Don’t fear the Big Box

Borough President Markowitz is known as a cheerleader — but this week, he had real reason to wave his pom-poms: In just six months, the Ikea furniture store in Red Hook has already emerged as the best-performing location of the chain’s 47 North American outlets.

The report is good news for Brooklyn for several reasons. For one, shoppers are finally getting access to the same low-cost goods as other Americans.

And secondly, hard-fought negotiations with Ikea before, during and after construction ensured that the busiest store in North America isn’t like Ikea’s less-successful locations: massive windowless malls standing in the middle of concrete parking lot dead zones.

Noting the success of Ikea Red Hook, other developers, including the would-be savior of Coney Island, Joe Sitt, are salivating over bringing more big box stores, or even a mega-mall, to the neighborhood. Sitt has said he wants to bring a BJ’s Wholesale Club to a waterfront site he owns next to Ikea.

There is no question that Brooklynites will flock to such a location, but we do not believe that big box retail is the best course for the remaining open land along Red Hook’s waterfront.

We want to see big box retail in Brooklyn, but we’d like it in a place that is both more accessible and can boost existing retailers. That place, unequivically, is Downtown Brooklyn.

So we reiterate our call for a Brooklyn Wal-Mart — on or near the Fulton Street Mall.

Every overture Wal-Mart has made to New York has been accompanied by the predictable (and lamentable) hue and cry from city officials and their labor union enablers that Wal-Mart is antithetical to city life.

But this is a myth.

There’s no question that Brooklyn shoppers want such stores. The few discounters, like Ikea, that circumvented the moat around New York to open here have done very well. The Target at the Bruce Ratner-owned Atlantic Terminal is reportedly that chain’s busiest location. The Fulton Mall draws 100,000 shoppers a day. The new Trader Joe’s at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Court Street in Cobble Hill is a retail juggernaut, too.

A 2006 study by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce found that Brooklyn had less retail space per capita than sluggish cities like Detroit. That study is even more relevant today, given the downturn in the economy.

Too many Brooklynites are spending their money at chain stores on Long Island or in New Jersey. Those who need the discounts the most, but can’t afford to travel, just stay home and pay more.

Opponents will say that a Downtown Wal-Mart would bring too much traffic, but no area is better suited than Downtown to handle it. Not only is there ample subway service through the area, but on weekends, when most driving customers would be shopping, there’s a bit more room for cars.

So don’t dump on Red Hook. Downtown is the place for big box retail.

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