Plans to bring BJ’s Wholesale Club, potentially the second big box retailer in Red Hook, sent a shiver of excitement and mild horror through the neighborhood this week.
As reported by The Brooklyn Paper last week, developer Joe Sitt hopes to bring the national retailer to the old Revere sugar factory next to Ikea.
But the news of yet another big box on Beard Street sparked a debate similar to the one that raged for years about the likely effects of the Swedish home furnishing giant’s incursion into the hardscrabble neighborhood.
“I’m there for anything that’s going to bring jobs to my community,” said Dorothy Shields, head of the tenants association at the Red Hook East housing project, where unemployment is close to 20 percent.
But opponents saw the BJ’s proposal as confirmation that they were right all along: that the Ikea would create a chain reaction of chain stores.
“Our biggest fear is that [a second national retailer] would lead to the domino effect of big box stores on the waterfront,” said Joe Bernardo, co-owner of the Hope and Anchor diner on Van Brunt Street.
But if there was any difference between the war over Ikea, which drew deep divisions in Red Hook and the worries about the BJ’s, it is that today, people are less fearful of a traffic catastrophe, thanks to the apparent success Ikea has had in minimizing congestion on Red Hook’s narrow and lazy roads by providing free water taxis to Manhattan and shuttle buses to Brooklyn subway stations.
“Ikea has done a great job with traffic,” said Greg O’Connell, who brought the Fairway supermarket to the neighborhood.
Bernardo, who opposed the Ikea, agreed that traffic has not snarled the way he and many others envisioned and said there’s been an increase in weekend customers at his restaurant near the corner of Wolcott Street since Ikea opened — all of which makes him less nervous about the likely arrival of BJ’s.
“I have an open mind. In some ways, we were wrong about Ikea,” he told The Brooklyn Paper.