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Ghost town: Businesses closing across Sheepshead Bay

A building built and remodeled for commercial real estate remains vacant on Nostrand Avenue and Avenue U.
Brooklyn Paper
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Small businesses across Sheepshead Bay are going belly up — and they’re not being replaced — with some storefronts remaining shuttered for well over a decade, according to locals.

“If you were in a spaceship and decided to land on Avenue U between Coyle and Brown street, you would think it is a ghost town,” said Stuart Brynien, a longtime neighborhood resident.

The crisis affecting the coastal community can be seen in graffiti-covered brick-and-mortar shops appearing sporadically, and sometimes one after the other along Avenue U, where between Coyle and Bragg streets the ruins of the family-owned Hy Friedman clothing store, a long-shuttered furniture outlet, and the obsolete Captain Video — which closed amid the rise of Netflix back in 2004 — all remain vacant.

As in the case of the former video store, some shops have remained unoccupied long enough to spawn their own urban legends, according to Brynien.

“There is a rumor around the neighborhood that there are hundreds of VHS tapes still inside Captain Video,” he said.

The situation is not unique to Avenue U — the Nostrand Avenue Payless near Avenue Y recently shuttered — and even nationally owned retail chains are struggling, according to real estate lawyer and local small-business advocate Steve Barrison, who noted the Avenue U storefront near Nostrand Avenue formerly occupied by a Duane Reade, which has remained shuttered for more than a year.

Rather, Sheepshead Bay’s small business crisis is a symptom of citywide trends, including rising rents and property taxes, which force entrepreneurs to weather years without turning a profit, according to Barrison

“Everyone thinks Amazon and other online shopping stores are the main issue. It takes six or seven years to pay off the business, immigrants and business owners are not being told this,” said Barrison, who runs the Bay Improvement Group, a coalition of residents and business owners dedicated to revitalizing the neighborhood.

Barrison singled out issues surrounding commercial lease renewals — which, lacking many of the same protections that residential tenants enjoy, can result in massive rental increases — as the single greatest threat facing local shopkeepers.

“The real issue is lease renewals and dealing with greedy landlords,” said Barrison.

The real estate lawyer echoed Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who last year championed the revival of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, a bill that’s lingered in committee since its introduction in 1986.

“Right now, If you operate in New York City and your lease comes up for renewal they can jack your rent up three, four, five times what it was and the property sits vacant for a long time,” Johnson said at a 2017 press conference, before arranging an Oct. 22 Council hearing to discuss the bill.

The bill faced massive opposition from real estate interests, including Real Estate Board of New York President John Banks, who called the bill “deeply flawed,” according to a Curbed report. It remains laid over in committee.

New York City’s retail crisis has failed to cripple some longtime Bay businesses. Nostrand Avenue eatery Brennan and Carr is still serving roast beef sandwiches after 81 years, and coastal commerce along Emmons Avenue remains strong, with longtime favorites like Il Fornetto and Roll ‘n’ Roaster still managing to make ends meet, Barrison said.

But something has to be done, and without action, even those perennial Sheepshead Bay icons will fold under the burden of rising rents, Barrison said.

“The top 1 percent are controlling every thing, the long term goal is fair rent or a long term lease,” Barrison said.

Reach reporter Chandler Kidd at ckidd@schenpsmedia.com or by calling (718) 260–2525. Follow her at twitter.com/ChanAnnKidd.
Updated 12:10 pm, July 10, 2019
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Reasonable discourse

