With All Eyes on Nostrand Avenue, Crown Heights Mulls Its Next Move

By Sonja Sharp on October 16, 2012 9:10am 

CROWN HEIGHTS — Go east, young man!

For nearly a decade, eastward expansion has been the hallmark of Brooklyn's chattering classes: artists moved from Williamsburg to Bushwick, young families from Park Slope to Prospect Heights, students from Clinton Hill to Bedford-Stuyvesant.

So too in Crown Heights, which has seen an influx of new residents (and a significant exodus of old ones) in the past five years. As Franklin Avenue storefronts fill up or turn over and rental prices on adjacent blocks continue to rise, more and more residents are again looking east for the next big thing — and they're looking for it on Nostrand Avenue. 

“Nostrand is undergoing a gradual upgrade in retail offerings, and it’s a reflection of an influx of people, both condo buyers and renters that can sustain businesses that formerly people didn’t think were going to work there," said Michael Guerra, executive vice president and managing director at Prudential Douglas Elliman.

Along the avenue, as in much of Crown Heights, “access to transport and cultural monuments are as convenient as they are in Park Slope.” The commercial corridor — fed by the Long Island Rail Road and the A and C subway linest and by the 3 train to the south — already has among the lowest commercial vacancy rates in Crown Heights.

Many community members were overjoyed at the long-awaited opening of Connecticut Muffin on the corner of Nostrand Avenue and Bergen Street last Monday, saying it heralded a new era in development for the area.

But while much has been made of the move, the bakery itself was the product of  a years-long courtship by city officials, and many of the same sorts of establishments — the kind that boast reclaimed wood and antler chandeliers — could face an uphill battle in their efforts to open on the avenue. 

"I've been looking around in Brooklyn for many months for places to open," said Mitch Polo, owner of Nostrand Avenue Pub, a bar with ambitions to open virtually across the street from Connecticut Muffin. "People that live within one or two blocks from Bedford or New York or Brooklyn Avenues should have a place to go that's closer than Franklin."

In theory, Community Board 8 agrees — after all, bars and restaurants like Nostrand Avenue Pub have been the engine behind much of the area's recent economic growth. But Polo said his nascent business has already hit a snag with its liquor license, which the board insists should limit his hours to 3 a.m. on weekends. 

"We've heard from residents in our neighborhood wanting earlier closing times," Economic Development Committee chair Atim Oton told Polo at last Thursday's community board meeting. "They are property owners who invest in their properties and need to go to work in the morning."

The move comes as part of a broader push. Investment in the neighborhood's attractive housing stock has helped raise the avenue's profile among newcomers. But Polo said the board's push toward earlier hours runs counter to his interests.  

"The limited hours would make it virtually impossible for me to compete," Polo said.

Borough President Marty Markowitz personally wrote to the board to express his support for a 4 a.m. closing.

"The current location, which is blighted by broken windows and garbage in the backyard, will be replaced by an upscale establishment that will provide jobs for local residents as well as snacks and appetizers for its patrons," Markowitz wrote. "However, the doors of this local business can remain open only if it is allowed to compete fairly with other local liquor establishments."

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