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Longtime Commercial Tenants Feel Squeezed on Up-and-Coming Nostrand Avenue

By Sonja Sharp | April 16, 2013 10:21am

CROWN HEIGHTS — There may not be ink on the lease, but plenty of commercial tenants say they see the writing on the wall on Nostrand Avenue.

Business owners on the dynamic and bustling Crown Heights commercial corridor say rents are rising and new leases are putting the pinch on longtime concerns — at least a few of whom could not afford to ink new deals with their landlords when long term leases expired and now pay month-to-month.

"Everybody's going through it," said longtime business owner Ira Burnett, 48, who runs Long Life Vegetarian Restaurant, one of several vegetarian Caribbean eateries feeling the squeeze on the avenue. "At this moment I pay $3,300, but when the lease is up it'll go up to $5,000, take it or leave it."

Real estate watchers have long had their eyes on Nostrand Avenue, widely seen as next in line as gentrification marches eastward across Crown Heights. Though residents have changed rapidly in recent years, the commercial face of the stretch has remained relatively the same. In fact, Nostrand Avenue between Eastern Parkway and Atlantic Avenue has some of the lowest commercial vacancy in the area.

"For the last two years it's non-stop," said Wzo, 50, the owner of Trinidad Golden Place, who declined to give his last name. "Five years ago you could get a store like this for a maximum of $2,000 — now the same spot is costing double. Most of the small businesses can't make it. A lot of people are gone already."

Community Board 8's Economic Development Committee estimates average commercial rents on their stretch of the avenue at about $2,500, but expects that number to nearly double when current leases begin to expire. Landlords on nearby Franklin Avenue now charge new commercial tenants between $3,000 and $6,000, according to the committee.

But the baker said those changes have already started coming, albeit in more subtle ways. Over the past two years,  landlords have started charging long term tenants additional fees on top of their mortgages.

"Most landlords now are asking for the interest on the mortgage, the water — $1,500 on top of the lease," he said.

Others can't reach a deal at all.

The owner of an ethnic grocery store who has been on the block for more than 20 years and asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal from her landlord said she's been without a lease for more than nine months after her 10-year agreement expired and the building owner raised rents beyond what she could pay.

"They've got you by the neck," she said.

But some, like hairdresser Rosalie Minkoue, 49, said they have good relations with their landlords and are clinging to faith that building owners want to keep longtime concerns in the community.

"The city gives me tickets for no reason — the landlord understands what I'm going through," said the proprietor of Naye Hair Braiding, who has been in business on the avenue for 16 years but has not been offered a new lease since her most recent 5-year agreement expired earlier this spring.

"The landlord is nice to me, but he also has bills."