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Dough isn’t rising on Court Street

for The Brooklyn Paper
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A much-loved, but short-lived, Court Street bakery will close at the end of the month because the ingredients for success just never came together — and its famous rugalach-baking owner is left with a bitter taste in her mouth over the “has-been” quality of Cobble Hill’s Main Street.

The store, Margaret Palca Bakes, opened in August 2007 to great expectations. Palca, owner of the eponymous bakery, imagined that the corner of Court and Warren streets would become an even hotter spot than her Columbia Street kitchen.

“I had such a wrong impression [about Court Street],” said Palca. “It’s just such a ‘has-been’ kind of street. I hoped it would be more popular and more busy [than the Columbia Street store], but it just hasn’t been.

“At first, business was adequate, but it dropped dramatically in late November,” she said.

Yes, the economy is faltering, but even in better times, this delicate soufflé was always on the verge of collapsing, she said.

“Everything kept breaking down,” Said Palca. “People didn’t show up to work, and we were dealing with mounting debt. After these last two dreadful weekends, there was just no point [in staying open any longer].”

The eatery sells baked goodies like white chocolate chip brownies and Palca’s beloved rugalach, but, unlike Palca’s other store, the Cobble Hill location also catered to professionals on their lunch breaks, with a salad bar and paninis.

Palca’s business might have softened in the last few months, but her rent hasn’t. Retail prices in the area haven’t really changed in the past year, according to one real estate broker. But by shutting down, Palca herself might be helping to drive down prices for her neighbors.

“Areas like Montague Street [in Brooklyn Heights] have no vacancies right now,” said Stephen Palmese, a Brooklyn Heights-based commercial real estate broker. “But if one store closes, if there’s a crack in the ice, other businesses will begin to ask themselves, ‘What happens now? Will [the vacancy] be easy to refill?’”

Those jitters could end up driving prices down by up to one-third, from about $150 to $100 per square foot, said Palmese. Prices are much lower on Columbia Street, where retail rents start at $16 to $30 per square foot.

In the meantime, Palca’s Court Street landlord isn’t happy to see her go, but he already has a few prospective tenants to replace her.

“I haven’t really been aggressive about looking for a new tenant,” said Carmine Cincotta, who has owned the building at 210 Court St. for 25 years. “I have gotten a few [inquiries], but I want to make sure I get a tenant who will be successful.”

In the meantime, Palca’s customers aren’t happy to see her go, but some were philosophical about her departure.

“I’m really sad that [the store] is closing,” said Rebecca Farella, who lives around the corner. “But I know everybody is kind of strapped right now.”

For some, the place had become a staple of their daily routines.

“This is the best place to get a good sandwich to go,” said Corina Lopez, a teacher’s assistant. “I come here all the time, because most of the other places around here are restaurants, and I don’t have enough time during my lunch break.”

Updated 5:10 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

An old timer from bklyn from Park Slope 11217 says:
Hmmmmmm.....
To be honest here? I am a landlord and have a tentant and seeing has how thanking our fair Gov. We are in a bind here with the Market. Not a wise thing to do... But that is JMO.
I see a lot people that have hit rock bottom here and are just selling property to people or are not making wise dissions. And its alllllllllll for the money.
@@ Please. How much are people getting for what they have owned and manged for years? Nothing really.
JMO. This sucked like a ton of Articles here do.
Glad I do not live in Brooklyn anymore. Seems like Brooklyn is going down hill like all of NY will. The Island is sinking folks.
Dec. 30, 2008, 1:08 pm
Eli from Brooklyn Heights says:
You know, her rugalach just wasn't that good. Unlike long gone Helen and her cheesecake!
Dec. 30, 2008, 4:04 pm
Tim from Carroll Gardens says:
I'm a landlord, and I don't understand why others won't consider what is apparently unthinkable: lower the rent a little and keep a known, good tenant. Assuming of course that Margaret is a good tenant, it's good for the neighborhood, maintaining the rental base, continued income, etc. etc.
Dec. 30, 2008, 4:13 pm
Kelly from Cobble Hill says:
I'm sorry, but I don't think the problem here was Court Street. I went into MPB several times and every time had the rudest, slowest service imaginable. After the 4th or 5th time I just stopped going. There are too many other great options in the area. Even if the food is delicious (which it admittedly was at MPB) poor service taints the whole experience. I'd advise any new tenant to work on hiring people who actually enjoy their job and perhaps they'd find a more reliable and steady customer base.
Dec. 30, 2008, 10:42 pm
oolah from carroll gardens says:
I don't think Court St is the problem -- I'd chalk it up to a bad storefront. How about putting some tasty-looking things in the window, or warming up that cold gray exterior? Plus that big stretch of space between the door and the counter was just weird dead space.

