What’s Shakin’? Chains are gentrifying Fulton Mall, that’s what

The Brooklyn Paper
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

The Fulton Mall is going upscale now that Shake Shack, Gap, and even a Las Vegas developer’s theme restaurant are moving in — but small business owners who’ve been here for decades say that high-speed gentrification is pricing them out.

On Tuesday, the high-end fast-food burger joint opened in a former pizzeria at the western end of the mall, just days after Downtown boosters hailed the news that Sugar and Plumm, a touristy cafe, and American BBQ and Beer Company, a new venture by a Vegas casino operator Mark Advent, are coming to Adams Street, the latest chains to join the mix of low-end retailers and mom-and-pops.

Downtown boosters say that the influx of new stores is good for everyone.

“We’re now seeing a much broader, diverse mix of retail on Fulton, so shoppers now have more choices,” said Michael Burke, who just left his job as chief operating officer of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. “The result? Fulton Street and Downtown Brooklyn are becoming the one-stop retail destination for local residents and the entire borough.”

But not everyone agrees — saying that the retail facelift is devastating what used to be black America’s Main Street.

“Developers are trying to make Fulton Street like 34th Street,” said Elisa Gales, a longtime shopper and street vendor. “It’s a slap in the face and unfair to the small people. We can’t even open up businesses here. We can’t compete with them.”

The Fulton Mall has always been the borough’s busiest shopping corridor and prone to high rents. But those rents are soaring as cash-heavy national retailers rush in.

“The city wants to attract big franchises, and for them, it’s going to be good — but not for working-class shoppers,” said Danny Ahmed, who owns Fulton Island, a storefront near Hoyt Street selling gold jewelry, cellphones, and sneakers.

Ahmed first opened a shop down the block two decades ago, paying $15,000 a month before AT&T offered his landlord a better deal. Today he pays $30,000 with the help of six other vendors.

“Soon only the people who buy from big chains will come to the mall,” he said.

And, perhaps, the locals who can afford the pricier gourmet fare.

Sugar and Plumm, for example, offers an $8 grilled cheese and $13 chicken tenders, compared to a $3 fish sandwich or $1.50 hot dog at Fulton Hot Dog King, a corner deli at Elm Place. American BBQ and Beer Company doesn’t have a menu yet, but if star chef Christopher Lee’s other restaurants are any indication, salads could start at $10 and burgers at $17.

“These places sounds like something a lot of people around here can’t afford,” said street promoter Charles Hallback, aka Chief Rocker. “Someday the Fulton Mall is only going to be for the rich people.”

Ruth Chan, a Brooklyn Heights resident, said that she was excited about Shake Shack, the popular burger chain opening this month, where a single burger, fries and soda cost $9.10.

“But as for the rest of it,” she said. “I feel like the history and culture of the mall is being gentrified away.”

The Fulton Mall has been subject to many failed revitalization schemes for decades, though none of them stuck until now.

It was a bustling shopping district for middle- and working-class shoppers after World War II, with major department stores including Korvettes and Abraham & Straus. But those anchors began to pull out in the 1970s, leaving a ripple effect of vacant storefronts and violent crime that lasted throughout the ’80s and ’90s.

But even during the worst of times, mini bazaars of discounted gold jewelry, wigs, sneakers and perfume survived, and the sidewalk vendors who peddle shea butter and Rastafarian art gave the strip its soul.

But that feel is disappearing as Express plans to open alongside Aeropostale and Aldo, Downtown planners spruce up dirty facades with high art — and the old businesses struggle to compete.

Lateef Juwara, an art vendor at Gallatin Place, said the mall’s makeover is crushing longtime businesses.

“The Fulton Mall is definitely changing to cater to a more upscale crowd,” Juwara said. “Is that a good thing? That’s up in the air.”

But Borough President Markowitz, a self-proclaimed fan of Shake Shack’s offerings, is bullish on the future of the Mall.

“After too many years of decline, Fulton Mall is undergoing a historic transforma­tion,” he said earlier this year. “I believe we can once again make it the city’s most-prized shopping district, an eclectic and dynamic commercial strip that reflects the diversity of Brooklyn.”

Reach Kate Briquelet at or by calling her at (718) 260-2511.
Updated 5:28 pm, July 9, 2018
Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

Reasonable discourse

JP from Downtown says:
Small business owners aside, what's been displaced? We're not bemoaning the closing or relocating of a pizza shop, a cell phone / gold jewelry / shoe store, a beauty store, and a couple other shops that Fulton already had an abundance of, are we? If the charm of Fulton Mall is a mix cell phone / tattoo / jewelry store every block, then I guess let's shed a tear.
Dec. 21, 2011, 7:17 am
Wednesday says:
I stopped shopping Fulton Mall at least 6 years ago. I don't care what "shack" they put there, I won't go back.

