Everybody likes a mystery. The latest one in Park Slope had to do with the long-shuttered storefront space on Seventh Avenue between 12th and 13th streets. After years of inactivity, the mid-block site started to show signs of life, when the owner of the last-known business to occupy the space rolled up the gates, pulled out a stogie and started selling everything he could: Tables, chairs, bar fixtures and even the menu board were all up for grabs for the best offer.
The restaurant, a short-lived Italian place, never looked too good to me. I never ate there and did not know any neighbors who did (which could explain why it did not last long). After it closed, everyone waited to see what would come next.
But nothing ever did.
Now mystery is solved: Union Market, the upscale food store on Union Street and Sixth Avenue, is on its way in, sources tell me. The old oak bar is being ripped out and will soon be replaced by sleek displays of fresh produce, meats, fish, cheeses and expensive prepared foods.
South Slope has really made it! My mouth watered as I thought about the great selection of foods that Union Market offers. And the convenience for us South Slopers is almost too good to be true. I would be able to shop and get dinner on the table in minutes. Sure, the prices are a little high, but on those rushed weeknights, who cares?
Turns out, I do. After I stopped salivating over Union Market, I thought about my old standbys along the avenue: How would Russo’s deal with this new competition? And what about Grab, the delightful little shop near 15th Street?
Jack Camgemi, the owner of Russo’s, was surprised to hear that the larger store was on its way, but he seemed to take it in stride.
“I have been here 10 years,” the Bensonhurst native told me. “I have always tried to give people good prices and good quality and I hope that they keep doing what they have been doing by shopping here.”
Laura Nuter, the Sloper who turned the Blue Apron Food near 14th Street into Grab earlier this year, was a bit more concerned.
“Park Slope is one of the last neighborhoods in New York that supports mom and pop stores,” she said. “I hope that people shop responsibly. They will go to Union Market, especially for the fish, meat and produce, but I hope that they continue to make the extra stops here and at the other smaller stores for some of the special finishing touches to the meal.”
Nuter plans to continue to offer personal service, make picnic baskets for the park and expand her gifts items.
“Union Market is more like a supermarket,” she pointed out. “I can’t offer that kind of selection, but customers have told me that they love the care and knowledge at my store and have said they will keep shopping here.”
Next door at the Slope Cellars, employee Ben Hagen summed it up: “I was excited when I first heard about Union Market coming in, but now I am not so sure about them taking business away from stores like Grab.”
Bob Lenartz, Slope Cellar co-owner with wife Patty, added a hopeful tone, “People in Park Slope see the beauty in the diversity here, they don’t mind making the extra stop.”
Lenartz and Nuter will be working together more in the coming months to help customers pair wines with cheeses, because really, what good is Humboldt Fog without the proper wine?
For their part, Union Market owners Martin Nunez, Marko Lalic and Paul Fernandez are looking forward to the expansion.
“People have been wanting us to open in South Slope for a while, and we are happy that we finally found the right space,” Lalic said recently. When asked about the impact on the smaller businesses nearby, he suddenly said, “I cannot talk to you now.” He never called me back.
There is no question that there will be an impact of a big store like this coming into South Slope. It is the consumer’s choice to go to Union Market for everything on the list, but I intend to make the extra stops. The personalities of the smaller stores are what I love about living (and shopping) in Park Slope.
Our pal Regina Duggins, who is not only day camp director at Gowanus Houses, but the daughter of Smartmom’s nanny, Beautiful Smile, is raising money for rides, activities, food and entertainment for a camp carnival in August. If you can help, call (718) 807-8599. … We ran into our old pal, Jezra Kaye on Seventh Avenue the other day (Kaye, a longtime member of Develop Don’t Destroy, was munching on grape leaves). Though officially out of the movement — and disappointed with a recent court decision that favored developer Bruce Ratner — Jezra told us she still thinks Ratner will be stopped. … Park Slope United MethÂodist Church pastor Herb Miller hasn’t been marrying couples — straight or gay — for six years in protest of “discriminatory” marriage laws. “We won’t marry anyone — so everyone is on equal footing,” Miller said. “Hopefully, the law will soon recognize everyone on equal footing.” … Kudos to our pal Erin Shaw, who is doing a great job behind the bar at the 4th Avenue Pub. Erin was born on St. Pat’s Day — in Boston! — yet she’s not Irish. … You gotta hand it to the Church! of Park Slope [sic]. The Eighth Street congregation was handing out postcards and bottles of water during the Seventh Heaven street fair that were adorned with flying pigs and the line, “I’ll go to church when…” One atheist said he would, in fact, go to church if he did indeed see airborne pork.