Marquet (IMHO better quality pastries) across the street does just fine and they've been in the same business for years.
Dec. 30, 2008, 11:28 pm
anon from cobble hill says:
I'd suggest boycotting her store in protest, but in looks like the community did that already.

A bit of a history lesson: Prior to the old location of the California Tacqueria on Bergen St., there was a bookstore. It closed and the then-owner complained about the poor location, lack of foot traffic and distance from downtown Brooklyn, all of which he claimed doomed his store. Then, the Tacqueria opened and WHAMMO!-business was booming from the beginning. Suddently, the 30 feet off of Court St was no longer a hindrance and people flocked to the store for great burritos. The store did so well it moved to its current location (where there was previously a video store with not so much business). Again, it did great in the new location. In the old Tacqueria location, the owners put in a hot dog store. The food was lousy, people didn't go and the store closed. Same locations for all, but starkly different outcomes. —— and moan Palca, but welcome to vox populi. Bottom line from my personal experience: the store was lousy.
Dec. 31, 2008, 3:57 pm
anon says:
I think it's a matter or quality and not location. I thought the food there was adequate but nothing to write home about. There are a lot of GREAT (not just adequate) food options in that neighborhood, you need to be good to compete.
Jan. 3, 2009, 2:20 am
Reese from Cobble Hill says:
Margaret could of did a lot better with the store. But how could a store that sells food bar, sandwiches and pastries compete with a rent that is too much? Here you people are talking about the food wasn't that good or the service wasn't that great. Do you think you people could do a lot better? Especailly when you work by yourself and you have a long line and people get nasty with you? Have you ever gotten a chance to know her employees? If you didn't then don't judge a book by it cover!!

I would love to see the people who wrote some of these judgemental do better!!
Jan. 6, 2009, 1:48 am
J from Carroll Gardens says:
At the risk of inflaming Defensive Reese I'll toss my 2 cents in as well -- I tried going to this place twice for lunch - each time it took the counter person ages to notice I was there (in a nearly empty store) and each time they told me they were out of bread. great bakery...
Jan. 6, 2009, 12:55 pm
Soured from Red Hook says:
I've been going to Margaret's place on Columbia Street for years. Interesting comparison between the two, one is long established in the neighborhood where the clientele knows what to expect (long lines, slow service) but they have grown with her and with the her business. If I'm in a hurry, I won't even step inside if there are more than two people at the counter.

But as I said, this is expected. The Columbia Street folk knows the shortcomings and are not put off by them. With Margaret's new enterprise, she was playing to a new market where no history exists. I think it would be difficult to have the vibe and pace of Columbia Street be welcomed.

Marquet is a perfect example. Initially, they had a walk-up door on Smith Street, kind of like a drug-deal through a slot operation. I don't think they would have succeeded on Court street had they replicated the Smith Street experience.
Jan. 6, 2009, 6:17 pm
Reese from Cobble Hill says:
Well J and Kelly I would like to know who waited on you? When I go in there, the service that I get is fast. Maybe if people could of told Margaret maybe she could of made your experience more enjoyable. Having one employee working by themselves with a long line is too much to handle!

Like I said she could of did a lot better! That whole place is just wired!!
Jan. 6, 2009, 11:48 pm
Mike from Carroll Gardes says:
Court St Isn't the has been it is Margaret Palca Bakes. Face it you just were not good enough.
Jan. 12, 2009, 4:06 pm

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