Over the past decade, the Myrtle Avenue corridor that runs through Fort Greene/Clinton Hill has undergone a major restructuring and transformation that has, without question, greatly benefited the community and the small business owners that work hard to support it. Areas that were once labeled ‘dangerous’ are now welcoming and bursting with diversity.
As these vibrant sections of Brooklyn undergo modern upgrades and usher in new residents, construction projects often take a toll on the small independent businesses that line this important avenue. A section of this two-way road has been undergoing construction since winter 2014 in effort to complete The Myrtle Avenue Plaza, a whopping 25,000 square-foot pedestrian oasis.
While the plaza plans to house brand new businesses and modern spaces for the community to use, the construction has created more than just noise and traffic obstacles for the businesses that make Myrtle Avenue unique. It’s a neighborhood shift that hints at leaving one culture behind in order to welcome another.
According to Jason Moore, the manager of Myrtle Avenue’s Pillow Cafe & Lounge, the construction has led to a significant loss of business as loyal customers struggle to make their way to their favorite eateries and shops.
“If customers decide they want to come to the Pillow Cafe & Lounge for a margarita after work, they face obstacles. For some of them, it’s been basically impossible for them to get here,” Moore explained.
The construction area currently spans about a 4-block radius, which has widely affected a portion of the 60 small, independently owned businesses on Myrtle Avenue.
“The construction makes traffic a mess, the sidewalks are closed in some areas and it’s nearly impossible for some customers to even find parking within a reasonable distance,” said Moore.
In an effort to organize support and tools for businesses to utilize during this draining process, the Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership (MARP) has quickly stepped up to the plate.
The partnership’s ‘EAT DRINK SHOP [HERE] Campaign is centered on educating the community about the construction and the businesses that still need their support during this time. With bright yellow signs and handouts that list all of the businesses that are open during the construction, this marketing campaign is hoping to encourage locals to patronize the businesses they love.
“When we created a plan to mitigate the impact of construction, we wanted two things,”said Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership’s Executive Director, Meredith Phillips Almeida. “First and foremost we had to let people know that all of our businesses were still open.
“The second goal was to find a way to communicate how important it was for people to support their favorite café or shop now.”
The bold and bright signage reassures each passerby that the businesses between Washington and Classon avenues are open, ready and willing to take customers even though the construction areas can make it appear otherwise.
With ongoing construction from 7:00am to 4:00pm each day, saw cutting, excavation and the pouring of concrete for curbs has led to sidewalk closings and re-routed traffic. Certain parts of the avenue have had consistent signage to warn that parking is prohibited during the construction, forcing neighboring streets to absorb the business traffic throughout the day.
While the marketing campaign offers some relief, the city’s concern for the affected businesses has been called into question. Malissa Browne, the director of operations for SoCo, a full service Southern Fusion restaurant on Myrtle Avenue, said the city’s communication efforts seem lackluster in comparison to the businesses and their needs.
The Brooklyn Reader reached out to the New York City Department of Design and Construction, the city arm overseeing the project, for information about its efforts to support some of the struggling businesses, and none of the calls were returned.
“Although we get regular communication from the project manager Christopher Fields, the city in in my opinion could do so much more to assist businesses that have been affected, i.e provide some form of subsidy or relief,” said Browne. “We had to close for two weeks earlier this year and were not entitled to any form of compensation.”
While some of the local businesses agree that the changes in the area are exciting, others struggle to find their footing during this transitional phase. For small independent business owners, lack of running water, electricity issues and unexpected early closings can immediately threaten their livelihood.
Situated near the corner of Classon and Myrtle, Green Pets Spa appears untouched by the mayhem but according to owner Twain Belgrave, his seven-year business prepared for the worst during the construction.
“It’s for the improvement of the neighborhood, so I get it but at times we definitely felt the effects,” said Belgrave. “In the winter when they first told us that they would cut the water off at times, we filled large buckets of water in preparation to make sure we can handle the dogs– but also, just so we could wash our hands and things like that.”
Belgrave admits that his business experienced the least of the woes that others in the area endured because of his position on Myrtle Avenue. For a business that provides dog grooming and daycare services, proper planning was essential in order to ensure that his staff could continue its day-to-day responsibilities.
Across the board, all of the independent business owners have praised the efforts of the Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership for their support and creative efforts during this time.
Through MARP’s focused campaign, the business owners have felt more included. The Partnership has even taken their work a step further organizing Get Your Groove on [HERE], a free live music festival taking place every Thursday in June. The free music series debuted on June 2, at several restaurants cafes and bars along the Myrtle Avenue construction zone.
If you would like more information on how to support these business during this time, please visit the Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership website or attend one of the following events:
- Thursday, June 23, 8-11pm: Enjoy a performance by Murder Ave Coalition at The Emerson, 561 Myrtle Ave
- Thursday, June 30, 7:00pm-10:00pm: Enjoy a performance by The Strobert Trio at Wray’s Caribbean and Seafood Cuisine, 503 Myrtle Ave.