PLG merchants: Landlords are keeping storefronts empty until gentrification hits

Closed for business: Shelley Kramer, vice president of Parkside Empire Flatbush Avenue Merchants Association, is spreading the word about the 22 vacant storefronts plaguing Flatbush Avenue in Prospect Lefferts Gardens.
Community News Group / Colin Mixson

They’re the merchants of doomed!

The Prospect-Lefferts Gardens stretch of Flatbush Avenue is marred by long-empty storefronts as landlords wait for gentrification to bring higher-paying upscale retailers, according to local shopkeepers, who say the blight is bad for business.

“When you have less businesses open, you have less people coming here to shop,” said Shelley Kramer, vice president of the Parkside Empire Flatbush Avenue Merchants Association and owner of Play Kids toy store. “If you’re walking down the street and there’s a business at every door, it’s more appealing.”

There are currently 22 vacant commercial spaces along the 10-block stretch of Flatbush Avenue between Empire Boulevard and Parkside Avenue represented by the merchants association, many of which have been empty for a year of more, according to Kramer.

She believes the landlords are letting long-time tenants go, and are waiting for higher-end businesses to arrive when planned luxury residential properties open up — but that is still a ways off.

“They’re asking for $7,000 a month and there are no businesses looking to open in this area that can afford that,” Kramer said. “The demographic and the clientele are not here yet.”

Beyond the aesthetics, it is also a problem for locals businesses because many aren’t aware that their landlords could follow suit once their leases conclude, and the merchants association is offering advice and legal expertise to help those shopkeepers renegotiate their terms, Kramer said.

But that will only benefit stores with renewal options built into their contracts — those without them are at the mercy of their landlords, who aren’t beholden to the types of laws that protect residential tenants from eviction, she said.

“Residential tenants have more rights to stand on,” Kramer said. “All we have is the lease.”

Hoping to drive legal change, the merchants association invited Councilman Mathieu Eugene (D–Prospect-Lefferts Gardens) on a tour of their Flatbush Avenue territory on Feb. 13, where the clusters of empty storefronts struck the local lawmaker as a serious problem.

“This is an emergency,” Eugene said. “We have to find a solution to help them protect their businesses.”

The pol claimed he is working on two bills to help small businesses hang onto their leases, but refused to give any specifics, leaving the local business advocates skeptical that he is capable of accomplishing timely and effective change.

“He didn’t say what they were, which makes me a little nervous knowing how long it takes to get bills passed,” Kramer said.

Numerous landlords of vacant storefronts on the stretch did not return requests for comment.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.

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