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High-end goes South end

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Union Market won’t be opening its South Slope location until January — but neighbors are already wondering whether the arrival of the upscale grocer marks a tectonic shift in the neighborhood’s character or whether it simply means that a new supermarket is opening.

North Slopers have been enjoying the fruits (and veggies and artisanal bread) of having the original Union Market at the corner of Union Street and Sixth Avenue since 2005. But some South Slopers see the store’s arrival as another nail in the gentrification coffin for their grittier part of the neighborhood.

But there’s no fighting it: The market has spoken. Union Market’s customers no longer only live in the tony North Slope. They live below Ninth Street now.

“A supermarket like Union Market follows a population that can support it,” said Roslyn Huebener, of Aguayo and Huebener Realty, who has sold homes in the neighborhood for 20 years.

Indeed, Union Market co-owner Marko Lalic said he and partners Martin Nunez and Paul Fernandez decided to open a branch in the South Slope because their patrons there requested it.

“Since we opened in 2005, we’ve been receiving calls from our South Slope customers inviting us to open a store there, since the neighborhood is really under-served,” said Lalic, who calls Union Market “a neighborhood store,” but with prices that tend towards specialty market levels.

Shoppers in the South Slope currently have several, not-all-together-satisfactory, options: they can get their fancy goods at several smaller groceries, like Grab, on Seventh Avenue between 14th and 15th streets; they can head to Steve’s C-Town on Ninth Street, where the prices are good, but the selection of high-end products is limited; they can go to Fairway in Red Hook (which will consume half a day if you don’t have a car); or they can join the Park Slope Food Co-op (and work one three-hour shift every month).

The Union Market could hit the sweet spot for South Slope shoppers — and make gentrification far more palatable than it has proven to be in, say, Williamsburg.

The reason?

Not only is Union Market owned by Brooklynites, but the rise of the South Slope that the market symbolizes has been so gradual, residents say.

“It’s been a pretty gentle change over the past few years,” said Justin Philips, who will open a specialty beer bar called Beer Table, on Seventh Avenue, between 14th and 15th streets.

His description of gentle change was echoed by, of all people, bad boy architect Robert Scarano, whose firm has profited handsomely from the insanely fast gentrification in Greenpoint and Williamsburg.

“The change in the South Slope is happening gradually, which is probably the better way to go,” said Scarano, who is building condos on 20th Street.

Indeed, while Fourth Avenue, once better known for its flat-fixes, has sprouted several 12-story towers (including the Karl Fischer-designed Vue, pictured), the South Slope’s main drag along Seventh Avenue still has plenty of empty storefronts, which might indicate that the market is not booming as fast as some landlords might like.

There’s the long-empty space across from Cafe Steinhof, and there’s the one-time home of Nest, a modern design store that was between 12th and 13th streets.

In 2004, Jihan Kim, the then-optimistic owner of Nest, told the Washington Post that “Brooklyn is hot. … There’s been a huge influx of people, and they are paying attention to modern design.”

Three years later, Kim closed her store.

And there’s the very space that is now occupied by Union Market, a former bar that had been closed for years.

Even some veterans of the bruising battles over gentrification and out-of-context development shrugged over the market’s impending opening.

“Every neighborhood goes through some kind of gentrifica­tion,” said local activist Aaron Brashear, who said gentrification has not yet spoiled the South Slope’s small-town feel.

“You can still walk down the street and say hello to your neighbors, and you’re not necessarily looking in the mirror when you do it,” he said.

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Reader Feedback

Aaron Brashear from Greenwood Heights, brooklyn says:
Excellent, well researched article by Dana Rubinstein, whom I always enjoy talking to. However, I must point out one item that is not true and worth taking note: the VUE is not, nor has it ever been a Karl Fischer designed building. My assumption is that the VUE's developers, Barry Katz and Issac Katan (infamous in their own right), want to distance themselves from the real architect and bad-boy in the eyes of the DOB, Henry Radusky of Bricolage Designs.

Like Mr. Scarano, who's interestingly quoted in this article (Dana?), Mr. Radusky has had his fair share of controversial buildings in the South Slope and Greenwood Hts., including the rezoning poster child/9 story building on 22nd St. and the "building cracker" of a development at 406-408 15th St. Will the "real controversial" architect please stand up. Karl, you can sit down.

-Aaron Brashear
Co-founder, Concerned Citizens of Greenwood Hts.
Dec. 21, 2007, 12:48 pm
Jihan Kim from Park Slope says:
Well researched? Not really. First of all Jihan Kim is a "he" not a "she". Second, Union Market did not open in the same space as the now defunct Nest- not even close. (we're talking more than two blocks away) Third, Dana Rubinstein implies that what was quoted by Jihan Kim in the Washington Post is somehow contrary to what is actually happening in the neighborhood due to Nest's closing. That's three strikes. Had she done a cursory journalistic follow-up with Jihan Kim she would have discovered that the shop closed because he and his partner wife decided not to renew their lease due to personal quality of life issues and NOT because the South Slope was unable to sustain the profitability of the store. In fact, if she really knew the neighborhood or did her journalistic due diligence she would have known that several other "lifestyle" type of stores like Nest had opened in the time since Nest first opened it's own doors and still thrive. While true that some have closed some have stayed as well.

How do I know all this? My name is Jihan Kim, one of the owners of Nest.

This is in no way a defense of the senseless and greedy building by unscrupulous developers and architects but it does, in my mind, put this reporter's journalistic chops in question.
Feb. 18, 2009, 12:53 am

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