Friday, May 22, 2009
I'm kick, pushing and cutting myself with the type of angst that can only be escaped by skateboard. Why because I came across an interesting story a month ago and didn't post it, better late than not at all; here's my account of Crown Height's new (and gotta be only) Skateboard/Flower/Dry Goods Shop.
255 Park Place near the corner of Classon Ave, in Crown Heights B'Klyn
As I was making the move from CH to CH (literally pushing a shopping cart with my things, how's that for green) I came across a cleared lot where once a funeral parlor had stood on Park Place near the corner of Classon Av. Before I could ponder where they buried the funeral parlor, I noticed something completely different, the birth of a new biz. Park Delicatessen.
Except that I already knew Park Delicatessen. Over thirty years back it was a place near and dear to my heart in the same location, same name, with a more intact version of the same sign.
I went to P.S. 316 right across the street on the corner of Classon and Park. My grandmother lived across the street and worked at the nearby Brooklyn Jewish (Hospital, now rental units).
During the day I would literally drool at the thought of the thick full roast beef sandwiches my grandmother would buy from Park Delicatessen and the kindly lady who ran the place. When I had permission I would tear down Classon backpack flapping to Prospect Pl., run through the crowded hospital hall, take the elevator up to and wait for my grandmother to go to a lunch she delayed so she could buy me a sandwich from the Deli (as we simply knew referred to it).
It wasn't an everyday thing, on Classon Av there existed the same corner stores 30 years ago as now. The one on the corner of Prospect was most frequented by lunching hospital workers followed closely by the store on the corner of Park. Both stores' sandwiches were cheaper.
My grandmother and her coworkers would come to Park Delicatessen specifically if they wanted the choice cuts of meat, and more gourmet level of quality to their meals which weren't limited to sandwiches. The higher quality came at a higher price which their salaries as nurses, secretaries and the like couldn't afford on a daily basis. I do recall seeing the doctors making their rounds at Park Delicatessen without fail.
So with all that in my mind imagine my surprise at seeing the door open to the old place for the first time in years. There had been a West Indian restaurant in the space back in the 90's but they didn't last long. This particular space was a bit enigmatic because there seemed to be few attempts to rent it ( I don't recall any window signs) and I couldn't tell you when the Deli I knew and the woman who ran it closed shop because her hours of business simply became shorter and shorter until the store just didn't open anymore.
I looked into what had become of the space and the first thing I noticed besides the Shawn White stunt double sitting outside, were the orange walls which were like tropical punch bubblegum, day-glo-ing in the afternoon sun in a smack in the face way that said clearly this is not my nostalgic deli. So I entered and got, well confused, because in addition to tricked out, glossed up hyper designed skateboards on the walls, there were all these plants and planters all around. The interior was a mix of antique and ultra-antique. The counter as I recall seemed from another era as well and in back, holy shit in the back were the original giant fridges! (or an amazing facsimile there of).
The stored seemed to be still setting up (this was over a month ago) and I took in the scene like a blog troll; a baseball capped dude talking up a customer a young mother with baby in tow, kids interested in browsing boards while flawlessly looking bored.
In instant contrast I thought about the old Black woman who ran the deli I had known. (yeh it weirds me out too, when Black people make a point to describe people in anecdotes as being "black" but that woman was like a kindly old character out of Toni Morrison's fiction as I recall her) Meanwhile, back in the shop, I looked around at the re-contextualization I was in the middle of and I thought.., how f*cking cool is this!!
I was so overwhelmed standing in the humble store experiencing my past and suddenly present in Park Delicatessen, I decided to ask for the owner Mike, about the place, and it went like this:
BrooklynBornBlog: How'd you find the space?
Park Delicatessen: My Wife and I were looking for a studio to share to make room in our house for the baby. We were looking for something cheap, and with some character, but that we could put our mark on. We live on this block, and saw this little spot just sitting, we asked a few questions and found the owner working nearby.
BrooklynBornBlog: What's been the most challenging part of the start up?
Park Delicatessen: The biggest challenge of starting up was dealing with all the problems of an old building, try to change the sink and the hot water shutoff is busted, Try to patch the ceiling, but the toilet upstairs is broken. Things like that, you have to do 6 things before you can do the thing you originally set out to do.
BrooklynBornBlog: Is this you're first skate shop or store?
Park Delicatessen: This is my first store. Val's parents owned a restaurant in Oakland for 20 years. Both of us had our own Biz before we opened the shop, I have a Creative services company called Dukes Place, and Val, has a woman's clothing company called Valentine.
BrooklynBornBlog: What inspired the skate shop?
Park Delicatessen: I think the amount of skateboards in the neighborhood, and the lack of places to buy flowers. On a few occasions I need some flowers and there was nowhere to get them!
