Quote Of The Day: ‘BH Is Too Small, Too Old For High-End Specialty Shops’

An intriguing comment comes from a BHB reader, remarking on the March 15 Blog post, “Is Sephora Coming To Brooklyn Heights?”

Amid frequent discussions that blanket the Brooklyn Heights Blog about chain retailers vs. local shops, AEB writes:

I sometimes feel we’re all in the grip of a mass delusion that BH will become the home of high-end specialty shops ‘curated’ by hip folks who have dernier cri taste, etc. Ain’t gonna happen, much as I wish it would. BH is too small, its real estate too pricey and its live-in ‘audience’ is too old/square. Sorry, I live here too, but…

Interesting thought, yes? And you? Feel free to add your thoughts to this ever-pertinent push-and-pull discussion…

(Photo: Chuck Taylor)

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  • AEB

    I will refrain from commenting. Cause that’s the kind of guy I’m.

  • AEB

    PS, thanks BHB for the nod….

  • Pierrepont

    Sounds spot-on to me! I suspect something as fancy as Le Pain Quotidian is about as “specialty” as Montague can get. And even that may be a stretch, given the weekday crowd. Well-played, @AEB.

  • Teddy

    We’ve talked about this a lot on BHB and we all know the reasons behind it. Actually, like I said in a previous post, some people may actually find it appealing that the Heights doesn’t really change much compared to other neighborhoods and some of them are not old/square. We’re always a short walk or train ride away from a lot more options anyway.

  • She’s Crafty

    I agreed on the previous thread and I agree now. My only dissention is the issue of Fulton Mall. I don’t share the fond and nostalgic feelings some seem to have for those stores that sell crappy merchandise and “unlocked” phones. Let’s keep the new GAP, Children’s Place, Payless, Macy’s, Modell’s and the new H&M and the Dekalb market and get rid of the rest of the stuff. Fulton Mall needs to cater more to the surrounding communities.

  • Jorale-man

    Just to play devil’s advocate: why is though that a neighborhood like the West Village, which has even pricier real estate can be home to such an interesting collection of independent restaurants and stores and BH can’t? I’m thining especially about the area west of Seventh Avenue in the Village. Or, for a closer point of comparison, Dumbo and to some extent Cobble Hill also have more interesting retail than BH and are comparably in size.

    Perhaps the Heights just doesn’t project the right “vibe” for a high-end specialty shop. But that could change if a few pioneering entrepreneurs gave it a chance.

  • Jorale-man

    Sorry, that above should read “I’m thinking especially about…” My editor left for the weekend.

  • AmyinBH

    I might just be tired and reading this wrong, but when did Sephora become high end?

  • stuart

    Such a silly topic. One old crank’s over-simplification.
    Can we discuss something more interesting?

  • bornhere

    I’m not sure why having high-end (I’m guessing that means really expensive) hipness (I am not sure exactly what that means) has to be within walking distance of my front door. I can get to snappy jewelry/clothing/things stores within 30 minutes, and some of those shops are in areas that, while equally snappy, remind me of some of the reasons I love living here.
    Decades ago, there were quite a few interesting stores on Montague Street, such as Meunier’s and Stuff ‘n’ Nonsense. They were not, I don’t think, what AEB means by “high-end,” but they offered non-chain-ish jewelry/clothing/things that were different and of great quality. They couldn’t survive, and that’s a loss.
    But just to support the “old/square” argument, yup, that’s me, I guess; nevertheless, I can find my way around Manhattan or wherever in no time when I must have “high-end.” Almost every place I can think of (including the Village, which is wholly different from the Heights) reminds me of why I love living here. (And I would still prefer a real neighborhood bakery and fish store over almost any other kind of business — hip, high-end, crappy, you name it.)

  • AEB

    To try to answer your question, Jorale-man, I think that the West Village, where I lived for a time, is a much more diverse (and in fact larger) community than BH–younger and certainly gayer (perhaps I should simply say there are many more than four gay people there), and thus, well, livelier, hipper, and thus again, more inviting to the kinds of businesses you mention.

    Too, a whole central thoroughfare isn’t given over there to pseudo-ethnic restaurants and other shops dedicated to a nearby working community. I’m talking about Montague, of course.

    Now, Stuart: I AM ancient, positively doddering–I’m drooling on my computer right now as I tap this out–and perhaps I missed some of the details you would have had me add. So I invite you to add them. Also, your lack of interest in a topic doesn’t automatically render that topic without interest. Dig?

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlsiLOnWCoI Arch Stanton

    I dont’ think it has as much to do with the type of people who live in the Heights vs the Village, as the amount of people living and visiting the neighborhoods. The village has way more pedestrian traffic than the Heights. Even crappy restaurants & stores can survive when fueled by hordes of touri and the bridge/tunnel meatheads.

    Stuart, perhaps you can suggest a topic that you find intellectually stimulating?

