Still, not everyone in Red Hook is so opposed to the idea.
“We’re just a little torn,” said The Good Fork’s Kim. “I want it quieter, but from a business standpoint? The more the merrier. Is it a good thing or bad thing that there are no more roaming packs of dogs? Am I glad there’s no more crack that’s being dealt on my street? Yes, I am. But I also belong to a certain group of people that tend to romanticize the grit.”
To hear Hometown’s Durney tell it, the impact could really go one of two ways. “If you told me those skyscrapers would make those (small) businesses thrive, I’m for it,” he said. “If they're going to price them out, we're going to do our best to make that not happen.”
Durney believes his business, which averages between 4,000 and 5,000 customers a week, wouldn’t be negatively affected by development of that caliber. Durney is also planning to open a 35- to 40-seat fried chicken restaurant on Van Brunt in the next few months.
Truth be told, most neighborhood businesses could probably use an uptick in foot traffic, especially during the winter months. On a summer weekend day, Brooklyn Crab will serve as many as 2200 customers, while The Good Fork can hit 125 on a Saturday. But as the days get shorter, business drops.
“When it is cold, people don’t come down to Red Hook. It’s a real Coney Island effect,” said Kim, who counts maybe 20 diners on a typical weekday night during winter.
While some neighbors are leaving for more affordable parts of town like Ditmas Park -- “because who can afford these crazy rents?” -- Kim and Schneider, who own their house, are sticking it out, recently signing another 10-year lease on The Good Fork.
On the other hand, too much development could seriously compromise the area’s existing charms. Brian Davis, who opened the men’s vintage store Wooden Sleepers two years ago, talks about the uniqueness of Van Brunt St, Red Hook’s main drag.
Davis had always wanted to be part of a small business community that supported each other -- a place that reminded him of the seaside town he’d grown up in, in the North Fork of Long Island. When he came to Red Hook in the dead of winter, in January 2014, he somehow knew he’d found what he was looking for.
“It was dark and freezing cold,” said Davis. But as he drove up towards the waterfront at the top of Van Brunt, first passing the bars like the Ice House and Bait & Tackle on the right, the longtime Kentler art gallery on the left, as well as the warm lights of Fort Defiance and The Good Fork, he could also see ships and smell the salt water. “It felt like home, coastal, like Main Street,” he said. “People say hello to you on the street.”
Davis also compares it to similar retail strips in Brooklyn, like Franklin Ave in Greenpoint and Smith St in Carroll Gardens. “They all have a point of view,” he said. “The stores were interesting. People visited from all over the world. If you go to SoHo, it’s like a high-end mall anywhere in the world. Who the hell wants that?”
Valerie Feingold, who moved to the neighborhood in 2011, actually wouldn’t mind it. “I didn’t think, 'How ugly,” said Feingold, general manager at the immensely popular, tri-level Brooklyn Crab on Reed St, just around the corner from Van Brunt. During peak summer season, the restaurant handles about 2,200 guests on a typical Saturday. “I thought, ‘How cool.’ We’d be getting a subway out of it, and that would be huge. For me, the more people who can come, the better it will be for business.
“You get both: people who think change and the influx of gentrification is going to ruin the charm of Red Hook. Everyone has nostalgia. Remembering their New York from their heyday. And your memory colors what you want out of the neighborhood. Look at Woody Allen movies, especially early films, he’s always grumpy. It’s always, ‘There goes the neighborhood.’”