‘Montague Street Is Stirring As It Hasn’t In Years': Crain’s New York Business

“An air of timelessness envelops much of four-block-long Montague Street, but the commercial hub of Brooklyn Heights is stirring as it hasn’t in years. Trendy eateries, cafés and boutiques have popped along the street lined with handsome Beaux Arts and Romanesque Revival buildings and Victorian row houses.” That’s the opening of a Crain’s New York Business profile that ran Sunday… perhaps taking the lead from BHB’s May 18 post “Heights Rallies For Montague Street Retail Corridor.”

The story discusses recent progress along the “avenue,” including new businesses Le Pain Quotidien, boutique clothier Ruby and Jenna, the “new” Starbucks, Area Yoga & Spa Center and Custom House.

Glenn Markman, who opened Heights Cafe on the corner of Hicks Street 18 years ago with brother Greg and will soon launch brick-oven pizzeria Della Rocco’s of Brooklyn around the corner, is quoted by Crain’s: “I’ve never seen this street so alive.”

The newspaper attributes growth along Montague less to do with Brooklyn Heights proper, but more so about expansion in surrounding Downtown Brooklyn and DUMBO, where amenities are not keeping up with the population boom. Here’s more:

Such a turnaround would have been unimaginable as little as four years ago, when the recession claimed several businesses on Montague. Vacancy rates topped out at 6% in 2008, on a street where vacancies have always been rare. In a single week, Jennifer Convertibles, the Spicy Pickles sandwich shop and Washington Mutual shuttered.

While other haunts have since followed suit—including 30-year stalwart La Traviata last November—the strip’s vacancy rate has eased back to 1.7%, according to the Montague Street Business Improvement District. And while retail rents now average between $100 and $115 per square foot, some spaces fetch as much as $250 per square foot. Higher rents have forced out a number of mom-and-pops, including a bookstore, pharmacies and florists.

Read the full Crain’s Business article here.

(Photo: lumierefl via Flickr)

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  • Josh G

    Ah Spicy Pickle, we hardly knew ye…

    I wish both an ice cream shop (think 16 Handles) and a smoothie place would open up on Montague St.

  • A math major

    You’d think a smoothie/wrap place like Nectar down on Court Street would do high enough traffic to cover the rent.

  • She’s Crafty

    No to a frozen yogurt or smoothie place, yes to another pub type establishment (a bit Greek=OK) and either a butcher or fishmonger.

  • X

    Rent is too high for a cheap product like smoothies and ice cream

    I would take a sit down dessert place like the chocolate room though in Bh

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

    There was a sit-down dessert place on Montague when I moved here in 1983. It was called “Pierrot–Classical Fine Desserts” and as I recall it was in one of the upstairs spaces (I think where a hair salon is now) on the south side of Montague between Henry and Hicks. It was gone within a year of my arrival.

  • PromGal

     An interesting picture of the mostly positive changes to Montague Street.
     At $150-$250/sq ft, that’s $25-$40K per year in rent, none of the silly little shops mentioned above like smoothies, yogurt, are feasible. In truth, the only establishments that can stay in business are those where the proprietor owns the building. One long time BH fixture, the charming Summa Gallery left BH because the owners never bought their own space. 
     Lassen and Hennig, Andy’s, the hardware store, Monty’s, Teresa’s and a few others had the foresight to buy the buildings that housed their businesses and escaped the rental explosions. 
     The Pierrot bakery shop at 108 Montague suffered similar landlord conflicts. That, and people who were business rookies, scandal, and a bitter breakup, ended that venture.
      As for ice cream, we still have Häagen Dazs, the original, first HD ever, still going strong. I love their hot fudge and get a tub if it along with the ice cream for Sundae parties.
    There is already a fine butcher in BH, on Clark Street. I prefer Staubitz- bigger selection, more custom preparation, right over on Court Street. And nothing beats Fish Tales, also on Court.
    Brooklyn Heights has a very small resident population, less than 20,000 not counting the Witnesses who are provided with food and lodging, not enough people or space to sustain that level of retail commerce.
    It is what it is, but with a 1.7% vacancy rate, I would say that Montague Street is doing very well indeed, and moving in a very positive direction. 

  • Karl Junkersfeld

    PromGal, that was a very fine post. I thank you for imparting some nice additional information. Good work. May I add Tango to the list of proprietors who bought their building and were able to survive. My wife loves the clothes in that place and it adds a nice store front.

  • http://who-will-kiss-the-pig.blogspot.com/ Richard Grayson

    Back in 1969 and throughout the early 70s, Montague Street was a wonderland for kids like me from the hinterlands of Brooklyn (Mill Basin). There were so many places to hang out and eat, and cool stores — at least it is that way in my (faulty?) memory.