Frank from Furter says:
High rents and in general retail is in serious trouble. Mom and pop retail the bread and butter of small strips is dying.
July 3, 7:51 am
Furter from Frank says:
That's what the article is about. Thank you for your insight on this.
July 3, 8:13 am
Tyler from pps says:
I have no idea how the economics of "no rent income for years" could possibly work, but a landlord who keeps their commercial property vacant year after year after year should be fined to oblivion and the property put up for a below-market sale, with members of the community given first right of refusal (heck, make it a competition like a grant application -- best proposal gets the $1 million property for $200,000)
July 3, 10:39 am
Tyler from pps says:
In other words, willfully vacant commercial property is antisocial behavior and should be treated as such.
July 3, 10:40 am
Robert E. Hogan from Bath Beach says:
How could someone say that “greedy landlords” are at fault when the city has greatly increased our property taxes. The taxes on my one family home went to nearly $8,000 it’s unbearable. The $15 minimum wage isn’t helping small business either. The cost of paying employees along with payroll taxes have all gone up. The truth, any smart investor looking at the opportunity cost of opening a business in New York knows that it is a lost cause.
July 3, 10:43 am
K. from ArKady says:
While you're never going to control rent costs, you could definitely look into whatever law allows owners to carry a building with maintenance and property taxes for a decade without a tenant and not take a bath. Coz in most every other part of the world that's not how things naturally operate.
July 3, 10:48 am
Tyler from pps says:
Well, Robert, there's something we can agree on. If you can't pay your employees $15/hr you shouldn't be in business.
July 3, 10:58 am
Baron from Sheepshead Bay says:
Landlords will always try to get with a can, that's what business it's not only about. I agree sometimes unfairly but the main issue is the property taxes and the compounded so called fees. For example businesses get charged a annual fee just to have an air conditioner on the roof and our location that's free is $745 a year in addition to that there are other permits that are necessary to operate which could range and total of extra thousands of dollars a year. So if you want to greedy landlords also have to add greedy tax collectors !
July 3, 11:53 am
Baron from Sheepshead Bay says:
Sorry should have ended it before I posted
July 3, 11:55 am
Bob from Gerritsen Beach says:
Okay Tyler now I understand why you spend most of your time on this site attacking other people for their ideas because if that's the best you could come up with is confiscating someone's property because it's not being used to its fullest potential in this democracy, well, all I can say is it's best to stick to what you usually do. That building has been vacant for far over 10 years more like 30. It went out of business when the blockbuster the national chain came into existence. That building at one time was a thriving garment business that fell on bad times when Kings Plaza was sadly introduced to the neighborhood resulting in literally dozens of small businesses like this falling by the way side. I also know there is a height restriction on building at the vicinity which greatly restricts the value of the property. I would imagine the owner is keeping that vacant and holding out for a contractor/builder with enough clout to have the building variances changed and the result would quadruple the value of the property especially if there was no long-term lease tenant.
July 3, 12:03 pm
Tyler from pps says:
Bob - We know you cashed out your house for a massive profit (ya know, keeping housing affordable for the working man!) and moved to Florida or wherever. And now you're fighting for the poor landlord who would rather maintain blight, on the off chance they can have their own Bob from Gerritsen Beach style pay day?! You're a real mensch. So, yes. A building being vacant for 10 (more like 30) years is BLIGHT. This isn't an issue of "not being used to the fullest." This is a landlord making the decision to contribute to the undesirability of a commercial street because leaving it vacant and moldering is somehow better than signing a 10-yr lease. This building has had $0 in income for 10-30 years. $0. This is anti-social behavior, period.
July 3, 12:42 pm
Ro from Park Slope says:
Back in the day it was called "Protection." Today, it's called "rent."
July 3, 12:57 pm
Gary from Fort Greene says:
I think I understand. A business can't afford to pay its employees $15 per hour. It deserves to, and does, go out of business. No other prospective tenant can afford to pay its employees $15 per hour either, so they don't rent the building and it stays vacant. Failure to rent to a business that can't afford to stay in business is thus somehow antisocial behavior. That makes it the landlord's fault? Seems to me it's the $15/hour minimum wage mandate's fault.
July 3, 3:24 pm
NYC Guy says:
I am a landlord but labeling them 'Greedy' is just wrong. The city is killing landlords with high property taxes, fines, inspections,etc. It's not possible to make ends meet and this is business, people invested millions dollars in it to make money. They just try to pass some burden expenses to tenants, that's why the rents are high. But it's not landlord greediness it's NYC absurdness and it's going to get worse when landlords will start abandon those properties.
July 3, 3:28 pm
Bob from Gerritsen Beach says:
Okay Tyler you're proving your actually capable of repeating what I've written to you in the past. I did make a massive profit on home I owned 42 years. Actually I sold it for 18 times more than I paid for it. When my real estate broker told me what to put it on the market for I thought he was crazy well, it's sold in four hours with three other people waiting on the sidelines in case the deal fell through. Then I bought a co-op a few blocks away and moved in and 16 months later I realized I'm going crazy in an apartment and put that on the market and made 90 grand and sold in one day. You're right I do live in Florida in a gated community with all the amenities like golf course indoor/ outdoor pool, rec room and the class A restaurant. I also own a 2,450 square foot home on a quarter acre and real estate taxes of $2000 year approximately 40% of what I was paying in Brooklyn. Also no city and state income tax and only 6% sales tax. Knowing you you're cursing me under your breath for what I have but I'd like to leave you with this; don't blame people for having more than you, blame yourself for having less. Now get off your crying soapbox and make something of yourself.