A mall for eating or drinking beer?
The concept is attractive to small town hicks and out-of-town-types who never got out much.

I'll shop elsewhere, perhaps outside of NY altogether. Besides, it'll be nice to get away from gentry Brooklyn.
Dec. 21, 2011, 8:29 am
Jason from Downtown Brooklyn says:
I had my first "Shack Attack" last night! Very tasty burgers. Good contrast to Mr. Fulton on the opposite end. We need fancy burgers as well as the cheap hot dog joints.
Dec. 21, 2011, 10:21 am
David Schatsky from Upper West Side says:
I don't live near the Fulton Mall and and am unfamiliar with it, so I don't really have a stake in what goes in there. But I thought readers would be interested in our experience here on the Upper West Side with Sugar and Plumm. The company is planning to open one of its stores in this designed historic district and its design plans have upset a lot of local residents. Not only did the company's large store displace 5 local merchants, but its proposed design is totally out of keeping with the neighborhood. The Landmarks Preservation Commission held a hearing on the plans yesterday and excoriated the company for its design and instructed them to come back with a significantly "toned down" plan.

You can see some of their comments here:
Dec. 21, 2011, 11:17 am
JudahSpechal from BedStuy says:
I guess BK's "Chief Clown" missed the high rent part. Listen, I'm all for upgrades, but with all the dead space on Livingston St & Schmerhorn a diverse prices & selection need not be sacrifice. But one has to look at the Coney Is. saga to see the City Planners "Vision". When bargain shoppers screams for better prices they will be pacified w/Walmart. What perfect symmetry! The tangled web they weave.
Dec. 21, 2011, 12:49 pm
Celina from Fort Greene says:
There's a lot of important background information about these issues here:

Also check out FUREE board member Maisha Morales' recent Op-Ed about the Fulton Mall:
Dec. 21, 2011, 3:54 pm
bk born from the greene says:
There's a perfectly good Burger King on same block. Why stand in line for bad burgers. I guess i can get paid to stand in line for burgers like the homeless in madison square park. New employment chances. Yeah Burger Shack. I mean Shake Sh-t.
Dec. 22, 2011, 8:44 am
When is society going to grow up , wow a fast food resturaunt opens up on Fulton street, what news lets all wait on line like morons for a burger wow ,
Dec. 22, 2011, 7:36 pm
BklynMan from Brooklyn Hgts says:
I for one am very happy to see the changes on Fulton Street. Progress my friends. Someone above mentioned Coney Island as a bad example of what would happen to Fulton Street? Huh? When I lived here in Brooklyn a long time ago you took your life into your hands going to CI after the sun went down. I love CI now. perfect? Of course not but a vast improvement.

I really can't stand the attitude that if we don't keep all the cheap little hole in the wall bazaar like stores we are losing something of great value. Please. Be happy that people with money are willing to invest in the downtown Brooklyn area and improve the quality of life for the entire area.
Dec. 23, 2011, 9:09 am
Lynn from Brooklyn says:
It's a shame to see the character removed from so many neighborhoods in our borough. When the dollar rules, heart, soul, and personality mean nothing.
Dec. 23, 2011, 4:16 pm
seen it all from downtown says:
yes its great all the fancy resturaunts in the fulton street area , have you taken the family to the pancake house on livinston street latly ?, that was going to make livingston street GREAT .
Dec. 26, 2011, 3:19 pm
earl from fort greene says:
racist comments athat add nothing to the conversation.
Dec. 27, 2011, 8:49 pm
earl from fort greene says:
thanks for your contribution lynn.
Dec. 27, 2011, 8:50 pm

Comments closed.

First name
Last name
Your neighborhood
Email address
Daytime phone

Your letter must be signed and include all of the information requested above. (Only your name and neighborhood are published with the letter.) Letters should be as brief as possible; while they may discuss any topic of interest to our readers, priority will be given to letters that relate to stories covered by The Brooklyn Paper.

Letters will be edited at the sole discretion of the editor, may be published in whole or part in any media, and upon publication become the property of The Brooklyn Paper. The earlier in the week you send your letter, the better.

Keep it local!

Stay in touch with your community. Subscribe to our free newsletter: