Is Montague Street in crisis?

What IS happening out there?

Montague Street is a rapidly shifting shopping thoroughfare — in the last few weeks, at least eight “For Rent” signs have gone up in windows along the five-block stretch from Clinton Street to the Promenade, and we now have word that, nationally, Ann Taylor Loft is closing over 100 outposts. Even for the stores staying put on Montague, there are myriad signs noting sales and other incentives to entice customers to come in and shop.

Clearly, the nationwide economic crisis is affecting our Main Street — but, at the ground level, how is the economy affecting these shop owners’ bottom lines? What’s going to happen to Montague Street?

There’s been some talk of what’s going on, so Brooklyn Heights Blog went out and spoke with Montague Street stakeholders about these concerns and where how think the future will play out. We now present, Montague Street Crisis: Mall or Mauled? First up is our interview with Chelsea Mauldin, executive director of the Montague Street Business Improvement District.

Next, hear from Lassen and Hennigs owner Chris Calfa, Heights Books owner Tracy Walsch, and Housing Works manager Jennifer Jinks.

Please send us your suggestions of other shopowners you’d like to see interviewed. And, follow the series at our Montague Street in Crisis page.

Montague Street in crisis: Montague Street BID speaks

BHB: What is happening on Montague Street right now?
Chelsea Mauldin, Executive Director of Montague Street BID: Montague Street is chugging along. It’s obviously a tough time for everybody in business, including our local small businesses, but I think that everyone’s is going to be able to weather this storm.

BHB: Where do you see the future of Montague Street?
Mauldin: I think that Montague Street will continue to do what it does so well now, which is serve a really diverse population of New Yorkers. In addition to the Brooklyn Heights residents, Montague Street serves as a really vital retail location for everybody who works in the office buildings downtown. There’s a lot of shopping that goes on on Montague Street during the day time that comes from people who are visiting our neighborhood, not to mention of course the tourists who are visiting the Promenade.

BHB: So you’re hopeful that the Montague Street will be just fine, despite all the current vacancies?
Mauldin: I think Montague Street will be fine. We have some vacancies which are occurring obviously because it’s a really tough economic climate out there, and I would absolutely say to anybody watching this who lives in the neighborhood that if you want to see our very special mom-and-pop stores survive, then the way to make sure they stay healthy is to go there and buy dinner tonight at Lassen and Hennings, and stop by and see Stella at James Weir Florals and buy some flowers. The way to keep our small businesses in business is to visit them.

We also have some vacancies that are happening now for the normal run of things that happen in any business climate. We had a fire on the street recently and we had a building sell, and therefore the business that had been in that building needed to move as a condition of sale. There are always going to be those changes that occur on any retail strip. I think though that Montague Street has so much going for it: we’re so well located, we have so many attractions near the street, and the foot traffic on Montague Street is terrific. That attracts all kinds of retail tenants, local tenants obviously but also national tenants and ideally we end up with a really healthy mix  — a mix that serves people who live in the community but also a mix that serves all the people who visit our street during the day.

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  • ts

    she’s out of her mind.

  • Publius

    Sounds a lot like Cramer before Lehman went under.

  • ts

    Pretty much. Nothing to see here, folks! Move along! Yeah, lady, I’m sure the empty storefronts have nothing to do with the obscene rents…

  • AEB

    Of course Mauldin is going to paint as rosy a picture as she can manage to.

    And her point about patronizing existing mom-and-pops there is well taken.

    With any luck–or inevitably–rents will fall thus encouraging re-occupation…..

  • melanie hope greenberg

    Hi Sarah, These profiles are great. I enjoy knowing more about the merchants who run the mom and pops. I hope Montague St will keep it’s 1800’s vintage charm rather than look like another bland ugly strip mall.

  • nicky215

    Montague st is boring and empty. If the BHA would change their position and let it be the main entrance to Brooklyn Bridge Park it could become alive and vibrant. But they don,t want to encourage “outsiders” on the street. You cannot have a vibrant street without foot traffic and they are afriaid of people. You cannot have it both ways. I hold the BHA responsible for this.

  • Nancy

    Maybe if the mom-and pop stores made better products we could buy them. I stopped buying from Lassen when I kept getting stale food and and cakes.

  • David

    Where did Spicy Pickle go? Did it move to Smith St.?

