Monday, February 04, 2013

How One Block On Smith Street In Carroll Gardens Became Such An Eye Sore

Smith Street looking towards President Street
Rite Aid at 320 Smith Street at  President Street
Same block, looking towards Union Street

Just a few days ago, I received the following email from a PMFA reader:
"I want to suggest you do a post on the abandonded lot next to Rite Aid on Smith Street. I am shocked at how much garbage has accumulated there and how nobody seems to be raising a stink about how ugly this whole block looks. Does Rite Aid own this lot? If not who does and could you find out their contact information? They should just tear down that fence or market it to someone who could do something creative with the space (as long as they fix it up)."
Agreed.  The block between President Street and Union Streets on Smith Street is a real disgrace.  I had ment to write something about the situation for a while, but the email finally prompted me to take the photos above and to research the history of that particular block a bit further.

The way this block appeared in 1928
The view from Smith Street from President Street to Union Street in 1928 with the original buildings
The corner of Smith Street and President Street  and the original #320 Smith Street.
Smith bet Union and Pres
Middle of the block 302 to 320 Smith Street, looking towards Union Street in 1928

From the later part of the1800's to the 1930's this stretch of Smith Street between President and Court Street held a few two- and three- brownstones with storefronts on the ground floor, very much like the buildings that still exist across the street.  Behind them, on President Street across Carroll Park was the old St. Marin Church.   All the houses, including the church, were taken down when the subway tunnel was built underneath Smith Street in the '30's.
The resulting empty lot was used by La Scala Motors for decades.  In 1998, the land was sold to a Mr. Robert Ull of  Ulltra Car Park, Inc., who operated a parking lot on that spot for just a bit over a year.
Shortly afterwards, in 1999, the community was informed that Mr. Ull,  together with John Genovese, was planning to build a Genovese drug store on that site.  The architect for the project was Joel Miele.
Excavation work began in May 1999,  before proper permits were in place . Almost immediately, a stop-work order was issued by the Metropolitan Transit Authority to give the MTA time to examine the developer's plans.
From a Community Notice circulated from that time:
"The original proposal was designed to rest over the MTA subway tunnel along Smith Street.  It was to consist of a 10,000 square foot rental store for genovese Drugs and two or three much smaller stores occupying the narrow Union Street end.  One proposal was to include two floors of rental units to be built over the Union Street portion.
The MTA rejected a proposal for cantilevering the structure over the subway tunnel.  The developer Robert Ull, decided that the only cost-effective way of constructing the building was to move the front wall back from the subway easement along Smith Street.  He reconfigured the floor plan to give Genovese the 10,000 square feet.  He could not build the smaller stores on the Union Street end at all, since without the MTA easement he would have only ten feet from the building behind.
Instead, he added a second story to the main building to be used for five rental apartments, accessed from President Street.
Since the single lot at the corner of Union Street and Smith Street will not be built on, Mr.  Ull is planning to find use for it as a garden nursery, or some other such commercial use as would not require the construction of a permanent building."
The Genovese store with 5 apartments was completed in 2001.  Shortly afterwards, Genovese was sold to the Florida-based Eckerd Corporation, which in turn was sold to Rite Aid in 2007.
The narrow strip at Union and Smith Street was left untended.  In the mid-2000, a few metal booths and a tent were placed at that corner.  The Brooklyn Indie Market operated a week-end and holiday market there until 2010.
These days,   Rite Aid seems to be using the ripped tent to store old shelving and empty cans.
The metal booths have slowly rusted away and have been graffitied. Trash has steadily accumulated along the entire strip, including in the tree pits in front of Rite Aid.

It is hard to determine who is to blame, the drug store or the owner(s) of the property.  One thing is for sure: it would not take much to ameliorate the situation.  The community should certainly push for the tent and the booths to be removed if they will no longer be used.
I love the original idea of having a nursery there. What about you?

Below are two proposals for the development from 1999, including the originally planned stores for the strip close to Union Street.

Please click through to the comment page for contact information provided by readers.  It would help if we all make a few telephone calls. 
And if you receive a response, please forward it to me so that I can let everyone know.


