A whole new world on the other Fifth Avenue

The nail salon where elderly Chinese women performed manicures and pedicures now sells pre-prepared organic meals – a side order of macaroni and cheese that serves four costs $14. A boutique clothing store marketing hand made wallets for $35 fills the space where a father and son team ran their plumbing business for fifteen years. The local pharmacy that once supplied neighborhood residents with antibiotics now brews fair-trade espresso.

As rents rose along Park Slope’s Fifth Avenue, the faces of storefronts changed, and in the past five years a new breed of stores have moved in and planted the seeds for future growth and stability by organizing a business improvement district, which taxes participating businesses and then uses that money for overall improvements for the avenue.

“It is a totally new kind of shop coming into Fifth Avenue,” said Carl Hum, president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.

This newest wave of gentrification in the south Brooklyn neighborhood, an idea Sharon Zukin, author of The Culture of Cities, says people refer to as super-gentrification, refers to the rich replacing the slightly less rich, which is a stark contrast to the normal perception of gentrification – the displacement of the poor by the wealthy.

Park Slope looks a lot different than it did in the 1980s, when Gentrification 1.0 hit. During that time drug dealers found new corners from which to peddle and the last embers of trash can fires burnt as abandoned storefronts filled and buildings rose in vacant lots. After 9/11, during Gentrification 2.0, wealthy, young Manhattanites fled to Brooklyn, buying up the neighborhood’s brownstones, people some Brooklynites jokingly dubbed “trustafarians,” in reference to the disposable income that came with them. Their presence in the neighborhood courted upscale restaurants and bars. Today, in Gentrification 3.0, a range of savvy business people opening upscale boutiques and salons have set up shop in the area—and they’re banning together to mitigate any risk of being the next business pushed out in Gentrification 4.0.

“These are smart business people moving in that know how to adapt to the market,” said Hum. “Take a look at Park Slope fifteen years ago, it is a very, very, very different neighborhood.”

It was a neighborhood where the stores along the avenue not boarded up were being converted into apartments, according to Tony Giordano, a Brooklyn resident that put together the business improvement district for Fifth Avenue. “This place was hell,” said Wilfredo Garrastegui, the owner of Mega Glass and Slashes on Fifth Avenue between Bergen Street and St. Marks Place for 35 years. “Everybody had gates. Business owners had guns. You wouldn’t want to be here by yourself in the store. The neighborhood has changed so much.”

Garrastegui remembers buying homemade cuchi fritos, fried Spanish specialities, from the bodega on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Bergen Street for less than $4. A natural food store now stands at the location that sells organic soap products and boxed tofu-vegetable lasagna.

Garrastegui dines elsewhere for lunch now. “You can’t go in there and buy normal stuff,” he said.

After the late 1980s, when the neighborhood, along with the rest of the city, became safer, the gears of Gentrification 2.0 began to grind and rents went up. Nail salons became organic food stores. Bodegas became sushi restaurants. The corner barbershop became a pub. The rents went up again. Five years ago the average price for a business building along Fifth Avenue cost $900,000, and today that price has more than doubled, according to Ken Freeman, a broker for Massey Knakal Real Estate in Brooklyn.

Patrons of the upscale restaurants along Fifth Avenue dine on everything from butter roasted Atlantic Hake to pappardelle with ragú of wild boar. And the pubs pour pints from every corner of the globe, Presidente to Pilsner Urquell. But the neighborhood now offers up more than exotic food specialties. Niche shops, selling everything from lace camisoles for the modern mistress to Ultrasuede pillows with graffiti needlepoint, grace nearly every block.

These recent retail additions to Fifth Avenue in Park Slope highlight to whom that market caters. Billie Currem, the manager of the Park Slope branch of Flight 001, a retail store specializing in travel luggage and accessories, on Fifth Avenue said the company moves into up and coming neighborhoods where the demographic is primarily young people in their 20s and 30s. Park Slope matches that description with nearly half the population designating themselves between the ages of 25 and 44 on the 2000 census.

The combination of high-end stores serving young residents with money to spend makes Park Slope a neighborhood where super-gentrification looms on the horizon – poised to evolve the Brooklyn neighborhood into the next SoHo or Upper West Side. The business improvement district, adopted by the City Planning Commission on Jan. 9, hopes to maintain the attractiveness of the avenue, as well as the current businesses that line it, in the future.

“Does Park Slope become like a SoHo? That’s very tough to predict, but I think Fifth Avenue will definitely change,” said Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President Carl Hum. “I’m not going to say it’s going to be unaffordable, but I will say like any other neighborhood in New York – you are going to see change.”

Most business owners see this inevitable change courting higher rents and even higher end stores. Businessman Garrastegui succinctly puts it, “Why get $500 when you can get $5,000?”


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