An old Brooklyn color line is fading.
Stores along Flatbush Avenue that appealed to black consumers are being displaced by upscale national chains with a broader appeal.
Fourteen businesses closed this year, including two hair salons that catered to African-and Caribbean-American women and a soul-food-themed barbeque place as purveyors of Pilates, carrot juice and astutely branded leg warmers flock to the border between Park Slope and Prospect Heights.
Even the notoriety of having a famous son couldn’t save Mama Duke, owned by P Diddy’s mom, which closed last year. The storefront is still vacant.
And the strip’s biggest tourist (and foodie) attraction, Christie’s Beef Patties, is even being forced out — albeit only across the street (for now).
“They are moving us out to make room for multi-national chains,” said Paul Haye, owner of the 40-year-old patty and coco bread landmark.
Haye said his landlord didn’t
renew the lease after a Crunch gym offered more money for the space.
Moonshine Realty, Haye’s landlord, declined to comment.
The highest-profile addition to the strip is American Apparel, which opened two weeks ago in the former Flatbush Pavilion.
The trendy clothing chain sells its brightly colored basics using images of young people from all over the globe, darlings of a mixed-race, youth-powered, Benetton-style urbanism that is on the rise on Flatbush.
“Flatbush was more interesting than the already gentrified streets nearby,” said Miguel McKelvey, a location scout for the Flatbush Avenue American Apparel, the fourth in the chain.
“The most important [thing] is being in a community of people who are intelligent, sophisticated, fashionable, forward-looking, interested, interesting, and excited about the growth and development of our ever-changing culture.”
American Apparel says it caters to shoppers of all races and creeds, as it conributes to the upscaling of the avenue.
Mirvilyne Bruce, executive director of the North Flatbush Business Improvement District, was excited by the changes.
“Our turnover rate has increased,” she said, “but we believe that more new businesses in the area will mean more new shoppers.”
Longtime residents and shoppers agree that Flatbush is changing for the better in one very noticeable way. When Diane Allison started working at the Christian Science Reading Room at Sterling Place and Flatbush in the 1970s, stone-throwing youth, drug dealers and vacant buildings were the big problems.
“Now,” she said,
“the stores are having to respond to a different kind of community.”
On this “different” Flatbush, gyms are doing well — so well, that in addition to annexing Christie’s, Crunch will also take over the 99-cent store next door.
But the newly gentrified strip isn’t pleasing everyone.
The owner of Idalias Salon
— a stylish shop with a primarily black clientele — moved from
Flatbush to Washington Avenue last winter. Owner Darlene Dorsett said
her salon wasn’t really appreciated anymore.
“Landlords think the Yuppies — black or white — don’t want salons,” said Dorsett, who is doing well at her new location deeper into Prospect Heights.
It’s not always clear which direction Flatbush is headed. A few months ago, Charcuterie, a classic Park Slope sandwich shop, closed to make way for a Dunkin Donuts, which should be peddling coconut lattes by summer.
“Maybe they think it’s ‘Park Slope East’ on Flatbush now, but definitively, the change that is happening endangers what Brooklyn was originally and has always been,” said the Rev. Clinton Miller of Brown-Baptist Memorial Church in Fort Greene.