Julian Dunn said...

Great research, Katia. I've always wondered how that block came to look so awful. Now only if you can find out what's going on with those abandoned buildings at Smith & Degraw...

Dan Kellner said...

I'd also like to know what's going on with Smith Street between Degraw and Douglass

Anonymous said...

I second that, Julian -- I was just about to post that same question.

Anonymous said...

There's no MTA easement. MTA simply requires that you avoid damaging their structures when you build next to rail tracks. In addition to approving plans that avoid such damage, the MTA may require monitoring the tracks during the contruction work.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting! Thanks! I am also SO interested in the abandoned commercial buildings on Degraw between Henry and Cheever. There hasn't been any movement in there for years yet there are still operating security cameras. Very intriguing!

thinktank said...

It's not an easy fix, but there is a real problem with retail for a number of blocks here. The Community Board (Looking at you, Economic Development Committee!) needs to step in. It's a disaster on these blocks, and it shouldn't be. Two easy things to do NOW:

1. Work with the MTA to make the permitting process easier here. The MTA seems to have strangled this site, the site on the corner of Degraw Smith, and the site on the corner of Douglass and Smith.

2. Get the City to start issuing violations for the improper use of storefronts as storage on the block between Sackett and Union.

Get started.

Anonymous said...

i live right near that bleak corner next to rite aid and i would love to be involved in any efforts to change the landscape there. please post if these come up! thank you.

Anonymous said...

I wonder whether it might help if all sorts of people started to call 311 and complain about a "public health hazard" being caused by the trash, and the danger to pedestrians, like "trip hazards" from the sharp metal, garbage, and the like? Realistically, public health and safety concerns are more likely to get fast action from powers that be (who are...?) than complaints about ugliness.

Anonymous said...

Really thinktank? You think "the improper use of storefronts as storage on the block between Sackett and Union" is a pressing issue on Smith St. With all the other issues screaming, I have to wonder what axe you're grinding or if you have walked down Smith lately.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I am in the process of buying a home near this corner and would also like to get involved in any efforts as well. Please keep us posted if you find out more. I'm sure its not a pressing issue for the owners but I'm sure something can be done. At least before it gets worse. Thanks.

Katia said...

Perhaps we can all start by calling Rite Aid's Corporate office at 1-800-RITEAID (1-800-748-3243)
Or the press office:
(717) 975-5718 or (717) 975-5713

Timothy Reed said...

I've lived in the neighborhood since the late '80s, and am ashamed to say that I don't remember the La Scala car dealer on that site. Don't get old, kids!

Anonymous said...

Sad to say, but I witnessed a gentleman being "evicted" from one of the storage boxes last week. Who knows how long he was living in there, but it was completely filled with his possessions.

Fleur said...

Great posts and even greater pictures!

Anonymous said...

I remember when that rite aid fight was going on. Before it was a car lot with a cute dog named Brownie. Someone eventually stole poor Brownie. That circus tent and the modules were put in by a flea market and why they were never removed is a mystery. I called rite aid and no response. The managers say the city is supposed to replant that dead tree but they seem to never do it.
Also, the first module next to the tent has a homeless person living in it at night. My neighbor saw him come out of it one morning. The property is owned by the landlord of rite aid. I hate this corner, also. It's a total joke. If that bank in court street could landscape their little courtyard, it would be something if the landlord here would take action. Look, maybe he could put in a nail salon! We don't have enough around here. :)

Anonymous said...

Also look closely at the old photo looking towards Court Street. The church has the steeple still on it!! Yay!

Anonymous said...

What beautiful stone sidewalks once lined Smith and President!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 6:17, here's some City Planning 101 for you:

The Smith St. storefronts being used as storage between Sackett and Union are a HUGE problem. While they may be a short term win for individual landlords, they are terrible for other landlords and business owners on the street. If I owned property or an operational storefront near that stretch, I'd grab a pitchfork and try to run those bum landlords out of town. These empty storefronts are crushing the ability of local business owners to be their most successful.

