"Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud monuments, until there will be nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future?" Jacqueline Kennedy

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A House Of Ill Repute On Smith Street? Something Is Amiss At Number 257


******Please see the UPDATE Below******

Something sketchy seems to be happening inside the storefront of 257 Smith Street between DeGraw and Douglass Street here in Carroll Gardens.  Amidst the restaurants, boutiques and nail places, it would appear that we now have a house of ill repute.
Until recently, the building at this address housed a string of Indian restaurants, the latest being an outpost for the chain Baluchi's. When Baluchi's closed a few months ago, the windows were papered over, a construction crew did some interior work and a sign was posted to the door indicating that a business called Tao, Inc. would soon open.

Whatever Tao, Inc. is or stands for is hard to determine from the outside.  Heavy curtains hang in the front window, the front door is covered in paper and entry is only granted by ringing a bell. Two small video cameras have been installed to monitor the sidewalk.

In the past three weeks, PMFA has received several emails from local residents asking if we knew what was going on inside.

Reader J. asked PMFA:
"Any clue what the new business is on Smith street between DeGraw and Douglass--called Tao Inc?
It has a handwritten sign with the name and has wall hangings covering the doors and windows (and a neon sign that always says "open"!)
Very, very weird

Local resident H. actually ventured inside and confirmed that the place was very suspicious:
"I'm writing about a serious concern about activity at 257 Smith Street - I am concerned it is a brothel or houses some other illicit activity.

A few weeks ago a suspicious store front went up at 257 Smith (which used to house a few Indian restaurants). I thought nothing of it until last night when, walking home, I noticed two men knock on the door (in their defense, they seemed to be concerned neighbors too). In my passing I saw the door opened by an Asian women in a bathrobe. Behind her there was no indication of any actual commercial activity, rather just a series of closed doors.

I decided to investigate myself and my concerns were only amplified. The outside door is monitored by a camera - they knew I entered without knocking. Once inside, I was greeted by a southeast asian woman who spoke no english. She insisted I remove my shoes and go into a room - the space consists of a hallway and 4 or 5 doors to small rooms. There was no commercial counter that one would expect to find in any sort of a business.

Sorry to get graphic, but once I entered, I could hear a man groaning from one of the rooms."

Not wanting to post information that could hurt a legitimate business, PMFA sent a male friend to investigate for us yesterday.

This is what our friend reported:
"The bright curtain blocking all visibilty, neon OPEN sign, and hastily-installed wireless doorbells seem odd, and the lack of other signage means that the business should be treated with a measure of suspicion. After waiting inside the small lobby, with security cameras watching and listening to two ladies speak in Mandarin, I was let in by a Chinese lady in a revealing bathrobe who asked if I wanted a massage. More unusually, she asked how many ladies I wanted. There were no other patrons visible (or audible), just a long narrow hallway leading to individual rooms, brightly lit. Prices were quoted, but the bare futon near the entrance and the emphasis on security and lack of signs were definite indications that something was amiss. Neighbors mentioned seeing a woman in high heels and a schoolgirl outfit come out regularly."

Do you live near 257 Smith Street or on one of the side streets?  Have you been witnessing strange comings and goings?

Dear Readers, some of you have taken the time to reach out here and on PMFA's Facebook page to  say that you are concerned about the tone of the post as well as some of the comments.
I take your comments very, very seriously.  You are my neighbors and we are one community and I appreciate our conversations because I think it makes us all feel more connected.
My reason for posting about Tao, Inc. was out of concern for the welfare of the young women who are working there. 
But how best to help?  I admit that my first response to call 911 or 311 was the absolute wrong one and I have amended the original post.  Instead, there are organizations  that can offer the women much more meaningful and immediate assistance.
I sincerely thank Erin, Katherine and other wonderful community members, who have already reached out to the Urban Justice Center, Red Umbrella Project and the New York Asian Women's Center.
I will update everyone as soon as I can.
In the meantime,  let us, as a community be tolerant, respectful, and let our comments reflect this.
Thanks, everyone!

*Please be advised that the link to an ad for the business at 257 Smith Street, left by a reader in the comment section, should be opened at your own discretion and certainly not at work or in front of children. 


