By Liana Grey
As Atlantic Avenue, one of Brooklyn’s hot new retail corridors, passes through Boerum Hill, immigrant and hipster cultures converge.
On one side of the block that stretches from Nevins Street to Flatbush Avenue, where the Barclays Center, Forest City Ratner’s new Nets arena, is under construction, there are Islamic bookshops, a mosque, and other remnants of the neighborhood’s past as an Arab enclave.
On the other side, there’s Atlantic Gardens, an eye-catching cluster of rowhouses — some painted beige, others red, yellow, and pale blue — that are filling up with trendy shops and national retailers.
“The chains are looking, Starbucks is looking,” said Lon Rubackin, managing partner of GFI Retail Group, a brokerage and consulting firm handling leasing at Atlantic Gardens.
Later this month, a French restaurant is moving into the complex, which has a total of four storefronts available at $80 per s/f, according to the GFI website.
Next door is Linger Café, a popular brunch spot, and Nunu Chocolates, a purveyor of organic truffles and salt caramels ($7 for a box of four) that began as a stall at Brooklyn Flea, a weekly antiques and culinary market in Fort Greene.
Two years ago, the stall’s founders, indie rocker Andy Laird and his wife, Justine Pringle, were approached by Barbara Koz Paley, the owner of Atlantic Gardens and a partner at the development firm Atlantic Assets, to open a flagship store with a kitchen in the back.
At the time, an Aveda hair salon had signed a lease at the 25,000 s/f property, and Paley, who also heads Art Assets, a consulting firm that integrates art into commercial properties, had encouraged painters and sculptors to turn empty storefronts into temporary galleries.
In that spirit, the couple transformed their new shop into a bohemian café, setting up rustic wooden tables and decorating the walls with paintings by Pringle’s mother.
NuNu is the kind of do-it-yourself success story typical to Brooklyn — an earlier example is Roberta’s, a pizzeria founded by a self-taught chef that helped put Bushwick on the map as a hipster hot spot – but niche retailers are streaming into Boerum Hill from Manhattan as well.
“We’re talking to a bridal store from NoLiTa,” Rubackin said. “They’re getting priced out of the neighborhood.” Scoop, a chain of designer boutiques with locations in SoHo, the Meatpacking District, and the Upper West Side, may open a fourth New York shop on Atlantic Avenue.
Like many new arrivals to the busy thoroughfare, which runs from Cobble Hill to Jamaica, Queens, the two retailers were drawn by proximity to Atlantic Terminal, a shopping and transportation hub boasting 12 subway lines, a Long Island Railroad station, and a 380,000 s/f mall built by Forest City Ratner and anchored by Target.
Over 120,000 commuters pass through Atlantic Terminal each day, according to data collected by GFI, and foot traffic is only bound to increase once the Barclay Center opens. Surrounding blocks “will have national prominence,” said Rubackin, who served as senior vice president of Forest City before joining GFI. “Companies are looking to lock in deals before they get priced out.”
Even as rents increase, Rodney Ripps, a broker at Halstead with several listings on Atlantic Avenue, predicts that the Islamic bookstores, headscarf shops, and incense vendors in the area will hang on. Many of the shops are owned, rather than leased, by their founders, he said, and will likely end up a permanent fixture on the block. “They have a lot of business going on there,” Ripps added.
That’s also the case for Middle Eastern shops further west on Atlantic Avenue, where gentrification is well past the early stages. Sahadi’s, a grocery store founded by a Syrian immigrant over 60 years ago, and Yemen Café, a restaurant serving slow-roasted lamb and other traditional Arab dishes, have managed to thrive even as Urban Outfitters, Trader Joe’s, and Barney’s Co-op leased space between Court and Clinton Streets in Cobble Hill.
“The most desirable area for hipper people is the westerly end where Trader Joe’s is,” said Rubackin of GFI. “As you move east, that’s where there are more availabilities.” (Venture too far past the Nets arena, however, and boutiques give way to warehouses and car part dealers.)
A block west of Atlantic Gardens, Ripps has seen an influx of prospective buyers at a retail condo he is marketing at the base of 503 Atlantic Avenue, a five-story brick apartment building. Because the space can’t accommodate restaurants, which have made up the bulk of Atlantic Avenue’s early pioneers, marketing efforts were initially tricky. “It’s been getting a lot more interest now,” said Ripps. “The price is pretty reasonable.” Streeteasy.com lists the condo, which is currently occupied by a grocery shop, at $499,000.
A couple doors down, a nonprofit performing arts group is set to lease a new facility, which Ripps predicts will expand the BAM Cultural District — a group of theaters and mixed-use developments anchored by the Brooklyn Academy of Music — onto Atlantic Avenue. “It’s going to really make this area much more trendy,” he said.
Already, Ripps added, young, affluent house hunters are snapping up apartments in historic brownstones along Pacific and Dean Streets, as well as nearby luxury towers like Be@ Schermerhorn and the Brooklyner. Indeed, the first reports of the year from brokerages Corcoran and Prudential Douglas Elliman, as well as the Real Estate Board’s own housing survey, put Brooklyn ahead in the recovery from recession. Brooklyn was the only borough in the city where the number of home sales went up. The average price of a home rose 3% to $469,000 in the first quarter.
According to GFI, the average income within a mile radius of Atlantic Gardens is $93,807, and nearly half the area’s residents are between the ages of 18 and 44. “There’s a huge demand to live in the area,” Ripps said. “They’re near all these great shops.”