July 3, 5:15 pm
Tyler from pps says:
Sure, Gary. In the last 10-20 years, there was no one that would be interested in renting that building for more than $0. They have taken in $0 in rent. I'm sure there is a price point somewhere between completely unaffordable and $0. Right?
July 3, 6:02 pm
Mai Tai from Homecrest says:
The Nostrand Avenue Payless did not "Shutter" , the entire chain around the country closed down in its entirety. The Brooklyn Paper should be more careful in its reporting. To shutter can be a temporary situation.
July 3, 6:08 pm
Tyler from pps says:
Congrats, Bob from Florida. Not sure what you're now trying to prove... That's you're awesome? I don't care if you are richer than me; it really doesn't matter. But at least I'm not a hypocrite banging on about the working class as you rake in a profit 3+ times the inflation rate. I'm not cursing you. I'm happy you're gone. Sounds like you are a bad fit. Now get off your crying soapbox and mind your own business (I'll skip any comments about the environment and how selfish you are for cooling and lighting a 2500 square foot home, for what I assume is just you...)
July 3, 6:10 pm
Cindy from Brooklyn says:
Bob, You fulfilled the dream. God bless you. You made it and now I hope you enjoy it. I have about 5 more years before my family and I follow you down there, with appreciably lower taxes and property values and a geometric increase in quality of life.
July 3, 8 pm
Frank from Marine Park says:
I suggest you do a little research before printing falsehoods in your paper / online.  In the story "Ghost town," you mentioned that Avenue U between Coyle and Bragg St has remained vacant for years.  If you did a simple Google map search, you would see there is a business in that location, Zimco -- an optical company.  Now if you article were to state how the property on the Avenue side is not well maintained, then I would agree.  However, to state it is vacant is flat out wrong.  Try a little harder next time.
July 3, 8:47 pm
Bob from Gerritsen Beach says:
Thank you Cindy for your good wishes and I know you won't be disappointed leaving which was once a great city. When I was comparing low taxes here I wasn't gloating I just threw the question out there of how they could run the state on a fraction of what New York City and state spends while giving its citizens lower quality of life. Tyler will never understand how it used to be in the city when you can make a good living along with a pension and healthcare fully funded by your employer. When my children went to college it cost about $1000 a semester now it can bankrupt a family. I hear my great-nieces and nephews questioning the wisdom of going to college and its benefits versus the expense. How sad is that. Good luck my friend.
July 3, 9:04 pm
Paul M. from Sheepshead Bay says:
While I cannot specify Il Fornetto, I can point out that Brennan & Carr as well as Roll-n-Roaster survive because they own the properties. I think Randazzo's as well. So no rent=still in business. Owners get At Least 5 years of write-offs for their taxes, so not much incentive there ....
July 4, 12:01 am
Paul M. from Sheepshead Bay says:
Brighton Beach has a similar problem. Businesses come & go all the time there now once a long standing business closes. Already 4-5 shops in less than 15 years where Mrs. Stahl's Knishes used to be.
July 4, 12:07 am
Sharmaine from Crowm Heigjtd says:
"Tyler," you sound like someone who's never owned a business or commercial property. Might we ask, are you a member of the Commumist Party?
July 4, 2:45 am
Dojo from Ryerson says:
This article is good news. Housing prices around Sheepshead Bay are going to decrease soon. At the meantime, you all may need to go shopping on 86 street or grow your own food or fish for your own Seafood. People from Manhattan like going to the movie theater in Sheepshead?
July 4, 1:11 pm
andrea from bay ridge, brooklyn says:
Bob. You are a delight. I have one question for you,how does you head even fit through door ways? You must bang it around alot.
July 4, 3:54 pm
Bob from Gerritsen Beach says:
andrea from bay ridge, brooklyn, I would think compared to your small mind everyone has a big head. Oh, by the way say hello to Tyler for me :-)
July 4, 8:50 pm
Bobby from gravesend says:
Its a bad business move to invest in property in NY.the real estate tax on commercial property has gone up every 6 months for the last couple of years,I have a commercial building on ave x the r.e.tax has gone up 60% from 2014 till 2019,I have lesses on the tenants so i haven't raised the rent,so when they come do what am I supposed to do.I was making some money in 2014, just about getting by now,So the chance I took investing my money did dent pay off because of this city with its taxes and inspections and permits.
July 5, 8:44 am
Gene from Sheepshead Bay says:
Clearly the laws must be changed. There must be some monetary incentive (tax deductions, business loss, etc...) for landlords to be able to jack up rents to the point of tenants moving out, and then leaving their properties empty for years with no income being generated. If it were just simply supply & demand, landlords would be forced to lower rents to fill their storefronts. Clearly there is a hidden benefit for them to let them remain empty. Also, to clarify, the site between Coyle St. & Bragg St. has been occupied by a large eyeglass factory for many years, but most people would never know, because they have left the dilapidated former furniture store facade on their business, save for a small sign that denotes their entrance is around back. Not very neighborly in my opinion.
July 5, 1:22 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Unfortunately, this is what gentrification will be doing to a lot of neighborhoods when local and small businesses can longer afford to be there thanks to rising property taxes and rents.
July 5, 1:45 pm
Tyler from pps says:
Oh shut up, Tal. This has nothing to do with "gentrification."
July 5, 1:59 pm
Joel from Flatbush says:
The $15/hour argument makes no sense. Since the building(s) in question were vacant for 10-20 years, and more, there was no mandate for a $15 minimum wage back then, yet somehow, the landlords still couldn’t stay afloat. Therefore, that argument holds no water.
July 5, 5:01 pm
Clare from Sheepshead Bay says:
I think they are holing out for zoning laws. Imagine all the condos!!
July 6, 10:33 am
Jo from Heart of Sheepshead Bay says:
Think it’s obvious there’s more going on behind closed doors..
July 7, 7:42 am

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