Jim said...

"If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck".

kathleen henderson said...

It sounds to me like a massage parlor that specializes in happy endings. But, since I have never visited there, I can't say so with any certainty.

Anonymous said...

Finally some action on Spring Street!

Anonymous said...

Back in the 70's there was a brothel (upstairs) in the Buschenschank bldg on Court St.

Katia said...

Had no idea. Was the OTB already downstairs at that time?

Anonymous said...

Yes.... At least it was discreet

Alix Finkelstein said...

I live around the corner and watched them hastily renovate the space. I could have sworn they were opening a tattoo parlor-- but perhaps that is the front for something illegal.

Anonymous said...

Everyone needs some loving. Let them be.

Anonymous said...

Nothing wrong with that place been there a few times. I was born and raised in the neighborhood everyone that lives there now is uptight insecure

Anonymous said...

Tattoo parlor is down the block. I wonder if with all the nail salons this is the sad overflow for the workers. Well? why all the chatter? Tell the police. And could that large green sign be any more obvious?

Anonymous said...

As long as the workers are well-paid, treated fairly and the costs are upfront for customers, I have no problem with this type of business in our neighborhood. What goes on between consenting adults is none of my business....Smith Street could use a little more local color and this may help temper rising rents in the neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

This ad on Backpage refer to 257 Smith Street. http://brooklyn.backpage.com/BodyRubs/new-babies-real-pic-video-36g-easy-parking-b2b-amazing-nuru-9175285755/89741356
If they do more than a massage the police can take care of this.

Anonymous said...

I actually don't like the unfriendly undertones in this post and it makes me think twice about following this blog (which I have done religiously for years now...). We are all in a really precarious state at the moment, unsure of where our country is headed, and its SO important to be kind and considerate of our neighbors, rather than judge-y and gossipy. If there is truly a legitimate concern for the well-being of patrons/workers/business practices then the police or 311 should be called.

KJL said...

to the last anonymous poster, i agree with you wholeheartedly about the undertones in both this particular post and the comments. but i would like to caution against police being called as a first measure.

a few of my friends and i have been contacting local advocacy groups that work for and protect the rights of both sex workers and human trafficking victims. i will update as soon as possible. but please hold off on getting law enforcement agencies involved unless there is immediate evidence that the people working at 257 are minors or being held against their will.

Katia said...

Hi All, I have just updated the original post to reflect some of your concerns and suggestions. As always, I am in awe of the wonderful people that I am lucky enough to share the neighborhood with.

Joao said...

@Jim Maybe a duck of ill repute! :)

And there should be a NSFW tag on that Backpage link Anonymously posted. Luckily there was nobody standing behind me when I opened it in the office.

Katia said...

You have a point, Joao. The ad is very distasteful.
Will add a warning in the post.

Anonymous said...

The place is a rub n tug. You yuppies are very nosey. Just a bunch of women trying to make $$. If they are doing it on their own, and not being mistreated or minors MYOB... or move back to Wisconsin. It's NYC, there are strip clubs and whores all over the place. It's not family-friendly, yet they are being discreet!! Curtains, cameras... who gives a care.

leemonada76 said...

The NY post has a story about this, today: http://nypost.com/2016/12/04/sketchy-brooklyn-shop-may-be-a-brothel-open-for-business/

Anonymous said...

Katia- you were quoted in the post story today. http://nypost.com/2016/12/04/sketchy-brooklyn-shop-may-be-a-brothel-open-for-business/

Anonymous said...

Why is calling 911 not appropriate? This is a Human Trafficking operation pure and simple. That is a crime. If you have any doubt of what is going on there, just check out the post article.


Katia said...

Just saw. Thanks. Let us hope these girls get some help now!

Anonymous said...

You are not helping these girls. They work there by choice. Grow up☮️

Unknown said...

You are all very misinformed. These Asian women are there by choice and many live in Queens. They are just trying to support their families. They are discrete and are hurting no one. Please leave them alone.

SmellsGood said...

if they are being held hostages, what can we do to help these girls? The reporter mentioned the girl seemed to indicate that she was not allowed to leave.

Anonymous said...

