New York Times Notes Transformation of Montague Street

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.”

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  • ionFreeman

    112 Montague, anybody? I’m staying at it now from Emack and Bolios. There seem to be bags of something on the first floor. Cement?

  • Arch Stanton

    As far as I know, Lassen and Hennings as some deal to use the space for for storage. Also, the owner is reputed to be a serious A-hole thus the reason for losing Starbucks and being the most vacant storefront on Montague for the past 3 decades…

  • Claude Scales

    I’ve confirmed the L&H deal. I saw someone putting stuff in there a couple of years ago, and asked the clerk at L&H if she knew if someone was taking the space. She said, “No, we just use it for storage.” As for the owner, I heard that Starbucks moved because he wouldn’t fix a ceiling leak. He was probably also demanding a huge rent increase.

  • Jorale-man

    Too bad L&H couldn’t just expand their store into the space, and maybe get a little seating area out of it. They’ve already expanded into a pretty nice space down in Dumbo, so they can’t be too starved for cash.

  • Andrew Porter

    I’d heard the leak was fixed a year or so ago, but the asking price for the retail space is still far beyond what anyone is willing to pay.

    The photos I’ve harvested from the Municipal Archives show a vast number of vacant stores and second story offices on every commercial street in 1940.

  • Arch Stanton

    Interesting, I am not up on my economic history of NYC in 1940. I would have assumed it was well enough post depression that small business would have been flourishing. In my time, mid 60’s on, I don’t remember as many vacancy’s on Montague as there are now.

  • CassieVonMontague

    NYTimes writers have always been fascinated with Montague Street, probably because they’re locals.

    In 1986, “Retailers’ Rents on Montague Street Taking a Toll”

    And then in 1996, “Montague St. Faces Rigors Of Popularity”

    February, 2004: “You can buy a cellphone, but what happened to quaint”

    December, 2004: “An Odd Hole on Montague Street”

  • Cranberry Beret

    Bellafante sometimes starts her columns with anecdotes about the Heights, because she lives here.

    The problem with her columns is that they never move beyond anecdotes, and seem to end abruptly just when it looks like she’s getting to her point. The NYT needs to edit these down, or give her more column inches.

  • Andrew Porter

    Anne Raver, who wrote about gardening, lived here and had a garden on her rooftop, possible without the landlord’s permission. Her NYT articles here: