB photo by C. Scales

Moving two blocks north on Henry, we come to the site at Henry and Cranberry that once was home to the well-known Chinese restaurant Su-Su’s Yum-Yum (Who can remember the “Yum-Yum Mobile” that used to cruise the Heights every evening?) and, since it closed, has housed several relatively short-lived establishments. Several years ago, it was divided into three spaces, which housed Oven, Blue Pig Ice Cream, and, most famously (or infamously), Busy Chef. These all closed in July of 2008, and the site has been vacant since. Last summer, our readers were delighted when we reported that the owner of Sweet Melissa, a popular patisserie with locations in Park Slope and on Court Street in Cobble Hill, was in negotiations to take over part of the space, but nothing has come of this.

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  • No One of Consequence

    We’ve already talked about the “Palmira’s” space for longer than Palmira’s was open. The complaint about the sidewalk shed for Palmira’s always rang hollow. No one ever wants those things put up, but they are usually required by the city for good reasons. There are so many in NYC that to lay the blame for your failed business on them is a weak argument. Tea Lounge wanted live music, the co-op wanted adequate sound-proofing and remedial clauses for noise disturbances. Tea Lounge wasn’t interested in negotiating. My gut is that they would have closed by now anyway.

    $15,000/mo for the Henry/Pineapple space? That is a 50% increase from 3 years ago or so when I was told $120,000/annual.
    Expect it to stay empty for the foreseeable future, or get it at a bargain today as in 3 more years it will probably be $22,500 (another 50% increase). I guess they want to recoup losses from the vacancy. Great plan. Still, $51/ft2 is a reasonable rent, but the space also has it’s limitations.

    With the abundance of available commercial space now in this area, all at pre-recession rents, I don’t expect that CoC will be occupied anytime soon, either. Having all but one of their storefronts vacant raises a red flag that something else might be amiss, but I don’t have any further insights on that. There would also be the additional burden of stigma on this space.

  • Jorale-man

    Another corner that seems perpetually empty is the former Bolton’s store on Remsen & Clinton. I don’t know what the full story is but that corner, draped in scaffolding is a particular eyesore.

  • ABC

    I think your gut is wrong about Tea Lounge.

  • Nancy

    Let’s not forget about the corner of Hicks and Montague. Former Tasti DLite/Blue Rose/Biviano space. It’s been a revolving door. I don’t know how that Dimples place makes it’s rent.

  • Remsen

    I guess if I were a new business owner looking for a location, I would sooner turn towards Atlantic Avenue where there seems to be more foot traffic and one would get residents from Cobble Hill as well as BH. The north end of the Heights is sort of painted into a corner as I doubt many DUMBO residents want to walk up the hill. The new park will add to more traffic on Atlantic as well.

  • AEB

    …or the vacant space formerly occupied by ROWF, at Hicks and Middagh.

    Because of its location (though it WOULD get kid traffic from the PS just across the street, assuming the merch was appropriate), it would hardly seem a contender for quick rental.

    On the other hand, the rental would, I believe, be on the more-favorable side.

    If the right service is offered, they should come….

  • Bartmann

    I love living in an expensive historic district. Yet one of the disadvantages for new restaurants is that the population stays fixed. The Heights population is predominantly married people 30 years old and above who often prepare food at home. We’re at an age where we have great kitchens, appliances, and great cooking skills. Besides it’s cheaper and more fun to entertain in your home rather than go to a restaurant. Younger people in their twenties are the ones who will eat out several times a week. But Brooklyn Heights is both two expensive, and stuffy to attract a young singles demographic, hence Williamsburg.

    So for a restaurant to make it in Brooklyn Heights, it must do the basics like pay the expense of opening a restaurant, and offer great food at reasonable prices. More importantly it has to be better and cheaper than the existing restaurants we all go to. This is the toughest hurdle. While we will always try a new restaurant once, to go back means that it has to displace one of my top Brooklyn Heights restaurants.

    Bartmann

  • AEB

    I don’t think it’s either-or, Bartman: eating at home vs. eating out. There’s a time for both, even in BH.

    I note that Noodle Pudding is mobbed virtually every night of the week. The trick is to find a formula like theirs that works as well as theirs does. Prob involves good, accessible (in both the culinary and destination sense) grub that’s also go-back-often affordable.

  • Andrew

    Restaurants can be a draw to a neighborhood for people who don’t live in the neighborhood. Look at the flocks of tourists who are lining up at Grimaldi’s in the summer. Compare the crowds at better Smith St. restaurants with the Montague Street selection.

    Aside from Henry’s End, absolutely no restaurant in the Heights is worth making a trip to from out of the neighborhood. And yet, aside from Noodle Pudding, none offer enough quality at low enough prices to be great neighborhood joints. Jack the Horse and Bread and BUtter are very pricey for what they offer– which isn’t bad, but not so much worth the premium to stay in the neighborhood and much less come in from out of the neighborhood to visit.

