Fulton Street, home to Cake Man Raven, an odd assortment of middle-class restaurants, and, of course, the inestimable Frank’s Lounge, is in turmoil. The cause? Money!
In the past couple of months, Fulton Street has seen a tremendous turnover in businesses. Vanished from the Fort Greene scene are Restaurant New Orleans, Keur ’N Deye, and South Portland Antiques. Gone is Hot Toddie. On its way out is Designer Braids and Trade, which has been in business on Fulton Street for two decades.
Many of these businesses prospered through the early stages of gentrification, but the area’s growing popularity became, for some, too much of a good thing. They were comfortable operating in the relatively slow-paced, modest-rent environment of yesteryear, less so in the more demanding, highly competitive, Manhanttanesque Fort Greene and Clinton Hill of the future, where rent increases are topless.
Even some merchants who own their spaces have given up, realizing they could make more money with far less work if they’d just rent their storefronts to someone else.
But the loss of old community businesses is disheartening, whatever the cause. Take Designer Braids and Trade, between St. James Place and Washington Avenue.
“My landlord said I could stay if agreed to a one-year lease with a $900-per-month increase,” said Marion Council-George, the owner of Designer Braids. “I couldn’t afford it.”
Council-George has until February to find a new spot. A Waverly Avenue site that was going for $900 three years ago is now going for $2,400, said Council-George, who grew up in the neighborhood.
Dale Charles of the Fulton Area Business Association has been working to stem the exodus of small businesses. She said Council-George’s predicament is not unique on Fulton Street or in the Fulton Street area.
“Some of the property owners won’t even have a discussion,” said Charles. “They’re pretty much raising the rents by two or three times. I don’t know where they think they’re going to get merchants to pay that kind of money.”
(So far, it remains unclear who will move in to any of these spaces, though rumor has it a green grocer is considering taking over the old antique shop, directly across the street from the new Fresh Garden grocery store, which is partially stocked and looks ready to open any day now.)
The Senegalese restaurant Keur ’N Deye has been on the block between South Portland Avenue and South Elliot Street for 17 years. “Our lease went up, and the owner wants the place back,” said Salif Ciffe, who owns the restaurant with his wife. “The rent went from from $2,500 a month to $4,000.”
And fashionistas have donned black to mourn the passing of Jacob’s Eye, the clothing boutique which, only a block off Fulton, has succumbed to similar pressures.
“They had such a distinctive assortment, a really distinctive style,” said Ursula Hegewish, head of the Fort Greene Association.
Who will be able to afford the new rents? Charles is guessing some new restaurants will give it a go. Some high-priced ones, for sure.
Dana Rubinstein is a staff writer for The Brooklyn Paper.
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