There's a new market selling what seems to be the same type of upscale and higher quality produce and goods gentrifying neighborhoods have come to expect. It opened yesterday but as I was passing Monday night, peering through the mint condition glass windows, the manager invited me in for a chat and look around. More on that later. First, a little from Spike Lee.
Among people I know, one of many famous lines we are prone to recite form the 1991 Malcolm X film is, "We didn't land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock, landed, on us!" The line a turning point in the character Malcolm X's orator ability to speak to the disenfranchised African-Americans of that moment, spoken by Denzel Washington with his characteristic and halting fire delivery.
The initiation of development in neighborhoods like Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant, usually by developers and land owners who'd ignored the neighborhood or provided minimal service obviously brought in folks and trends, which we all messily blanket with the title gentrification. So much of that gentrification being so culturally, economically and visibly different from what had been in those and other areas of New York City, I personally think of that movie line often.
Sometimes gentrification's not so bad. Having something seem to come from out of the blue, and land, or pop up, in your neighborhood space, something the neighborhood was lacking, for example commercial variety, lifestyle options and the neighborhood self-sufficiency it had, can be the upside. Like everything there's trade offs, but despite the fact that we (myself loudly at times complain about it's ills) gentrification can often give as much as it takes. That's a vague paragraph (and I left it grey in my first draft) but I'll add this distinction. Who gentrification gives to is often where the problems spike.
As I've mentioned all over this blog, I was born in Crown Heights, (until I was born in Prospect Heights, which many seem to only recently realize is in fact still Crown Heights) except that real estate dictates, as well as two decades and landmark preservation have more sharply defined what Prospect Heights is. Anyway, I've seen a lot. For example, my father learned in business school the value of reading the New York Times each Sunday. He was the only person in the family who did this. My Grandfather to name one, was more than happy with the New York Post, but hey, he voted Republican. My dad on the other hand was one of the few, if not only people on Prospect Place between Vanderbilt and Underhill to read the Times at all. This was partially because of how hard it was to get the Times. No one sold it anywhere east of Flatbush Avenue, okay maybe a rare few bodegas had less than ten copies but it was never consistent which ones had it. My father would take me out on Sunday to walk over to Park Slope's cornered edge, Grand Army Plaza and Flatbush Av where the newsstand had nearly a bunker made of stacked New York Times bundles. I've lived the same story of walking a distance sometimes long, sometimes shorter, for reliable meats, produce, cheese, and hardware supplies (despite Mayday being very well stocked) to name a few needs and no it doesnt make my life instantly better to have fresher hamburger, munster, fine grit sandpaper and the sunday classifies, but it helps.
I have a label for posts called, "Gentrification I Can Believe In" for that reason.
There are certain basic things that neighborhoods have, that Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant had which were lost, in some cases, referring specific to shopping needs, replaced for a generation with owner apathy and bare shelves.
I always wanted my neighborhood to come back. I was too young to know about how great Brooklyn was in the 40's & 50's, how much neighborhoods then were solvent and self-sufficient, but the little good I had know from my elementary school days, that little bit that had dried up and flaked off by the cracked out late 80's and early 90's, I wanted at least that much back.
I always knew it could come back, and little things like the rebuilt park on Prospect and Underhill, or the rebuilt Franklin Shuttle and it's stations, or the rebuilt Brooklyn Museum facade, always seemed to suggest a rebirth was moments away. After all, there's a thousand reasons why Crown Heights, and frankly all longstanding neighborhoods in Brooklyn should be thriving. Central of those reasons in my mind is the fact that the basic infrastructure for those neighborhoods, water, power, transportation, roads are here and have been, though they may require extreme upkeep in some situations. Frequently the other key elements; schools, decent residences, (structurally at least) are existing too. So I always knew a thriving Brooklyn could and I believed would come back. What I an afro-caribbean-latino Crown Heights born Brooklynite never expected is that "we", the people in my life, on my block, in my family wouldn't be the stars of the spectacular comeback I knew was coming. Today, frequently, to look at bars, town halls, l'artisanal food markets and (Ha!) New York Times articles about the neighborhood, we're not.
But we all still need provisions.
On the corner of Prospect Place and Bedford avenue there was an auto supply shop, from what I recall it was the kind of place you'd find cans of motor oil, heavy plastic formed jugs of anti-freeze and racks of fan belts plus more. My guess is the store was a hold over from the day when Bedford Ave was all about cars, their showrooms and that industry. After moving back to Crown Heights from Clinton Hill I noticed this retail spot was a bodega in the classically depressing urban sense of the word. Wide isles, bare shelves and low nutritional values seemed to be their stock and trade. Along with loosies and what else I could only speculate.
