Trendy shops open every other week on Grand Street near Bedford Avenue, but across the BQE in Williamsburg, the same street is experiencing growing pains. At least 16 shuttered storefronts line the six-block stretch along Grand from Union to Bushwick Avenue.
Spaces belonging to mom-and-pop stores have been put up for grabs, but instead of being replaced by beard-wax emporiums and bespoke monocle shops, their “For Rent” signs have lingered for months. While at least one developer is banking on “a migration to the eastern part of Williamsburg” as he replaces the Liberty department store with a Gene Kaufman-designed building at 774 Grand, it seems this part of Grand won’t be undergoing a major transformation in the immediate future.
Here’s a sampling of Grand Street shops that are currently closed or in need of tenants:
–At 545-543 Grand, an empty storefront is for rent at $7,000 a month.
–At 556 Grand, a store called Seven Stars has closed. The space is for rent by Urban Retail Properties.
–At 616 Grand, the longtime bike shop Affinity recently closed. The space is now for rent.
–At 629 Grand, The Denim Hut recently vacated to move to 682 Grand. The space is now empty.
–At 672 Grand, Q & S Services moved up to the block to 711 Grand Street, and the space is now for rent by owner.
–At 667 Grand, the building (or part of it) is for sale by Massey Knakal Realty.
–At 686 Grand, a former Metro Sleek Design store is for rent by Corcoran Group.
–At 687 Grand, a former sushi joint is for rent by Ideal Properties Group.
–At 753 Grand, a 30-Minute Photo store is empty.
–At 771 Grand, a corner store is available for rent by Ideal Properties Group.
–At 781 Grand, an empty store with whitewashed interiors is for rent.
In part, the plethora of available storefronts may be because some mom-and-pop stores are being picky about which new businesses will inherit their digs.
Patrick Mallilo, a real estate agent with Brookridge Realty, which is located on Grand, says these first-time landlords ask him about more than just the financial statements of a tenant. “They’ll say: ‘Are these people cool or not? Are these solid people?’”
Mallilo also says new landlords on Grand want cafes or retail outlets moving in instead of bars and restaurants. In recent years a host of bars – Noorman’s Kil, Kingsland Bar, St. Mazie – have popped up on Grand, a street that was once largely residential.
At one property Mallilo is handling on Grand, he says a husband and wife recently fixed up the top floor of their building and rented it as apartments, and closed their dentist office downstairs for rentals, too. “But they don’t want a restaurant or bar there,” says Mallilo, “because that will affect the rents of the apartments above… and then you’re open late at night, and you don’t know what kind of people are coming in and out all night long.”
Some of the closed mom-and-pop shops, sensing a changing clientele, are sticking around and renovating their stores instead of getting replaced by new businesses. (These include a deli space at Grand and Union, and Lee’s Furniture at 517 Grand, both of which are currently closed for renovations. Lee’s, the last remaining furniture store on Grand, is currently renting a temporary space down the block.)
And there have been some successful newcomers to Grand, including The Sandwich Shop, a cafe that opened up at 658 Grand just four months ago. The shop replaced a decrepit storefront that had once been a contractor’s office. Owner Clarisa Penzini said she chose Grand in part because it had “too many bars already” and said her neighbors “are very happy with us, because we open at 11 and close at 9.”
Buying decrepit or old storefronts on Grand does come with some perils. Grand St. Bakery, an uber-hip, vintage general store that sells everything from denim cut-off vests for babies to “hair of the dog” herbal bitters, took the risk of moving into an old, un-renovated store space on Grand about four years ago. Since then, they’ve had to deal with graffiti on old windows that are tougher to clean, funky electrical wiring, and a recent pipe burst that damaged some of their merchandise.
But Maura Mullen, who works at the store and is a sister of the store’s co-owner, says opening there has been worth it. In five years, she believes Grand Street could look entirely different than it does now.
“The popularity of Bedford Avenue is starting to spread toward East Williamsburg and to Grand,” she said. (That change might spread faster now that a massive 52-unit rental building at 456 Grand has just started leasing.) “I think right now it’s more in a state of changing residential structures… But as for your average Bedford Avenue place, it’s still happening a lot slower.”