Shopping for clues at vacant stores

The Brooklyn Paper
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For Canarsiens, it’s a depressing sight.

Both the supermarket and the drugstore at the shopping center at Rockaway Parkway and Avenue M are now vacant, and several other stores there have become empty as well, leading some area residents to worry not only about the future of convenient shopping in the community, but also whether the owner of the property is planning on doing something else with it.

“Since Waldbaum’s, which was the anchor store, went out of business, it appears to me that no one is doing anything to get a tenant,” complained Lenny Fogel, the vice president of the United Canarsie South Civic Association (UCSCA). “I spoke to the owner of Key Food and asked him, Why don’t you take a crack at it? He said, I did, but he wanted too much rent.

“There are rumors that the owner doesn’t want to rent the stores out because he wants to sell the property for condos,” Fogel added.

“How come there is no sign on Waldbaum’s or the drugstore saying, for rent?” asked former Assemblymember Frank Seddio. “My concern is that the owner wants to empty out the shopping center for another usage.”

Seddio said that he understood that supermarkets viewed the Waldbaum’s site alone as too small, but, he pointed out that, given the amount of empty space in the shopping center, existing stores could be shifted to make a larger space, leaving, “One giant space for the supermarket.

“The problem you run into when you lose your anchor store is that the business that the anchor store brings in is lost by stores that rely on it,” Seddio emphasized. “At Avenue M, there are only three or four stores left functioning, and I don’t know how long they are going to hang on.”

As of now, if all the stores are emptied, the vacant mall could give way to a rather dense housing development; currently, the area is zoned R-5 with a commercial overlay, which means that, should the mall be razed, a small apartment building could rise in its place, up to 40 feet in height.

However, there are time constraints. The area is in the middle of a rezoning. The zoning proposed for the site, R4-1, would provide far less incentive to tear down the existing shopping center and build housing, because it would limit development to one and two-family detached and semi-detached structures with a maximum height of 35 feet.

The same commercial overlay, C2-3, that is currently in place would remain, if the rezoning proceeds as proposed.

The shopping center at Avenue M isn’t the only one in the neighborhood to be suffering. Residents point to vacancies in other shopping centers along Rockaway Parkway — including the empty Rockaway Bedding store at the shopping center near Schenck Street — and ask what it means for them, for their quality of life and for the future of their community.

“People are really concerned,” stressed Neal Duncan, UCSCA’s president, recalling that the issue had been mooted about at the group’s June meeting, just a couple of weeks ago.

The number of local shops to have shut their doors in recent months is, “More than usual,” Fogel pointed out. Part of the situation, Fogel noted, is “Due to economic conditions throughout the country.”

Nonetheless, he said, “The amount of closed, vacant stores is very detrimental to the community. It detracts from the quality of life.”

Because high rents are being demanded, noted Seddio, the Canarsie shopping centers in question tend to have either chain-type stores or vacancies.

“He’s not looking for little mom and pop stores,” Seddio added, referring to Joe Jemal, of ISJ Management Corp., who owns the malls at Avenue M and Schenck Street.

Another worry, said Duncan, is that the malls, “Are not being maintained.” In other parts of Brooklyn, Duncan noted, malls are being spruced up, including ones owned by Jemal. “Yet, the ones on Rockaway Parkway are being depreciated,” Duncan contended. “He is making money from rent from these places, but he’s not putting it back into the area.”

By press time, Jemal had not replied to a call requesting comment.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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