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Beloved Prospect Heights Eatery Fears Closure Due to Open Streets Program

A neighborhood staple is sounding the alarm about the downsides of the pandemic-era program.
Prospect Heights community members rally to save Mitchell's Soul Food.

Mitchell’s Soul Food in Prospect Heights has been serving home-style Southern cooking to the neighborhood for more than 40 years. Now, the small Black-owned eatery fears closure due to the negative effects of the city’s pandemic-era Open Streets program.

Dozens of supporters gathered outside Mitchell’s on a rainy Sunday for a rally organized by United Neighbors of Prospect Crown Heights. Speakers criticized the Open Streets program, claiming it negatively affects businesses like Mitchell’s, at 617 Vanderbilt Ave., which has a large customer base that travels there by car mostly on the weekend.

Many of Mitchell’s faithful patrons are older people who visit the restaurant on Sunday after church. “If the streets close, they cannot find parking, and they cannot walk here, they need transportation,” said Marie Mitchell, the founder of the restaurant.

Marie Mitchell, owner of Mitchell's Soul Food. Photo: Christopher Edwards for BK Reader.

Mitchell feels small, Black businesses like hers are being pushed out in favor of younger, trendier businesses more adept with handling new programs like Open Streets.

“I’m the only Black business on the block, and I've been here for 40 years. I was here when the neighborhood was all Black. We got to stand up and we got to fight this thing," Mitchell said.

The Open Streets program shuts down portions of busy streets like Vanderbilt Avenue, where Mitchell’s is located, for the majority of the day during weekends. This year, Open Streets on Vanderbilt has been significantly cut back. The program will run from May to September as opposed to April to October in previous years. And Sunday hours will be cut, with the program ending at 5pm instead of 10pm.

“There was a time when open streets was necessary, we have passed that,” said Cheryl Smith, owner of nearby Cheryl’s Global Soul, who says small Black businesses are especially at risk of being affected by programs like Open Streets. “I feel like we're being chased out. I feel like the city's doing things under the guise of a safer, safer, calmer city. We can do that without changing everything.”

Prospect Heights community members rally to save Mitchell's Soul Food. . Photo: Christopher Edwards for BK Reader.

Others at the rally lamented the impacts of Open Streets on traffic in surrounding areas.

“There's no need to stop traffic this is a major thoroughfare,” said Judith Marchand, a lifelong Prospect Heights resident. “They want to do away with cars, everyone doesn't ride a bike. There are people with families here. There are the elderly and the disabled and the emergency services. We need access to our streets.”

Though popular during the pandemic, the Open Streets program remains controversial for those who do business and reside in the immediate areas near the closed streets. In addition to the Vanderbilt Avenue program hours being cut, the Fifth Avenue Open Streets program in Park Slope recently had to shorten the length of the program to four blocks from the original 16 blocks after a major sponsor pulled out, according to Brooklyn Magazine. 

Community members at the rally also criticized Councilmember Crystal Hudson, who represents the 35th district where Mitchell's is located, for her absence at the rally, accusing her of not being connected enough with the members of her district.

Hudson told BK Reader that she has spoken with DOT and Acess-A-Ride about providing a shuttle bus to Vanderbilt Avenue for passengers who's bus ride are rerouted by Open Streets and was told it wasn't possible. The Councilmember said she is open to coming up with solutions to get patrons to Mitchell's, including creating designated parking zones or drop off areas. 

Despite pushback from constituents, Hudson said she remains open to hearing perspectives of those critical of Open Streets. 

"I hosted a meeting where I brought DOT in specifically to hear from the folks who have concerns about the Open Streets," said Hudson. "People had an opportunity to directly voice those concerns to DOT because of the meeting that I organized."



Christopher Edwards

About the Author: Christopher Edwards

Christopher Edwards is a native Brooklynite and current student at Baruch College, majoring in Journalism and Creative Writing.
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