CROWN HEIGHTS — The intersection of Rogers Avenue and President Street may not be the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, but for the creative cadre behind the new genre-defying arts space Mister Rogers, it might as well be.
"We really just want to make cool things, " said Ruvi Leider, 23, a photographer and co-owner of the cheekily-named storefront. "We want it to be a space where people can come and be creative with no limit."
The one-time West Indian shark restaurant has been turning heads in southern Crown Heights since it started taking shape this spring. Part art gallery, part events venue, and part plain old office space, Mister Rogers aims to bring the neighborhood's resurgent cool across Eastern Parkway.
"Franklin is already full," Leider said. "Franklin is moving to the south side of Eastern Parkway, but soon that’ll get too expensive and people will get priced out and start moving east — and we’re banking on that."
Unlike many of their predecessors across the Parkway, Mister Rogers' local roots go deep. Leider and co-owner Schneur Menaker are both sons of Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis who grew in Chabad yeshiva (the sect's headquarters are a few avenues east of the arts space), while their partner Avi Werde moved to the community when he was 16.
The gallery's first shows reflect that interplay of old and new. It's first public event, 'For Locals, By Locals' was conceived as a neighborhood-centric summer salon. It's inaugural art show is Leider's photo project "Close to Home", which highlights an eclectic cross-section of Hasidic Crown Heights.
"It became a story about diversity in a community that's seen to be pretty uniform," Leider said of the project. "People see Hasidim and think black hat, white shirt. I want to show them the more gritty side — the rebels who like to get high and read the Megillah."
Likewise, Mister Rogers both embodies and belies the hipster script that's played out west of Franklin Avenue. They're new and they're not.
Even without them, the western half of Crown Heights south is already home to a two-year-old NYPD impact zone and scores of proto-gentrifiers — and now, with the recent opening of the Pulp and the Bean, a wifi-enabled cafe.
"People are scared to move into a new neighborhood. They’re afraid to be the change but once they see the change happening they want to be a part of it," Leider said. "That’s what we’re hoping to do with this place. Were hoping to be the change on this block."