Small businesses evicted for Downtown Plan skyscraper

Small businesses evicted for Downtown Plan skyscraper
The Brooklyn Paper / Mat Probasco

Small business owners on Willoughby Street have become the latest victims of Downtown’s booming real-estate market.

Tenants in two squat buildings at the corner of Bridge Street were told last month that they are being evicted to make room a $208-million, 30-story tower.

Manhattan-based United Am­er­ican Land plans to build nearly 600,000-square-feet of retail and high-end residential space on Willoughby between Bridge and Duffield Streets, said Tom Con­o­scenti, an analyst with the Down­town Brooklyn Partnership, a city office overseeing a real-estate boom that consists of new office towers, residential buildings and improved street furniture.

It wasn’t immediately clear when construction of the United American Land tower might start, but displaced merchants are already making their ar­rangements.

Jack Paz thought he’d be clipping customer’s hair at his barber shop on Bridge Street for another 20 years, not just three more months.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s un-freaking-believable,” said Paz, who bought his barber shop four years ago when the landlord assured him rent stability — $6,000 a month.

“We don’t know what to do next. We’re waiting for a miracle, basically.”

Nagi Ali Salih, owner of a Willoughby Street bodega, was even more upset.

“We are poor people. Where will be go?” said Salih, who lives above the grocery store with his family. “We will be homeless.”

The eviction notices offered neither relocation assistance to the shop owners, nor assurances of space in the new building.

The Brooklyn Paper / Mat Probasco

This didn’t surprise Giancarlo Frisari, whose family has owned the Continental Restaurant on Bridge Street for 40 years.

“What are you going to do to stop them? Nothing,” said Frisari, who expects to get his eviction notice any day. “After so many years, we’re being forced to leave. There’s no honor anymore. It’s all about money.”

It’s unclear what type of retail is coming, Conoscenti said. The area is popular with shoppers seeking inexpensive sneakers and clothing from local, small-time business owners, Frisari said.

But change is coming to the greater Fulton Mall area. Not only is the city spending $15 million to spruce up the mall — including demapping a small part of DeKalb Avenue to create a new green space — but 22.5 million square feet of office, residential and commercial space is slated to be built in the next 10 years.

The result will be close to 15,000 new apartments and more than 1,200 hotel rooms all within walking distance of the Fulton Mall, currently a strip of locally owned discount stores, national franchises and a Macy’s.

Given all the upscale residential development in the works, the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership is seeking retail tenants to feed, clothe and entertain the future residents.

Partnership head Joe Chan recently told The Brooklyn Paper that he hopes to attract national chains, adding that planners could not ignore that the Target department store at the Atlantic Terminal Mall a few blocks away is the chain’s busiest location.

In the short term, however, little is known about United American Land’s plans. A company receptionist twice hung-up on a Brooklyn Paper reporter this week. And soon-to-be-evicted tenants got a similar reaction.

“We were told we need to leave, basically,” said Jack Paz as he finished shaving a stripe in a customer’s head.

The Brooklyn Paper / Mat Probasco