Ghost town: Businesses closing across Sheepshead Bay

A building built and remodeled for commercial real estate remains vacant on Nostrand Avenue and Avenue U.
Chandler Kidd

Small businesses across Sheepshead Bay are going belly up — and they’re not being replaced — with some storefronts remaining shuttered for well over a decade, according to locals.

“If you were in a spaceship and decided to land on Avenue U between Coyle and Brown street, you would think it is a ghost town,” said Stuart Brynien, a longtime neighborhood resident.

The crisis affecting the coastal community can be seen in graffiti-covered brick-and-mortar shops appearing sporadically, and sometimes one after the other along Avenue U, where between Coyle and Bragg streets the ruins of the family-owned Hy Friedman clothing store, a long-shuttered furniture outlet, and the obsolete Captain Video — which closed amid the rise of Netflix back in 2004 — all remain vacant.

As in the case of the former video store, some shops have remained unoccupied long enough to spawn their own urban legends, according to Brynien.

“There is a rumor around the neighborhood that there are hundreds of VHS tapes still inside Captain Video,” he said.

The situation is not unique to Avenue U — the Nostrand Avenue Payless near Avenue Y recently shuttered — and even nationally owned retail chains are struggling, according to real estate lawyer and local small-business advocate Steve Barrison, who noted the Avenue U storefront near Nostrand Avenue formerly occupied by a Duane Reade, which has remained shuttered for more than a year.

Rather, Sheepshead Bay’s small business crisis is a symptom of citywide trends, including rising rents and property taxes, which force entrepreneurs to weather years without turning a profit, according to Barrison

“Everyone thinks Amazon and other online shopping stores are the main issue. It takes six or seven years to pay off the business, immigrants and business owners are not being told this,” said Barrison, who runs the Bay Improvement Group, a coalition of residents and business owners dedicated to revitalizing the neighborhood.

Barrison singled out issues surrounding commercial lease renewals — which, lacking many of the same protections that residential tenants enjoy, can result in massive rental increases — as the single greatest threat facing local shopkeepers.

“The real issue is lease renewals and dealing with greedy landlords,” said Barrison.

The real estate lawyer echoed Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who last year championed the revival of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, a bill that’s lingered in committee since its introduction in 1986.

“Right now, If you operate in New York City and your lease comes up for renewal they can jack your rent up three, four, five times what it was and the property sits vacant for a long time,” Johnson said at a 2017 press conference, before arranging an Oct. 22 Council hearing to discuss the bill.

The bill faced massive opposition from real estate interests, including Real Estate Board of New York President John Banks, who called the bill “deeply flawed,” according to a Curbed report. It remains laid over in committee.

New York City’s retail crisis has failed to cripple some longtime Bay businesses. Nostrand Avenue eatery Brennan and Carr is still serving roast beef sandwiches after 81 years, and coastal commerce along Emmons Avenue remains strong, with longtime favorites like Il Fornetto and Roll ‘n’ Roaster still managing to make ends meet, Barrison said.

But something has to be done, and without action, even those perennial Sheepshead Bay icons will fold under the burden of rising rents, Barrison said.

“The top 1 percent are controlling every thing, the long term goal is fair rent or a long term lease,” Barrison said.

Reach reporter Chandler Kidd at ckidd@schenpsmedia.com or by calling (718) 260–2525. Follow her at twitter.com/ChanAnnKidd.
Captain Video closed it’s doors more than 10 years ago, but still remains vacant.
Chandler Kidd

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