What’s Shakin’? Chains are gentrifying Fulton Mall, that’s what

What’s Shakin’? Chains are gentrifying Fulton Mall, that’s what
Community Newspaper Group / Kate Briquelet

The Fulton Mall is going upscale now that Shake Shack, Gap, and even a Las Vegas developer’s theme restaurant are moving in — but small business owners who’ve been here for decades say that high-speed gentrification is pricing them out.

On Tuesday, the high-end fast-food burger joint opened in a former pizzeria at the western end of the mall, just days after Downtown boosters hailed the news that Sugar and Plumm, a touristy cafe, and American BBQ and Beer Company, a new venture by a Vegas casino operator Mark Advent, are coming to Adams Street, the latest chains to join the mix of low-end retailers and mom-and-pops.

Downtown boosters say that the influx of new stores is good for everyone.

“We’re now seeing a much broader, diverse mix of retail on Fulton, so shoppers now have more choices,” said Michael Burke, who just left his job as chief operating officer of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. “The result? Fulton Street and Downtown Brooklyn are becoming the one-stop retail destination for local residents and the entire borough.”

But not everyone agrees — saying that the retail facelift is devastating what used to be black America’s Main Street.

“Developers are trying to make Fulton Street like 34th Street,” said Elisa Gales, a longtime shopper and street vendor. “It’s a slap in the face and unfair to the small people. We can’t even open up businesses here. We can’t compete with them.”

The Fulton Mall has always been the borough’s busiest shopping corridor and prone to high rents. But those rents are soaring as cash-heavy national retailers rush in.

“The city wants to attract big franchises, and for them, it’s going to be good — but not for working-class shoppers,” said Danny Ahmed, who owns Fulton Island, a storefront near Hoyt Street selling gold jewelry, cellphones, and sneakers.

Ahmed first opened a shop down the block two decades ago, paying $15,000 a month before AT&T offered his landlord a better deal. Today he pays $30,000 with the help of six other vendors.

“Soon only the people who buy from big chains will come to the mall,” he said.

And, perhaps, the locals who can afford the pricier gourmet fare.

Sugar and Plumm, for example, offers an $8 grilled cheese and $13 chicken tenders, compared to a $3 fish sandwich or $1.50 hot dog at Fulton Hot Dog King, a corner deli at Elm Place. American BBQ and Beer Company doesn’t have a menu yet, but if star chef Christopher Lee’s other restaurants are any indication, salads could start at $10 and burgers at $17.

“These places sounds like something a lot of people around here can’t afford,” said street promoter Charles Hallback, aka Chief Rocker. “Someday the Fulton Mall is only going to be for the rich people.”

Ruth Chan, a Brooklyn Heights resident, said that she was excited about Shake Shack, the popular burger chain opening this month, where a single burger, fries and soda cost $9.10.

“But as for the rest of it,” she said. “I feel like the history and culture of the mall is being gentrified away.”

The Fulton Mall has been subject to many failed revitalization schemes for decades, though none of them stuck until now.

It was a bustling shopping district for middle- and working-class shoppers after World War II, with major department stores including Korvettes and Abraham & Straus. But those anchors began to pull out in the 1970s, leaving a ripple effect of vacant storefronts and violent crime that lasted throughout the ’80s and ’90s.

But even during the worst of times, mini bazaars of discounted gold jewelry, wigs, sneakers and perfume survived, and the sidewalk vendors who peddle shea butter and Rastafarian art gave the strip its soul.

But that feel is disappearing as Express plans to open alongside Aeropostale and Aldo, Downtown planners spruce up dirty facades with high art — and the old businesses struggle to compete.

Lateef Juwara, an art vendor at Gallatin Place, said the mall’s makeover is crushing longtime businesses.

“The Fulton Mall is definitely changing to cater to a more upscale crowd,” Juwara said. “Is that a good thing? That’s up in the air.”

But Borough President Markowitz, a self-proclaimed fan of Shake Shack’s offerings, is bullish on the future of the Mall.

“After too many years of decline, Fulton Mall is undergoing a historic transformation,” he said earlier this year. “I believe we can once again make it the city’s most-prized shopping district, an eclectic and dynamic commercial strip that reflects the diversity of Brooklyn.”

Reach Kate Briquelet at [email protected] or by calling her at (718) 260-2511.

Shahid Rashid, who works at a sneaker store in the Fulton Mall, was happy with his $2 salad from America’s Food Court, a buffet near his job.
Community Newspaper Group / Kate Briquelet