A one-day reopening for Vermont Market

for The Brooklyn Paper
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For one day, at least, a peculiar piece of Cobble Hill history came back to life on Saturday, when the Vermont Market and Pharmacy — the victim of a decade of time-capsule-like existence at the corner of Henry and Sackett streets — reopened with an old-fashioned street party with Maine lobster dinners, face painting, and craft beer from a yet-to-be-named new Brooklyn brewery.

But the market, rechristened Brooklyn Farmacy, did not open the next day — or the next — leading neighbors to wonder whether they had actually participated in the auspicious rebirth of the 1920s-era pharmacy once known as Longo’s.

The shop is owned by the reclusive Mark Stein, who had inherited the building from his father in 1992 and ran the pharmacy for a year before closing it, citing poor business. He later rented it to a trio from Vermont and one Brooklynite who sold homespun Green Mountain State products. But that business failed, too.

Over the years, passers-by would peer through the dingy windows and see Stein puttering around as if ready to reopen, but the piles and piles of items from a pharmacological golden age — Pine Bros. cough drops, 26-year-old condoms, bouffant hair tonics — remained behind closed doors.

“Every time I walked my dog I would look in here and think ‘What is going on with this place?’” said Eva Kriz, 35, who was among the many who stopped by on Saturday to browse the strange collection of objects. “This place was trashed, but it was just so full of interesting stuff.”

Stein prefers not to talk about why he let the storefront remain in such shuttered decay.

“I don’t really know why I kept it closed for so long. I can’t really say,” said the elusive landlord.

Stein finally relented to a reopening thanks to his residential tenants, who have done most of the prep work.

“When I first saw this place, it was completely trashed,” said Petey Freeman, one of Stein’s tenants and a proprietor in the new operation. Freeman, a landscaper, moved into Stein’s building last spring and immediately began pestering his landlord to do something about it.

Freeman and the other three tenants cleaned up the store and put most of Stein’s stash of oddities in the basement (though they couldn’t resist keeping on display a 1950s Bunsen burner, Feenamint chewing gum laxatives and original Longo’s brand ointments with 1924 expiration dates).

If it reopens for good, the trio of tenants say the store will boast organic, local produce, a soda fountain and a seltzer apothecary that well sell Stein-made drinks to cure everything from jet lag to impotence.

Eventually, it will be part hang-out, part retail space specializing in home healing remedies and local produce, and part museum of weird pharmaceutical odds and ends.

Or not.

“This place is cool, I guess,” said Eva Perez, 24, a resident of nearby Clinton Hill who also attended the (not so) grand re-opening. “But what is it?”

Even Stein isn’t sure.

“I don’t really know what’s going to happen,” said Stein. “But whatever it is, it will be good.”

Updated 5:14 pm, July 9, 2018
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