  • Neighborhood Observer

    Lassen and Hennigs food is far fresher than what is offered at Garden of Eden – prepared locally instead of coming in a truck. Tell L&H if you have a problem with quality. I’ve noticed that Teresa’s is quieter in the evening. The economy is one cause for the quiet; but the weather hasn’t helped. Last weekend when Spring was here, Montague Street was busy. As for additional merchants to interview, don’t forget Seaport Flowers and Overtures around the corner from Montague.

  • nicky215

    Bha where are you on this.. why not hold a community forum. Do something……

  • Andrew Porter

    If anyone here believes that the Brooklyn Heights Association controls what happens or opens on Montague Street, I have a bridge to sell to you….

  • CJP

    Yeah. Andrew is right about that. Listen. These are tough times for the NATIONAL economy. Been to your local suburban strip mall lately? Taken a walk up Madison Avenue or down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan?

    Talked to your local car service guy or massage therapist? Saw an interesting article in the NYTimes today about how busy the private aircraft repo-man has become.

    And just to help understand what’s happening on Montague, let me share three things I saw this week: a line snaking around the block for a job fair at a Herald Square hotel; a U.S. Veteran with a sign in Midtown asking for $10 donations or a job to help pay rent and a shoe-shine guy working the streets at 42nd and Madison.

    Times are tough and Montague is not going to be an exception. Keep in mind Brooklyn Heights is just one subway stop away from the economic epicenter of all of this!

  • kh

    Montague Street is not fine. There a few Mom and Pop stores but that’s it, thank god we have a those. There is no charm, no destination shopping. Sure we have the basics, kind of, not really. Sure, there are other neighborhoods close enough if you want quality. It would be nice to have a beautiful bakery and some more qaulity. It’s too bad. The street is a complete contrast to the rest of the neighborhood where we have great architecture, well maintained homes and the best view in New York. When people visit they always say they expected something different of the street, they expected more charm. You are covered if you need a sandwich, apartment, eye glasses or a mattress.

  • Luke C

    We, the neighborhood no longer need Montague St. 10 years ago before DUMBO and Boerum/Cobble/Carroll offered alternatives, Montaguet was needed for the nabe. Obviously cheaper rents on Smith & Court streets have driven innovate new business to that area and the unwillingness of Two Trees to allow chains in DUMBO has given that area character. Hope the Montague St. landlords enjoyed their eggs cause their golden goose is dead.

  • creativeperson

    I’m a local artist. Isn’t it wonderful to see Montague Street look like Brooklyn SoHo? BHA, do you hear me? Support local artists! Let’s have more creative stores.

  • my2cents

    I think that Luke C touched on an important point. The people who live in the heights go elsewhere for good restaurants and interesting boutiques ( i think that the car ownership levels in the heights further exacerbates this), so the main demographic that shops on montague is really the people who work in downtown brooklyn. And since they are large volume, it keeps rents too high for the cuter boutiques. If I was a law clerk on court street, I don’t think I would need to go to a fun boutique at lunch, but I would need to stop at the optometrist, get a new battery for my cel phone, and grab a slice at Monty Q’s before heading back to the office. So what I am saying is that the demographic and market conditions dictate the kind of stores we have and there is actually very little anyone can do about that.

  • Ex-Cobble Hill-er

    Perhaps is the Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill residents weren’t paying those sky high apt rental rates that realtors continue to keep high, they could be spending money with the merchants. Contrary to he current opinion of these neighborhoods, there is a ceiling for what people can tolerate! Wise up.

  • BH-Resident

    As a 9-year resident of the Heights I have always decried the utter lack of (a.) a decent grocery store (Key Food is an amazing place: It has absolutely no food, despite initial appearances to the contrary, and the cashiers are slower and surlier than those found anywhere else in the five boroughs), and (b.) decent RESTAURANTS!! For Christ’s sake, it’s the wealthiest, best located neighborhood in Brooklyn and there are NO decent food establishments to speak of here, whether you’re talking about more casual take-out or higher end cuisine! None!! Why are they all on Smith Street or in Park Slope? Why on earth are there no good restaurants on Montague?! Are the rents THAT much higher here? If Ms. Mauldin really wants to revitalize the neighborhood, start by creating some incentives for great restaurants to set up shop here. Everything else will follow.