Ilya Marritz covers business for WNYC.
Handbags, Meet Hummus: Barneys is New Kid on Brooklyn Block
Thursday, October 14, 2010
On Friday morning, Barneys Co-Op cut the ribbon on a new store on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. It's the latest sign that major retailers are taking interest in a borough they shunned for decades.
The glitzy shop will be rubbing shoulders with some small businesses that couldn't be more different.
Next door, there's a frame store, a Yemenite restaurant, and at the back of a barbershop, Abdul Karim runs an Arabic-English translation service. Karim admits he doesn't know the first thing about the glittering new temple to fashion just three doors down.
"We barely go to Macy's," he says with a laugh.
Karim doesn't expect much new business from Barneys shoppers, but he is concerned about the possible effect on his rent. He says rates have risen over the past decade, as the area has gentrified, drawing an Urban Outfitters and a Trader Joe's.
So far, none of the Middle Eastern shops on the block have moved out.
In fact, some merchants say they have benefitted from the traffic, including Sahadi's, a destination for wholesale dried apricots and Syrian string cheese since 1948. Cashier Nikki Diorio says contrary to expectations, the uptick in rental activity has been good for the store.
"When Trader Joe's opened it was good for the business. Everyone thought it was gonna be bad. But it's gonna bring in more people, and more people are gonna discover Sahadi's," Diorio says.
Realtors say commercial rents, now at $40-$50 per square foot, are bound to rise. But it's taken a long time for major retailers to take the borough seriously.
"A lot of times Manhattan retailers feel like they need shots and a passport to come to Brooklyn," says Tim King, of CPEX. "And they almost become surprised, like, 'Oh, gee, you have real stores there!' Well guess what: we have real people here!"
There are plans for an Aeropostale, an H&M and a combined Filene's Basement/Syms store in the nearby Fulton Mall area. Barneys says its new store will employ around 15 people.
Thousand dollar designer handbags may seem out of place on a block known for olives and hummus. But Barney's has one thing in common with many of its new neighbors: as the property of the government of Dubai, it too is an Arab-owned business.