Brooklyn Boro

Revival Ideas For Montague Street Could Help All Neighborhood Retail

Revitalizing Brooklyn Heights’ Retail Corridor

February 22, 2021 By Lincoln Restler
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Montague Street isn’t what it used to be. When I was growing up, Montague was the center of our community — where neighbors could spend time at, not one but two, bookstores, pick up deliciously prepared meals at Only the Best, and get the best rugelach at Sinclair’s Bakery. Of course, concentrations of vacant storefronts are an epidemic across our district, Brooklyn, and New York City, but conditions on Montague Street are especially dire. Today we have about 20 vacancies on just two blocks. COVID has accelerated these problems, but we all know that Montague was struggling long before the pandemic struck. It’s time for us to tackle these issues and once again make Montague Street a central hub of our community. If I am elected to be the local City Council Member, bringing Montague Street back will be a top neighborhood priority for me in Brooklyn Heights.

Local small businesses connect neighbors, provide jobs, and allow us to invest in our neighborhoods rather than in Amazon. The Brooklyn Heights Association recently conducted a survey among 1,381 neighbors and the responses couldn’t be more clear. We don’t want empty storefronts to be filled with corporate chains — we want an independent bookstore like Books are Magic in Carroll Gardens, a delicious restaurant or cafe like Rucola in Boerum Hill, a bakery like Baked in Red Hook, a fishmonger like Fish Tales in Cobble Hill, and any decent butcher since Heights Prime Meats closed. A Montague Street that brings our kitchen tables and bookshelves to life and creates the connective tissue that makes a neighborhood a home. Brooklyn Heights has the buying power to support quality local small businesses and a community that is committed to helping them thrive. As Council Member, I want to be our district’s best cheerleader – helping to lead aggressive business attraction efforts, and pounding the pavement in partnership with the BHA, the Montague Street Business Improvement District, and neighbors to identify the businesses we love and persuade them to come to Montague Street.

This isn’t just a Brooklyn Heights problem. We need to develop new policy tools, a mixture of carrots and sticks, to fully activate our vacant storefronts citywide. We should create a new small business loan fund through the City’s Economic Development Corporation, specifically to uplift entrepreneurs who are women and people of color to lease empty storefronts. As someone who has worked for a decade in New York City government, I know that it is both feasible and critical for government to respond to the COVID shutdown by streamlining the application, approval, and permitting processes to help small businesses swiftly open their doors — and to guide new entrepreneurs through the process. If elected, I want my office to host workshops and serve as an education and resource hub to help small businesses quickly and easily navigate the city’s bureaucracy. On the state level, we need a short-term property tax incentive to enable business owners to keep their lights on and to give entrepreneurs with limited capital access to more affordable leases. We also need to hold bad actors accountable, like the landlord of the old Starbucks next to Lassen and Hennigs that has been vacant for over eight years, by increasing taxes for longstanding vacant properties.

As a community, we can come together to pour our creativity and commitment into making Montague Street the dynamic center of our neighborhood. The BHA’s new Public Realm Committee and the BID can help envision programming that would close the street to traffic on weekends (and maybe more), hold events for families, host community forums and discussions at our new bookstore, and green Montague Street, making the streetscape and the businesses more sustainable.

Small businesses are not just the backbone of our City’s economy — they are also the heart of any community. I love walking down Montague and getting the warmest hello from Sammy at Pet Emporium and catching up with the Calfa brothers at Lassen and Hennigs. The pandemic has made us even more cognizant of how having wonderful retail within walking distance of our homes is integral to our quality of life. We haven’t had that on Montague Street for far too long and I can’t wait to help us bring some great spots to Brooklyn Heights that make Montague the thriving center of our community again.

Lincoln Restler is running for City Council in District 33. He grew up on Pierrepont Street and every morning for nine years he met his best friend at the corner of Montague and Hicks to walk to school together. 

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  1. Mike Suko

    How easy is it to find asking prices (per sq ft) for the many spaces available on Montague?

    How do they compare with alternatives like 7th Avenue in Park Slope or Court or Smith Streets or Atlantic closer by? I’m guessing that decades after hour-long outside-the-office lunches and other “retail” essentially ceased to be, Montague Street rents may not have been adjusted (down) accordingly. Similarly, while there’s lots to be said for being right in the heart of a zipcode with mostly comfortable and affluent residents, those are the folks MOST likely to have shifted early and totally to online.

    It’s easy to say – and there IS some truth in it – that most landlords’ tax, insurance, utilities, interest charges haven’t been slashed, so they’re darned if they do and darned if they don’t – of course, they want to re-lease empty space, but “how low can they go?”

    Judging from the current streetscape, this is very much a buyer’s market (for space.) Hoping that this or that (of the 3) cellphone company leases one’s space at top dollar (does that even compute?) sounds to me like the rube-iest investor – one who figures some stock s/he owns “has got to go up” after it’s cratered.