For more than a century, Montague Street has been a gathering place for those who wanted to indulge in a cool beverage, sip a coffee at a quaint café and stroll down the block on a seasonable day.
Though it is only four blocks long, Montague Street has a vital civic center at one end and a tourist attraction in the Promenade at the other.
The street today, however, has changed drastically, as increasing rent prices have forced stores out of business. Any pedestrian immediately notices the many “For Lease” and “For Rent” signs in shop windows.
A quintessential example of the changing Montague Street is 112 Montague St., which has sat vacant since Starbucks moved a block away to 134 Montague St. in 2012.
Nathan Royce Silverstein, who owns 112 Montague St., told the Brooklyn Heights Press in an article published in the summer of 2013 that he was waiting for a tenant with “good financial backing.”
In light of these changes, the Heights Press caught up with some longtime Montague Street merchants to ask their opinions on the changing street and the many vacant shop fronts.
Enrico Palazio, a third-generation manager at Key Food whose family bought the business in 1982, spoke with the Heights Press about the empty storefronts.
“The vacant shop fronts are bad for Montague Street,” Palazio told the Heights Press. “That goes for any neighborhood. I’d rather those places have tenants, but Montague Street is only for people that can afford it now. It’s tough for the mom-and-pop stores.”
Palazio further articulated how the four-block strip has changed.
“Montague Street isn’t as great as it used to be,” said Palazio. “Montague Street growing up was the ‘it’ street. That’s where you wanted to be. There were tons of good restaurants, and then somehow, Smith Street and Fifth Avenue surpassed it as a better culinary destination, so it has fallen off the map,” Palazio continued.
Tom Calfa, whose family has owned Lassen & Hennigs since 1969, also reflected on Montague Street and the empty shops.
“Montague Street is not unique anymore like it used to be,” Calfa told the Heights Press.“It hasn’t been that way since the ’90s because of money. People come in, things are more expensive and you aren’t going to get people with unique businesses coming to the street because the rents are too high. All those type operators are in the outer part of the borough now.
“The different merchants have left and they’ve been replaced by more corporate style stores,” Calfa added. “A good example is ‘Boro Photo.’ That was a business that drew people in from all over the five boroughs because of its uniqueness and they chose to close and lease to Verizon.”