  • Master Of Middagh

    Out of curiosity- what was “Meunier’s”? I think I may have heard of it somewhere…

  • PromGal

      The resident population of Brooklyn Heights is very small compared to the huge population if people who work in the immediate area. These are two totally different demographics, economically and socially. 
      Businesses obviously cater to the larger demographic. Restaurants and shops that look at the residential demographics, income levels and real estate prices and open establishments based on that have always failed.
      Heights residents are older (over 35), married, with median household incomes over $200k.
      For many, going out for dinner is not an everyday thing, but a dress up for the occasion occasion. Very few places for that locally.
      Rest assured, Hermès and YSL will not be coming to Brooklyn in the near future. 

  • Karl Junkersfeld

    Let’s not forget an old standby on Montague called Tango. Michael, the original owner, is a good friend and this clothing store has been on Montague from the late 70’s and still thriving under his daughter’s leadership.

    And stuart, what is your problem with older citizens? You are constantly deriding those over a certain age. Don’t you realize, you too, will be part of that population much sooner than you think. AEB is brilliant and his posts are very entertaining as are most of yours.

  • hicks st guy

    pretty fair assessment, AEB.

  • WillowtownCop

    Re: the West Village: 15 years ago the WV had an interesting collection of independent shops – the kitchen antiques store is gone, replaced my Marc Jacobs on Bleecker St. The cool toy store run for decades by the same old man has been replaced by a cookie cutter store that sells over priced plastic crap. Ralph Lauren took over two huge formerly interesting stores. Strawberry Fields has been replaced by “high end fashion” that no one ever shops in. The cool bathroom store on W 10th is now a 7s jeans store. It was a crime what happened to the WV. At least nothing like that can happen here because there’s hardly anything worth mourning the loss of.

  • maestro

    I am young…and I like Brooklyn Heights…the way it is.

  • Judy

    High rents being charged for the commercial spaces on Montague Street combined with the daytime office worker and juror traffic will always point to more lunch places and fewer interesting or independent non- food shops. I don’t think this is as much an issue of age as it is of rents. I hope everyone who is commenting has or will complete the Montague Street BID’s online survey found on their website.

  • AEB

    I think, Willowtown, that it comes down to, how do you like your neighborhoods? With rough edges or gentrified-smooth? The latter is of course what happened to the West Village, once very boho, then “mixed” boho, and now all gentrified.

    The change was startlingly evident to me when, not having been to the . Village for some time, I returned, to find (among other things) that the gay bookstore–porn plus booths–that (in)famously occupied Hudson at Christopher had become a MATERNITY BOUTIQUE! Talk about emblematic!

  • AEB

    One other thing, if I may: does anyone know exactly how much of the Montague stores’ sales are the result of five-day-a-week patronage by a lunchtime crowd?

    I mean, do the nearby workers descend in swarms on the various restaurants, cell stores, clothing “boutiques,”etc.–or even in sufficient numbers to keep the stores profitable? I guess they do–but it would be interesting to have more factual info.

  • William Spier

    I think there is a bit of truth in what most of you say, except for the “old” description. The Heights is really a low density area compared to the Village etc.with only one commercial street, and one with expensive rents at that. The exception, Cadman Plaza, had folks who aged, retired and had little use for boutiques. In all my years here BH was never a destination for boutique shopping, and the eating establishments on Montague Street catered more to the BOE and Courts trade. When the Leaf and Bean departed for the Slope years back links to the more casual and sometimes grittier past on Montague Street frayed. The mix of businesses now on Montague Street are basically service businesses.

    Bit by bit, north Henry Street is coming back; until Cadman Plaza turns over its population more, this will be slow and business turnover somewhat common. Spacious housing in BH is not so easy to come by unless you can pony up $2 million plus, so young families will continue to bail out when the second kid is born.

    BH is the suburb, and a unique one at that. I would not expect much change; the dynamics are just not there.

  • Gerry

    FYI – Montague Street tool a big hit when Brooklyn Union Gas/KEYSPAN/National Grid vacated 195 Montague STreet and 166 Montague Street to move to MetroTech Center thats over 1000 employees with paychecks taken out of the neighborhood.

  • Jorale-man

    @AEB I think you’re onto a good question there — It strikes me as odd that the lunchtime workers could have such an influence on the local retail. That still leaves evenings and weekends for residents to look for places to go. I wonder if any store owners can weigh in here.

    Putting aside the W. Village comparison, I don’t think Heights residents are so much different than those in Cobble Hill, Dumbo or Park Slope — neighborhoods with arguably superior dining and shopping scenes. We want interesting places to go as much as anyone. The wild card in the Heights are the office workers and possibly higher rents.