It's simple: retail works best when it's around other retail. To the extent the retail fabric is torn -- either through vacant lots or empty storefronts -- than retail will be less successful. That's what's happening here. (There's a clear counterfactual: three blocks north on Smith St., retail is thriving.)

As long as demand for retail is depressed (and as long as depressed rents fail to attract developers) than the empty lots will remain, the crappy tents on Union and Smith won't go anywhere, and storeowners and landlords on this stretch of Smith will suffer.

That was my post labelled as from "thinktank" at 4:37.

So, again, get to it CB6.

Going Number Two said...

This is super interesting. Great research and photos. I am relatively new to the neighborhood (~3 years) but I love reading about the history here.

I am also curious about the block between Douglass and Degraw. The west side of the street is almost completely vacant. What's the story there?

Also, the empty lot at the corner of Smith and Douglass has been that way for years. Any info on that?

Keep up the great work.

Anonymous said...

When we moved to the neighborhood in 2001, it seemed like every month a new mom &pop store or restaurant opened on Smith St. I suspect that many had 10 year leases, which have been coming to an end and are not being renewed because the landlords can get much higher rents now that Smith St is so much more popular and successful today (thanks to all those original tenants who took a chance!). They're just holding out for a chain or a bank.

Anonymous said...

I am actually one of the occupants of the 5 apartments that are above the Rite Aid. My wife and I recently noticed all the garbage accumulating on the corner. I am actually gonna contact the landlord today given that a homeless man was sleeping in storage box

If you want to contact anyone. His name is Jeff Ull, He is the landlord for both Rite Aid and the apartments on the second floor.

Jeff might give you the run around. He might say that the spot is leased to Rite Aid and they can do with it as they please. At least that is what he did when we complained about the 3AM deliveries on Monday and Thursday (which is still going on and god awful).

Rite Aid couldn't change the deliveries, but if you want to contact them about this the district manager is Nancy Verga 718-886-6645

Here is Jeff's info
Union Realty
127 West 24th St, 5th Floor
NY, NY 10011

You can also reach his sister Jennifer via email

Hope that helps

Anonymous said...

The person to call would be Bob Fazakerley- Vice President of Corporate Real Estate & Facilities for Rite Aid. He can be reached at bfazakerley (AT)

I'm sure if enough people contact his office they will make a move themselves or push their landlord.

Katia said...

That certainly helps. Thanks for info.

Anonymous said...

You could also go into the RiteAid and complain personally to manager. I did once for one on Warren and Smith about trash there. They did clean once.
Complaints to 311 also help. (slowly)

Milton said...

Why not make it an out door coffee shop just for the summer. run a small fence along the outside.
The kitchen could be in a small Shipping Container or two (with the outside to look like its part of the neighborhood) and the same for the rest room.
Some kind of cover for the days it rains.
The income could go to fund the park's extra. so it would be a non-profit.
Simple food, good food.
They could get there pastry from Court Pastry Shop, coffee from Damico. It would be a write-off for Rit-Aid.
make the area look much better sounds like a win win
Just have to find the person to start-it-off.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you brought attention to this vacant lot next to Rite Aid. I find it horrific and such an eye sore. It's gotten exponentially worse over the past couple of years.
I'm still unclear on who is to blame - is it Rite Aid's responsibility, or the landlord's?

Anonymous said...

Katia, perhaps post the contact info on a separate post, most people wont scroll thru to find that info.
I wrote to the emails listed and sent a blurb to 7 on your side. That news thing that helps out people who can't get any action otherwise.

Katia said...

Great idea.
I will add a mention on the post itself to let people know about the contact infos.

Please let me know if you get a response from owner/ Rite Aid or from TV.

Lanie List said...

I just talked to this landlord and he was very friendly and said he was cleaning it up in the next one to two months. Removing everything. Unfortunately, we'll add a billboard space there for revenue, not a nice landscaped area, but at least it will be cleaned up.

Katia said...

Thanks for the update, Lanie. I suppose a billboard is better that those dreadful containers. Let's hope the landlord also keeps the area free of trash.

jacobmark616 said...

Where did you get those great old photos? We just moved to the neighborhood and i would love to get my hands on some great historical photos like these.