Myrtle Avenue the new hot strip

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Parents looking for that perfect camouflage diaper bag or ironic “onesie” sporting a picture of AC/DC lead guitarist Angus Young or Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara need look no further than a new chartreuse boutique on Myrtle Avenue.

Yes, Myrtle Avenue.

Once better known as “murder avenue,” the major thoroughfare is going through a revival of its own these days bringing health food stores, trendy bars and even stylish pint-sized duds.

“We’re just really excited to be here,” said Elissa Jane Mastel, co-owner of the Urban Monster baby boutique at 388 Myrtle Ave., which celebrated its grand opening with juice boxes and beer on March 20.

Over the past several years, more Manahattanites have “discovered” Fort Greene and Clinton Hill and have been flocking to the commercial strip, often with a baby or two in tow, attracted to the tree-lined streets, diversity and century-old brownstones.

And in the past three years, 20 new stores and restaurants have opened along the roughly 20-block strip of Myrtle Avenue stretching from Flatbush to Classon avenues.

Mastel and Tatiana Marquardt, opened their first Urban Monster a year and a half ago on Atlantic Avenue.

They signed a lease on the 900-square-foot Myrtle Avenue space last month, beating out a 99-cent store also vying for the location.

The influx of businesses on the neighborhood’s “Main Street” can be attributed in part to the Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project (MARP), a small local development corporation that has been working with existing merchants as well as recruiting new businesses to the area.

Thomas Schutte, president of Pratt Institute, in Clinton Hill, said that when he came to the school a decade ago he had the feeling that Myrtle Avenue was a “pretty scary” place to most students.

Schutte, who helped form MARP, is president of its board.

Started three years ago, MARP, which has a Web site at, has successfully recruited new stores and restaurants, including Zaytoons, a well reviewed Middle Eastern restaurant, Bergen Bagels and Karrot, a popular health food store.

Connecticut Muffin, a coffee-and-pastry chain that opened at the corner of Myrtle and Clinton avenues, displays the work of local artists and is currently looking for a photography show featuring neighborhood photos.

“We’re trying to keep a local mom-and-pop feel and not just make it full of national chains,” said Jennifer Gerand, MARP’s executive director.

A Subway sandwich shop and Duane Reade drugstore also recently opened.

Roy Vanasco, a longtime Community Board 2 member who has run All Appliance Refrigerator Washer Parts at 610 Myrtle Ave. since 1953, said the new shops and restaurants are a great addition to the avenue, which until 1971 had an elevated subway running along it.

“I think it’s brightening up the whole new Myrtle Avenue,” said Vanasco.

Along with all the new stores, the area is gearing up for a Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District (BID) stretching from Flatbush to Classon avenues and including 175 businesses.

The BID is approximately six months from approval, according to Gerand.

Commercial space in the area now fetches annual rents of $26 to $30 per square foot, compared to about $50 along Court Street in Cobble Hill and almost $100 for space along Fulton Mall in Downtown Brooklyn and Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights.

A pregnant woman, who stopped in at the new Urban Monster on a snowy Tuesday afternoon recently said she was excited to see a baby store in the area.

But another customer said that while he was happy to see new shops he had concerns.

“I hope it doesn’t go too far,” said Phillip Antoniades, who moved just around the corner from Urban Monster a year ago. “I hope it doesn’t become Park Slope around here.”

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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