Downtown planners cheered this week as the Shake Shack, a Manhattan-based burger and ice cream chain, announced that it would open at the corner of the Fulton Mall and Adams Street, pushing aside Tony’s Famous Pizzeria, which has been there for decades.
The hungry excitement of Borough President Markowitz, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership President Joe Chan and others was particularly ironic, given that only one week earlier, the same coterie of insiders was heralding the 60th anniversary of Junior’s, the diner that commands the other end of the Fulton Mall.
Like Junior’s, Tony’s Pizzeria is popular, almost always busy and serves its customers well.
The main difference? Junior’s has a better PR operation. Tony’s has a landlord with dollar signs in his eyes.
Don’t misunderstand: We’re not romantic about Tony’s Famous. The pizza was average at best. The space cramped. And the countermen surly.
But customer service is a discussion for another day. The issue here is that Tony’s served blue-collar workers and the thousands of lower-income shoppers who have kept Fulton Mall alive for decades.
That’s a crucial Downtown demographic, but its not the demographic to which boosters like Markowitz, Chan and company care to cater.
Yes, big changes are coming to the Fulton Mall: H&M and Aeropostale are about to open, glitzier national chains are eyeing a way into the retail mix, and renovated buildings are starting to fill with thousands of new, upwardly mobile residents (all of whom are going to want to eat and drink at places a bit trendier than Tony’s).
It’s the classic New York story: The only constant in this city is change. But before we plaster over the past, it’s a good time to ask where Fulton Mall will end up when all the change is done. In endorsing the Manhattan burger interloper, Markowitz, Chan and company are putting themselves squarely on the side of Fulton Mall gentrification. Shake Shack’s prices will likely make it only a draw for white-collar workers, Marriott hotel guests and rich brownstoners — the very people who have long shunned the Fulton Mall as a shopping center.
Efforts to get affluent shoppers to Fulton Mall will no doubt help some businesses on the strip — but the end result will be a whiter, more expensive retail area.
So for now, that means that the Shake Shack beats Tony’s Famous. Next year, the mall could even land a Uniqlo. But at some point, a national retailer is going to push out Jimmy Jazz. And by then, it’ll be too late to worry about the shops that have kept Fulton Mall so prosperous for years. They’ll all be gone.