Long-Empty Storefronts in Williamsburg Suddenly Full, Due in No Small Part to L Train

Timothy D. King

SOURCE: Brownstoner by Craig Hubert

November 4, 2019

Free from the burden of the L train shutdown, retail spaces in Williamsburg are quickly being filled by stores more often seen in a shopping mall.

On North 6th Street, a number of long-empty storefronts are suddenly full. As well, several new businesses just opened on Bedford.

For three blocks, between Bedford and Kent Avenues, North 6th Street was once populated by meat markets, then popular restaurants, clubs and singular boutiques such as The Future Perfect. Then for the last few years, it was curiously quiet, with perhaps a dozen or more empty storefronts up and down the street at any one time, prompting some to wonder what was going on. Now it has turned over, largely to national chains.

“Retail in Williamsburg changed from a small college town feel with very unique local mom and pop stores with their main focus on the community and artists to now a run of the mill giant shopping center you can find in any major city,” says Mikey Weiss, owner of computer repair shop Mikey’s Hookup at 88 North 6th Street, where they have been located for 15 years. “There is absolutely nothing unique, hip or even interesting about the new retail stores.”

September saw the arrival of Warby Parker at 124 North 6th Street (whose store boasts a painted facade by artist Steve “Espo” Powers) and a succession of clothing retailers including Buck Mason at 126 North 6th Street, Everlane (replacing a space formerly occupied by American Apparel at 104 North 6th Street) and a men’s outpost of Madewell at 89 North 6th Street. At 115 North 6th Street, a prominent spot at the corner of Berry, Marine Layer replaced Gant in the old Future Perfect space.

Name-brand clothing stores such as North Face at 134 North 6th Street, which opened in November 2018, as well as Aland, which opened in July 2018 at 92 North 6th Street have recently arrived. Urban Outfitters, which remains on the block, opened at 98 North 6th Street in 2014 under the name Space Ninety 8.

Doughnut Plant opened a new location in September at the corner of North 6th Street, with an address of 98 Bedford Avenue, replacing New York Muffin shop. Further down the street at 231 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn coffee shop Hungry Ghost will soon replace Whisk, which closed in April 2019 because of a rent hike and moved to Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn Heights. Next door at 237 Bedford is Uva Wines and Spirits, recently relocated from farther up the street. Yoga store Alo, the national company’s sixth location, opened in September at 241 Bedford Avenue. Sephora opened in October 2018 at the same address.

“The recent uptick in retail activity is directly related to the easing of concerns regarding the L train scheduled overhaul,” says Timothy King, a Managing Partner at SVN SVN CPEX Real Estate. “The entire neighborhood’s real estate market has been on pause while folks tried to figure out what it all meant and how it would impact the community.” Now that the L train shutdown has been averted, things are beginning to pick up.

A 2016 report by SVN SVN CPEX Real Estate showed that Williamsburg’s storefront rents were some of the priciest in the borough, and among the 10 most expensive retail corridors in the nation. Today, rents on Bedford average around $350 a square foot, with rents on North 6th Street around $250. The retail mix in Williamsburg has changed significantly since Apple signed its lease in 2014.

Weiss sees the changes as part of a longer process. “Most stores have been abandoned waiting for the major corporations to put down their deposit,” he says about a trend across North 6th Street. “I’m guessing other major stores were waiting to see how well they did before they pulled the trigger. Now that other major chains are dipping their toes in the water, the other majors follow quickly.”

Walking along North 6th Street, there are still a number of vacant storefronts, some of which have been empty for a number of years. King says part of this is due to a “normal transaction cycle of a commercial lease.”

Retail rents are down slightly even though the L train is still running. “We had a harder time leasing during the L train shutdown,” says Shlomi Bagdadi, president of Tri State Commercial Realty. “But during that time prices stabilized and they have not gone back up. Three years ago it was $90 a square foot on Grand Street and today it’s $70 a square foot even though the L train is not shutting down.”

The biggest change, King says, is the speed in which retail is changing. “The confluence of factors from demographic shifts to online shopping has caused a huge and ongoing upheaval in the retail world,” he says. “This has always been true, but it’s happening faster than ever.”

— Craig Hubert


Press Timothy D. King November 2019