In Sunday’s New York Times Metropolitan Section, Ginia Bellafante’s Big City column has the title “The Empty Storefront Crisis and the End of the American Dream”. She begins by telling the story of Sam I-Rumi, proprietor of Pet’s Emporium on Montague Street (photo, by C. Scales), who immigrated to New York in 1980 at the age of eighteen. After nine years here he opened his store on Montague; its survival for thirty years makes Ms. Bellafante describe it, and him, as “the hardiest plant in the most unforgiving weather.”
Of Montague Street as a whole, Ms. Bellafante writes:
“[O]nce the prime shopping artery of an affluent neighborhood, [it] has few of the sort of independent stores that people who live near it actually want. Like so many other commercial stretches of the city, it has storefronts that have been vacant for months and even years. When Sam first established himself in Brooklyn Heights, Yemeni immigrants owned many of the businesses. The narrative that followed featured the predictable story arc: Rents went up and up and up; Amazon and FreshDirect colonized our shopping habits; cellphone stores and urgent-care facilities descended.”
Now, as we know, one of the urgent care facilities on Montague has closed, and its space has been vacant for months.
Ms. Bellafante goes on to note that for immigrants, for many years opening small, storefront businesses “was a viable and important path to prosperity.” Today, that path of opportunity is being blocked. She observes:
“We often talk about the empty-storefront problem as a crisis of urban planning and inadequate regulation, a threat to a beloved and intimate style of consumerism. But what is at stake is much greater than that — a blockage in a pipeline to social mobility when so many other opportunities have been foreclosed.”