My long frequent walks pass this store headed for greener produce inspired me to write a long post about it, other retail spaces on Bedford and Franklin that I felt could use some of that damn gentrifying. But you know, the good ones. Life and the fact that nothing offers less return on my investment than this blog kept that long series of "Gentrification I Can Believe In" posts from being written, and then Franklin, frankly, exploded with gentry. Okay it hasn't gotten pass Prospect place going north and something that I think is unseen and goes beyond simple explanation is keeping gentrification's appetites for rare cheese from flowing south on Franklin from Eastern Parkway. However on a certain highly publicized stretch of Franklin Avenue, there is more pomp and cheese then anyone could have guessed at and there's more on the way.
Meanwhile Bedford one block away, hadn't seen much commercial development until early last year when a bodega on Sterling started getting a make over. Till now the biggest thing to happen on Bedford commercially was the opening of Catfish, between Park Place and Prospect Place, the Creole themed bar and restaurant which full disclosure I am a huge fan of. Yes, there is Brooklyn Exposure a lovingly inviting spot that seems to have the market cornered on every form of respectable nightlife from dinning to comedy shows to full on musical performances. Brooklyn Exposure seems to be powered by love as much as anything, I've been once and the people so great I imagined them to all be family. But Catfish is still the biggest point of interest from Atlantic to Empire Blvd.
The issue for Bedford is partially it's a very wide two-way street. I have a theory that you need a higher density of thriving businesses for streets larger than one lane one-ways. Which in my mind is part of why Williamsburg's end of Bedford Av flourished so easily. Brooklyn Exposure is just a block away from Catfish but it feels like a trek at night. Catfish's great food and drinking selections plus a warm wide inviting space have kept it humming with people since last year, but their red neon sign might as well say "City Limits" for it's solitary standing on Bedford Av. I'll grant Cafe Rux Dix opened on the corner of Park Place this year, a fine french inspired cafe, but it's subdued lighting and vibe don't light up the corner it's on, probably by design. Beyond these three outposts, there are also many condos and recently built or rebuilt apartments on Bedford, two at the intersection of Bedford and Prospect, one more up the block on the lots that had been home to a community garden that was found to be unofficial but dense with trees. Despite that there still hasn't been much else in the way of commercial action on Bedford. Until yesterday.
I was almost face to glass, trying to make out the brands on the densly packed market shelves when the manager came toward me. I admit I wasn't in the mood to be waved off, they'd been constructing whatever this business was, I thought, "...for months and I'm sure they're not finished". I made it a few feet from the entrance when the same manger came out and invited me back in.
The new market on Bedford and Prospect place is not large enough to be a supermarket, but it is in-line scale-wise with "Bob & Betty's" that well lit, well stocked, often organic market on Franklin and Lincoln. The manager of this new market on Bedford and Prospect, Reuben, told me the building owner (who somehow got all of their tenants out and remodeled the corner apartment building above, with raised rents and all new occupants less than a year ago) contacted him because he manages another market in Williamsburg where the building owner lives. Reuben looks and sounds like a Brooklynite to me and he claimed he was.
The easiest way to describe the zeal with which he should me around the market, would be proud father. The market is open but still being stocked he boasted through an excited smile that never left his face. "We're getting all local produce in this section, most of our produce will be locally sourced" Reuben exclaimed through un-checked excitement.
Reuben told me he'd submitted a business plan for the space, and couldn't understand what the previous store manager did in the previous desperate space. Now the shelves are lined with a variety of items you'd find easily in Park Slope or Fairway. Fine crackers and cheesy selections (which I do enjoy by the way, love them crackers and the cheese that goes with) along with virgin olive oils, imported pastas, hummus, sarabeth jams and… you get the idea.
There will be custom coffee selections and fine meats in the weeks to come, between all Reuben described, what I'd seen of the new layout, new floors, fixures and food, I think this space is going to light up a lot more of the neighborhood.
The new well stocked food market on 1426 Bedford Av at the corner of Prospect Pl. is called "Brooklyn Born Mini Market". It was written on a flyer Reuben handed to me as I was leaving. I had nothing to do with it. But I like it and it seems about time.
I'll check in on the market, reporting what I see on this blog, because I'm curious and well I'm tired of having to walk away from my neighborhood.
As of Dec 15th the store seems much more stocked than on day one, however the juice bar and coffee isn't set up yet. This hasn't stopped me from shopping there three times, and giving back minutes and miles for not having to walk to franklin for basic provisions.
I continue shopping happily at Brooklyn Born Mini-Market into 2014 and I've noticed more and more people each time, though not yet any crowds. I still think it's all great except I wish the lights weren't such cold fluorescents but hey it was dark and suspect for year on Bedford so little steps. One other thing I've noticed since the market opened is voiced displeasure from people I presume to be new-comers to the neighborhood. In one case a couple discussed as they walked pass and I was exiting. I heard the male say,"what do you mean bougie?" His female friend replied with a sneering exhalation of what I guess was disgust. "It's, It's not REAL" she said, as I watched them walk away.