    But I see in my diary entries like this, for June 15, 1974:

    “Ronna and I decided to go to Brooklyn Heights – it was still daylight at 8 PM. I parked on Remsen Street, by Shelley Wouk’s old office, now adorned with a sign that says “Somebody,M.S.W., Primal Therapy.” We took in the shops around Montague Street. There was a beautifulsign in a florist’s window, a sort of essay called “Diversity, Thy Name is Life,” talking about howwonderful the differences between people are and how they should not lead to hate but love.There were those trendy stores and tea shoppes and cheese places and the sidewalk cafes.Children were playing and people were walking their dogs.We strolled the length of the Promenade, holding hands and staring at the river and theManhattan skyline. We walked along Willow Street, looking for Norman Mailer, and Ronna pointed out Mona’s old apartment on Pierrepont: she and Ivan broke up there one night whenthey baby-sat for his niece. We got root beer ice cream at Baskin-Robbins, and it started to getdark so we went back to Canarsie.”

    In my diaries I have lots of references to days and evenings spent on Montague Street. To me, it was the best street in Brooklyn, maybe in the city. Of course I am now a decrepit old man.

  • Bette

    Loved your reminiscences, Richard. And I believe that no one who could recall they wrote that in their diary, and then actually FIND their diary could be that decrepit!

  • Heightster

    It is an improvement, but after a walk down Court Street through Cobble Hill and Carrol Gardens on Satuday, we are sorely lacking in places of interest. We have a little improvement over the mediocre stuff we have had for years. Thought as someone said to me once, “It’s better to live in the Heights near all the transportation and walk to Court or Smith for dinner than the reverse.”

  • yoohoo

    The bookstore above Lichee Nut had to move when the operator’s rent was hiked to $10,000 p.a. what seems like eons ago. That move was Brooklyn Heights’ loss and Cobble Hill’s gain.

  • PromGal

    Thanks for mentioning Tango. Sorry I left it out. They are another retail business that remained successful for years because they own their own space.
    Back in the 70’s and 80’s, buildings on Montague Street could be bought for around $1M, with a successful business able to easily get a mortgage.
    The answer is that some folks have good business sense, others don’t. The merchants and restaurateurs who did, are still a presence on Montague Street, the others are all gone.

  • Andrew Porter

    Richard, the florist shop with the giant hand-written philosophical signs in the window was the old James Weir, Florist shop on the south side of Montague. Although the store continues, on the north side, the owner is, I believe, Weir’s son, and not given to philosophy.

  • bornhere

    Andrew — Weir, in the days of the thought-provoking windows, was owned by Bernie Atkins, who had a daughter. If there is any Weir connection at this point, though, it would likely be through James’ great-great-grandson or beyond.

  • PromGal

    You’re right about James Weir Florist. Please see my post on the more recent thread on the subject.
    James Weir, the original was just the name that was bought by Bernie Atkins, along with the building, probably on the early fifties. Bernie Atkins, had no relation to James A Weir, but included the name into the fantasmagorical life story he fabricated about himself. He was quite the raconteur and charmer. According to my parents, he did have a daughter from his first marriage, before he married the second wife, Charlotte, a lady taken in by all sorts of mystics and snake oil salesmen peddling new age crap, magical cures, in short, every scheme known to separate a man from his money. And it worked, they lived the high life, and spent like drunken sailers finally losing everything, the building on Montague, the brownstone on Columbia Heights. A very sad end to two very colorful characters.

  • Gerry

    The stores on Montague Street are crummy.

    Verizon, banks, nail and hair salons. The rents are impossible for a merchant to pay and run a business.

  • bornhere

    PromGal — Yes, all true, except I don’t recall Bernie claiming to be a relation of James Weir. My sister and I were friends of Bernie’s daughter, and my parents were friends of Bernie and Charlotte. I was avoiding the details.

  • Mr. Crusty

    @Gerry: “The stores on Montague Street are crummy.”

    There you go. Nothing else to discuss. The stores are all “crummy”.

    Gerry, can you give me an example of main street in a residential community who’s stores you like better. I am curious as to what standard we are holding Montague Street to. I’m not being snarky either, but I can’t think of a street that I enjoy more walking down than Montague. So please do enlighten us all with examples of streets that you wish Montague were more like? Can you do that for us?

  • GHB

    Mr. Crusty, I wish it were more like Court or Smith Streets in Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens. Or 7th or 5th Avenues in Park Slope.

  • Gerry

    @ Mr. Crusty,

    I enjoy walking down Montague Street I do it several times per day but the stores are crummy really a lot of junk.

    Take Bleeker Street in the Village as a MUCH better example thats a great place strong retail tenants beautiful merchandise to buy and solid enterprise not fly by night places that open and close like the pasta place with the silly name that was upstairs on Montague Street

    Montague Street offers a lot of crap the stores are so bad and nothing stays for long.

    And yes you are being snarky.

  • Mr. Crusty

    “crap… junk…. crummy… fly by night places…. pasta places with silly names”

    got it Gerry. Very illuminating.

  • GHB

    @Gerry – Montague Street can in no way be compared with Bleecker Street. Totally different animal.