    Why are all these spaces vacant? How out of line with prices in comparable neighborhoods in Brooklyn or Manhattan are the asking prices for these spaces?

  • No One of Consequence

    @ABC, we’ll never know, will we. :)

  • paul

    “I guess they want to recoup losses from the vacancy. Great plan.”

    at some point, you would think this would become untenable. however, rents don’t seem to be very elastic in these spaces and I guess the corps that own the buildings are too big to care about the opportunity cost. I understand it often makes sense for landlords to hold out on rents for longer periods due to the longer life of store leases, but for spaces to be unoccupied for 6 years, as the old thai restaurant on henry near clark has, just seems horribly inefficient to me.

  • nabeguy

    paul, don’t forget to factor in the loss-of-business tax write-offs that landlords take on empty spaces. It’s not the same as making money through rental income, but it certainly softens the overall loss and gives the larger corporate landlords more leeway in holding out for the best price.

  • Hicks St guy

    Lantern, the Thai place near Hicks & Montague is solid. Henry’s End is a smoky & cheerless place that doesn’t work for me and numerous people I know. The aforementioned corners are dead also because the spaces are too large.

  • Jorale-man

    I had a great dinner at Henry’s End earlier this week. The food was all top-notch. If I have one complaint, it’s the proximity of the dining room to the open kitchen area, which can be rather loud. Nonetheless, places like this are all too few and far between in the Heights, especially on Montague Street.

  • http://selfabsorbedboomer.blogspot.com Claude Scales

    Jorale-man: agreed about Henry’s End. I could never call a place with Bonnie on the waitstaff “cheerless”. I’ve expounded more on the subject here: http://selfabsorbedboomer.blogspot.com/2009/02/zagats-way-it-goes.html

  • nabeguy

    I savor Henry’s End. Consistently one of the most focused restaurants around. The only bad experience I had there was when a server (not Bonnie) offered to “spice up” my Manhattan by adding a splash of OJ with the right of refusal if I didn’t like it…one sip later, I exercised my rights. Unfortunately, the replacement was shaken, not stirred, a sacrilege that every lazy bartender has adopted since “Dr. No” hit the theaters. Damn that Ian Fleming and his impatient liver!

  • Charlie

    I think there is a huge demographic on Henry st that is clearly overlooked. The St. George and Clark student residences house around 1200 students and none of us want to go to any of the expensive restaurants around here. Also, it seems that everything closes around 8 or 9. If something cheap and trendy were put along Henry and open late..like a coffehouse cafe with dessert, I have a feeling it would thrive. All of the students here want somewhere they can lounge, socialize, and eat around late hours. The closest thing is Park Plaza which is over priced and not very appetizing.

  • http://selfabsorbedboomer.blogspot.com Claude Scales

    Charlie: I’ve long thought that the ground level space in the St. George complex, at Henry and Pineapple, would be a great location for a reasonably priced cafe/restaurant that would cater to college students and others. I’m thinking of something like Hungry Charlie’s (a name that might attract you) in the Village back in the 1970s, which was a magnet for NYU students. To succeed it would need to do high volume, which means serving good stuff at affordable prices. I wish someone would give it a try.

  • Adam G

    Charlie, Claude, as a young guy who lives on the Heights-Hill border and works (frequently late) in DUMBO (and therefore commutes on foot, there being no other link), I couldn’t possibly agree more.

  • sue

    what is the heights association doing about this??

  • Nancy

    Great, just what we need, another place for college and grad students to sit all night with one cup of coffee and use free internet. That won’t help pay the rent. It’s too big of a space. I vote for an upscale chain type, like a Maggiano’s.

  • Andrew Porter

    Charlie, Claude, there’s gonna be a bar with outdoor space just across the street on Pineapple, if the owners get their way.

  • Luke C

    Does Bartmann’s theory of appliance ownership explain the lack of a laundromat too? Too many apartments with their own W/D? Which is uglier, a laundromat on the high street or a For Let sign?

  • http://newyorkboiler.com David Argus

    As a local Brooklyn business, it’s really a shame to see vacant commercial space in our community. Even worse is when these locations sit vacant for what is now turning out to be years. As Brooklyn’s leading commercial boiler service company (New York Boiler, Inc.), we know that when these spaces sit dormant, essential systems like the building’s heating plant aren’t being maintained. When a boiler or furnace isn’t being maintained, it starts to run less optimally…and with the price of oil these days, it’s really a necessity to be running at peak performance. This is one way landlords/owners of commercial buildings w/ dormant spaces can at least save some money while not collecting rent.