BrooklynBornBlog: What kind of skater were you?
Park Delicatessen: I got my first real board in 7th grade, and skated on and off since then. Graffiti, art school, career etc. took over at different points. But I think my first trip to SF a few years back got me hyped on skating all over again. I Enjoy it more now then ever before, because its all about the feeling I get when I land a trick. I sort of relate it to the guy who plays golf on Sundays with his friends, only I skate.
BrooklynBornBlog: I noticed what looked like refrigerators in back, were they in the space when you got there?
Park Delicatessen: Yes the walk in fridge was there. It can be repaired but I'm going to wait to see if it's necessary. For now it it keeps the Delicatessen theme on track. Even if I wanted to get it out, I would need a bulldozer. They don't make things like that anymore.
BrooklynBornBlog: Any plans on working with the Afro Punk Skate events?
Park Delicatessen: I would love to get involved with all the local skate events. I think because we opened only 1 month or so ago, alot of events were planed already. But we hosted our first event last Sat, and it was a huge success*. We plan on doing one a month till it gets to cold. (*seems to me I recognize skaters who attend Afro Punk last year in pics of Park Deli's skate event this month, link below, you make the call)
BrooklynBornBlog: What's the best selling item?
Park Delicatessen: I think the flowers on the weekend work well for us. Its tough to pin down, because or inventory is constantly changing on both the skateboard end and the antiques side. I think people appreciate our selection of flower pots as well. No matter how many we find, there are usually gone by the end of the week.
(The new) Park Delicatessen (Skateboard/Flower/Dry Goods Shop) owner Mike
BrooklynBornBlog: What's you're history with the neighborhood?
Park Delicatessen: Well, My wife has lived on this block for the last 12 years, me the last 3. We met out in Davis Park Fire Island 4 years ago. and after a year of living at my place in the city, we decided it would be better for us to start a life together in Brooklyn. But I have a older connection to Crown Heights. My dad's father owned a fish store on Kingston (Ave.) and Lincoln (Pl.) for 30somthing years, and my dad was a fireman on St. John's and Utica Av* through the 80's. So even though I never lived here when I was a child I felt connected to the neighborhood when I moved in.
(*that's Engine 234, Ladder 123 - as a kid I loved that it was numbered that way-BBB)
BrooklynBornBlog: Will you do anything to the (nearly destroyed) sign above the store?
Park Delicatessen: No the sign is staying exactly as it is. there's perfection in age.
It was great meeting Mike and I think the shop's great. Why not a skate/flower/dry goods shop? Why not take a space that actually HAS been underutilized, despite what it had been, and make it something entirely new in context while working within the existing space. Re-purposing at it's finest in my opinion.
It doesn't hurt my opinion that on those very streets nearly thirty years ago I got my first skateboard, and besides rattling my teeth on some of the very same sidewalks that were cracked and shattered back then, I also heard other kids calling me white boy and asking why I wanted to ride that big plastic orange thing. And all I could think was, "why not?" who does it hurt?
It's awesome, I have no idea if it will work, but it's awesome. Seriously. I always look at these unused store fronts, especially in areas like Crown Heights, Flatbush, Bedford-Stuyvesant and think why can't we have an shop that isn't the bare minimum in terms of it's offerings? Why not a book shop, or a toy store or a skate shop in these areas. I understand how much these same neighborhoods need supermarkets but your not going to put one in a small space so then what? Why not something imaginative?
Some of you may want to dismiss what I think is a great change in the neighborhood, that's your choice but I think there is greatness in doing something eclectic in business in communities like Crown Heights. As much as the evils of gentrification sicken me, this is not that. This is an example of the goodness in gentrifying. And not simply because I like the offering. I believe many communities need offerings of new ideas that demonstrate respect for the past rather than co-opting nostalgia for street cred, working within existing structures, bonding with the community. And these are not simply my assumptions.
Mike an I chatted about the previous life of Park Delicatessen and he knew of the woman that had owned the earlier shop and then he did me one better dropping the name of the German owner who opened the store originally and sold the place to her. Mike learned the history in part from the landlord. So that covered my need for historical awareness and for community outreach how bout a free skate event? My lateness in posting meant I missed getting this out before the Park Delicatessen Skate Park event they held in the school yard of ol' PS 316 across the street. They built ramps invited kids and were grindin' all day (pics on their blog) As mentioned he hopes to hold Skate events monthly through the summer.
See that's what's up on Park Place, in Crown Heights (Yeh it's a block from the "border" of Prospect Heights but I'll address broader border issues next time).
I wish them success and you should visit when you're near. Park Delicatessen; back in business, choice cuts on board, now with a new flavor.