As a person of color living in the area I find this type of post feeding the xenophobia and anti immigrant mindset sweeping the nation. Previous commenters rightly mention that economic necessity drives women to this work and reporting them to authorities results in them having to pay off another set of people.
Please be thoughtful in your coverage as many minorities and at risk groups make this neighborhood thrive (think of who is working in the kitchens of your favorite smith st eatery)

SmellsGood said...

Did the previous commenters ask these girls if they were there at free will? The Post article mentioned that the girl "lived in the back of the parlor" and that she must "remain on the premises 24 hours a day, and wasn't allowed to leave". I am a Chinese American woman with immigrant parents. I am not against these girls engaging in activities that are harmless to others as a means to put food on the table. What I am against is knowing there potentially is slavery in our own backyard, and we turn a blind eye or lightly brush it off by assuming these girls are at free will.

All I would like to know is if there is a way to help these girls if they are being held against their wishes. It's good to know that we are all just trying to help these girls.

Thank you!

Katia said...

Anon 9:56,
as I mentioned in the post, it is difficult to know what to do. Of course we should be tolerant and protective of immigrants. I am an immigrant myself and am very sensitive to the increasing xenophobic tone in this country.
Diversity has always been America's strength and building walls of any kind has never been the solution. (my own country, Germany, was divided by a wall for decades)
The question here is: are the women working in this establishment free to come and go and do they keep the money they earn, or are they being held against their will? Do they have a choice to choose? That is a lot different than working in one of our local eateries.
Several of us have reached out to non-for profit organizations that can help the young women if they do need help, which of course, still needs to be determined.
And as I was told by a trustworthy source, the main objective even for the police, is not to jail the women, but to protect them from any potential trafficker.

Anonymous said...

Katia - point noted and understand that your (& other folks) concern is coming from a good place (Anon - 9.56am)

Anonymous said...

I have been there myself, they are not being held against their will. When I spoke to one of the ladies I was told that the job requires them to work 5-6 days a week and they are off the other days. She is a single mother who's husband left her, she lives in Flushing. If u call 911 she will be arrested and social services will take her kids...is that what you want...this is not TV, this is not trafficking, these are women trying to make a living as best as they can.

Anonymous said...

I live around the corner and walk the dog by there every day and the OPEN sign was on 24/7 until Sunday night. It seems they have pulled up the stakes from the publicity. The OPEN sign is no longer on, the TAO INC sign on the door is gone and the gate is rolled down.

Katia said...

I have gotten similar reports. One can only hope that one of the non profit organizations were able to help the girls before the closure. Hope the owner just did not bring them to another location for business.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it looks like the business has been permanently shut down. What I think many people fail to understand is these women are not being held against their will. Some of you are watching a little too many documentaries on this subject. Hopefully, they can set up shop in another location, so these poor ladies can continue to work and support their families.

Demy said...

We’re all weary of the subject of 257 but I really felt I had to comment on the guy talking about the single mothers just needing a job.
I was a single mother for years raising two kids and so were many of my friends. We did have the advantage of education but we also took jobs at times where our education didn’t matter.

Kenny said...

It quacked like a duck: http://nypost.com/2016/12/05/brooklyn-brothel-is-still-open-but-now-has-one-fewer-employee/

Anonymous said...

Please remember and keep in mind that you have the benefit of being born in this country. Could you imagine coming from another country, being unfamiliar with our language and then trying to find a job on top of that? Sometimes there's much more to the story than what we actually know.

Anonymous said...

Speaking from first-hand experience (no pun intended), the likelihood that the employees at 257 are here of their own free will is nearly zero. Most likely they were recruited with the promise of a decent life and the ability to send home money. They are most likely sending home some money along the lines of $10-$20 per sexual encounter, but are not free to leave the premises or the "dorm" where they are shuttled back and forth from, and failure to please the customers results in being locked in something akin to solitary confinement.

The crackdown on independent escorts and their patrons while ignoring the $1 trillion/year in US based sexual slavery revenues is atrocious.

Anonymous said...

The boys from la cigogne are opening a cocktail bar called barely disfigured. Have you seen the window sign? Clever

Katia said...

Yes, very clever. Have an appointment to interview them re their new venture