Chris Miller, 25, and Pat Curry, 30, signed their seven-year lease on Cafe Beit on Bedford Avenue two hours before the first reports of an impending L train shutdown. Now that shutdown is coming. For 18 months beginning in January 2019, the L will not run between Bedford and Eighth Avenues.
Curry said Thursday that just securing the lease was a huge challenge. Miller, Curry, and a third partner, Jon Reagan—all former baristas at El Beit, the shop's previous incarnation—won the landlord's favor over a high-end eyeglass shop. They invested $25,000 of their own money to build out the space.
"By the time we signed the lease, we were just so happy and relieved about it," Curry recalled on Thursday. "Then, literally like a half hour later, we heard about the L train shutdown. It was like, 'You've got to be kidding.'"
"It's funnier than it is sucky. I hope," said Miller. "Unless we go out of business, in which case then it's sucky."
Reshma Patel inside Quiet Storms (Emily Siegel / Gothamist).
Reshma Patel, 38, opened Quiet Storms, a fine jewelry boutique on Grand Street near the corner of Berry Street, this May. Vogue featured her shop earlier this week, describing the vibe as "a mix of Fifth Avenue's superluxe retail environment and Brooklyn's experimental, laid-back spirit." A thin gold chain with amethyst and topaz charms sells for $1,107. (Laid-back is a relative term.)
Patel, a self-described optimist, was aware that a shutdown was likely when she signed her two-year lease. "I've talked to a lot of people from Manhattan about this and they seem to feel the same way," she said. "That they rely heavily on Uber more than they do on the L train, since it's so spotty on the weekends anyway."
Lilia (Paul Quitoriano/Gothamist).
The looming shutdown won’t be the L's first major service change in recent memory. Local business owners are haunted by history. Last spring, service was suspended on late nights and weekends between Bedford and Eighth for six weeks.
"The last time that the L shut down, we were down 35 percent,” said 45-year-old Brooklyn restaurateur Josh Cohen. "And that was mostly on the weekends."
Cohen is a part owner of seven restaurants, including three in Williamsburg—Extra Fancy, Jimmy's Diner, and Lilia, an Italian spot that opened in January on a 10-year lease. He expects the shutdown to hit his chefs and servers hardest. "We want to keep everyone, but that's not going to be a reality," he said. "In the downturn of business, it will be layoffs across the board, for sure."
Would Cohen have opened Lilia had he known about the shutdown? "Oh yeah," he said. "I think we have a good handle on the neighborhood." He's even planning to open two more fast-casual restaurants before 2019, though he’s not so sanguine on the prospects of newcomers.
“I feel for some people who don't have as much experience,” he said, adding that he thinks renters and landlords “are gonna get killed.”
At $350 per square foot, retail rents along Bedford Avenue are reportedly the highest in Brooklyn. "Someone who opened up recently, and anticipates a steady flow of clients, customers and business coming from Manhattan on the L train... it's going to have a significant, catastrophic impact on their business," Brooklyn realtor Tim King told the Real Deal recently.
"Until the alternative travel plans are tried and true and the word is out, the impact will hit like a bomb," said Felice Kirby, 61, who ran Teddy's Bar and Grill for almost 30 years before selling in 2015.
"You build your business plan based on earning four times your rent," Kirby added. (She declined to discuss her own finances.) "What do you do when people stop coming in? There's nothing you can do."
While Kirby no longer owns Teddy’s, she’s a member of the L Train Coalition, a group of local activists and business owners concerned about the shutdown. The group has been investigating the possibility of some form of economic aid from the city, perhaps in the form of temporary property tax reductions.
"If the cost can be reduced and passed along to the commercial tenants, maybe that would help," she said.
"You know Rosemary's?" Cohen asked us. "The old lady bar. They always have some weird TV show on. That's not going anywhere."
Rosemary in her namesake bar (Emily Siegel / Gothamist)
Rosemary's Greenpoint Tavern has been a North Brooklyn mainstay for more than 60 years. Owner Rosemary Bleday, who inherited the business from her father, is now 83. She no longer tends bar, but her voice is still loud enough that she could. "We have a lot of customers," Bleday said Thursday, sitting at her bar with a glass of ice water. "But not as much as we had. A lot of them old-timers are gone."
"You have new people here," she added. "They come from the city just to come to the bar to drink. They're not gonna be able to come. What do you do? You can't do anything about it except cry."
Bleday said she's recently gotten offers on her space, which is right on Bedford less than a block from the L train. "I am not ready to sell," she said. "Where am I gonna go?"
Christa, a bartender at Rosemary's who called herself "forever young" in lieu of telling us her age, said that while businesses and locals are hurting, others will be far worse off.
"What about the people who come in this neighborhood to clean these people's condos? To walk their dogs? They're further out," she said. "They're not living in Williamsburg; it's too expensive."
"That sucks for them more than anyone," Christa added. "Not 'cause someone can't get into the city 'cause there's a pop-up fucking sale."
With Emily Siegel.