  • http://n/a Barbara Shernoff

    I have lived here since 1968. how would high end shops improve this wonderful neighborhood?? it certainly would not. we don’t need “trendy-wendy” stores like that. It certainly would offer no improvement to an already fabulous neighborhood–in fact, i think it would detract from it. Want trendy, highly expensive stores?-move to the West Village or Soho. What added nothing to our fine community was the influx of stores like Starbucks, Jennifer Convertibles-glad it’s now gone, and Sleepy’s-what is that store doing here? Yhey are here because they can afford to pay the high rents on Montague Street. Lot of smaller, more intimate stores are gone-and that is a damned shame and a serious loss for the community–one example being the terrific Community Bookstore which had to relocate to Court Street in Cobble Hill several years back because it could not afford it’s new lease.

    Barbara Shernoff

  • Another Barbara

    You are so right about these high end stores. I take exception to
    only one statement: “move to the West Village”
    The village is now being inundated with high end shops. These
    new rich yuppie types have no idea they are destroying the very
    thing that made the village attractive….a place for new poets….
    young imaginative minds….old houses…..NYU is going to now
    complete the destruction of the West Village with their latest
    expansion. Please, keep your thoughts on Brooklyn Heights…
    it’s one of the few “originals” in the borough.

  • AEB

    Barbara S.,re the matter of high-end shops in BH, I think the issue isn’t so much that one wants Bergdorf’s on the corner of Hicks and Middagh, but rather that one, living in this expensive neighborhood, feels somewhat cheated of the amenities enjoyed by our immediate neighbors.

    I don’t know about you, but I live in NYC because it’s–well, THAT. Not Topeka nor even Short Hills. I don’t want to live in a suburb, and that’s what BH feels like, to me, most of the time.

    Yes, it’s very beautiful. Yes, the real estate is marvelous. But sometimes I feel that I should take my pulse while here to make sure I’m still alive. So I’m all for trying to make the nabe more…cosmopolitan, If at all possible.

  • Tristan

    First, just to be clear, Sephora is a little-box chain store, nothing particularly high-end about it (I’d call it “big-box,” but cosmetics are small enough that it doesn’t require the space of a Best Buy or a Target). I don’t think that’s what most of us want. I love the fact that Brooklyn (especially BH) has a lot more independent stores, and I hope it stays that way. I also don’t think anyone here is actually advocating for the addition of a Prada store. (As if.)

    What AEB and a few others seem to want, on the other hand, is a collection of newer, independent shops and restaurants more like that on Court or Smith in Cobble Hill, or sprinkled throughout much of Park Slope.

    So how do we get those? First there would need to be vacancies, and the places on Montague seem to do quite well with the daytime work crowd and then a smattering of locals on the weekends. The busiest Montague ever gets is at lunchtime during the week. And those places have no interest in changing, of course — if your business model ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    I think the other distinction to note between, say, Cobble Hill and Park Slope vis-a-vis BH is that, once you exclude the college students, there seem to be fewer people under 40 (including singles, childless couples, and maybe couples with one baby at home). Call them “yuppies” if you want, but decreasing that demographic cohort makes it a lot harder to maintain new independent restaurants and other shops of the sort in Park Slope or, say, the East Village (which has been far less overrun by chain stores than the West Village).

    If you want to see the difference this makes, go down to Atlantic Ave — there are a slew of relatively new restaurants, bars, and houseware stores there, right at the edge of the neighborhood. (The houseware places are overpriced, but the restaurants — especially Colonie and Henry Public — are terrific.)

    All that said, I am one 30-something who’s quite content in BH. It’s definitely not suburban — if suburbs had been like this when I was a kid, I wouldn’t have hated them so much. We have a dense, walkable neighborhood with a decent array of local, independent stores (though I’d love to find a place that actually brews a halfway decent cup of coffee; no, the current options do not qualify). It has quiet and beauty in a city that sometimes lacks both. And we’re a few subway stops away from everything we might not have closer at hand. Moving here was one of the best decisions I’ve made in the last few years.

  • One of the Touri

    As a very recent first-time visitor to Brooklyn Heights (and NYC) I am somewhat dismayed to hear this “hordes of touri” sentiment. My visit to BH was, without question, the highlight of my week in the area.

    Brooklyn Heights was such an engaging place (and the hospitality so warm and genuine) that I continue to keep in touch with the neighborhood goings-on via this blog.

    Please reassure me that the sentiment laid out below by “Arch Stanton” is not a common one.

    – One of the “Touri”

    Arch Stanton March 16, 2012 at 11:30 pm #

    “Even crappy restaurants & stores can survive when fueled by hordes of touri and the bridge/tunnel meatheads.

  • Tristan

    I think Arch was voicing frustration with neighborhoods in Manhattan — like the West Village and Soho — that often do seem to be overrun, much to the chagrin of local residents.

    Perhaps BH seemed more friendly partly because it’s a bit more laid-back and less crowded than other neighborhoods. Much easier to be hospitable when you don’t have to fight through crowds just to pick up some dry cleaning and groceries.