There are now nine “For rent” signs flying on Montague Street between Clinton Street and the Promenade right now — but the news may not be all bad.
Just this week, Jennifer Convertibles, the Spicy Pickle sandwich shop, and the Washington Mutual branch at the corner of Henry Street went belly up, but at least one expert says the Brooklyn Heights’ commercial spine may still be strong.
Stephen Palmese, who deals in commercial spaces from Fort Greene to Brooklyn Heights at the Massey Knakal realty firm, thinks the neighborhood will see locally based “mom-and-pop” shops replace the big national chain stores — a reversal of a longtime, and oft-bemoaned, trend.
One example is Armando’s, the beloved restaurant that pulled the plug on its famed neon lobster sign last March. On Feb. 23, its owner, who also owns the building that housed the eatery, announced that he was considering a grand re-opening.
“There is a strong possibility that Armando’s is going to come back,” Peter Byros told the Brooklyn Heights Blog on Monday.
If that happens, it might be the first indicator of the trend to home-grown enterprises and away from national chains like Spicy Pickle, the Denver-based chain that took over, however briefly, the Armando’s site.
As Montague Street’s notoriously high rents “loosen up” in the coming year, Palmese said, “unique stores” will start to come back to the commercial thoroughfare.
“Prices will be set back by 20 to 30 percent.”
That said, Brooklyn Heights residents see the “For rent” signs and worry that the nation’s economic malaise has finally infected their neighborhood.
“It’s really an indication of the times,” said John O’Malley, a self-described “longtime resident” of Montague Street.
Chelsea Mauldin, who manages the Montague Street BID, agreed.
“Obviously, this is not a good time,” said Mauldin. “Montague Street is ... not completely immune to the economic climate.”
At Jennifer Convertibles, a furniture store that has stood between Hicks and Henry streets for more than a decade, the crash of the housing market was mostly to blame.
Manager Yvette Aviles blamed the housing collapse, not high rent. “People aren’t buying furniture,” she said. “People aren’t moving at all.”
And they aren’t buying dresses at the rate that Blue Rose, a boutique at the corner of Hicks Street for the past two years, needed to survive. The store closed on Jan. 14 and will move to a less-expensive spot in Park Slope.
At Spicy Pickle, the agita was not only caused by high rents, but the restaurant’s $11 panini-and-soda combo.
“It was a little overpriced,” said one former patron — but so was the $20,000 a month rent.