On the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Lincoln Road a small battle has been brewing regarding the opening of a new storefront café called Café Pomidor. Some store owners already in the area are arguing that it will take away from their already suffering businesses; others claim it’s just a sign of much needed change in the neighborhood.
For the past 10 years an influx of people who had called Manhattan their home has been moving into the Flatbush neighborhood. Some local storeowners recognized the new demand and adjusted their inventories. “Five years ago, if I wanted some arugula or prosciutto, I had to either get it at Whole Foods, Trader Joes or some supermarket in Manhattan” said Juliana Harrison, a resident of Beverly Road off of Flatbush Avenue. “Now, I can just walk to the MET around the corner.”
There are other stores in the area that are not able to change their inventories to meet demand. Khan Gupta, a worker at Coffee Shop and Daily, says that his business is suffering. The rents have increased and he is losing money. “Before a lot of people would come in here and business was good. Now, they don’t come. And those that do come just browse and leave” said Khan. Gupta, whose business sells an array of snacks and newspapers, says attracting business is hard when more competitive stores with wider array of selections move into the neighborhood, competition for business is fierce.
Two doors down at Gavriel Shoe Repair, Roma Gavriel the nephew of owner Alexi Gavriel says that he has no problem with the café. He does agree that business is slow and his rent has increased by a solid 5% every year but he stressed that whether a business survives or fails is based on practical business experience and business savvy. Gavriel says that his store has been around for 25 years and with the influx of new people to the neighborhood, he expects business to increase. According to Gavriel, “the economy is to blame and not individual businesses. Before there were lots of shoe repair shops and now I am the only one. It’s still hard even though it’s only me but with these new people, business will get better.”
The location of the café was previously known as the Phoenix Gift Shop. The store sold bags, school supplies, human hair and toys. “I guess the people just didn’t want that stuff anymore,” said Roma as he recollected that customers now have the option of shopping at the bigger chains which offer competitive prices and sales.
The Café Pomidor Group responsible for the plans to open this new café and over 200 new cafes in the next five years with the Flatbush location as their first opening. The café, which will serve healthy fast food including gluten free foods, is in direct competition with other fast food restaurants in the area; one of which is Golden Krust Bakery, a fast food Caribbean restaurant across the street from Café Pomidor and another is and is the New Golden Chinese food restaurant.
A few doors down from the café, there is a closed Mexican and pizza store and across the street from that there is a flower store with a “going out business, everything must go” sign in the window. Yugi Baptiste, the owner of the closing flower shop said that business has been very slow and she was unable to keep up with the rising rent.
Robert Salivieri, co-owner of Trixie’s pet food and supply store 3 doors down from the proposed café said that business has been good since he opened the store last year October. Trixie’s sells a wide array of healthy pet foods and according to Salivieri, his store feeds a necessary niche that had been growing in the neighborhood for some time. He views the café opening as responding to a need.
As indicated by the New York City Department of Small Business Services, the opening of some stores in the neighborhood such as Target not only adds to the aesthetic of the neighborhood but it also helps bring revenue to the area. Baptiste said that while she is saddened she has had to close her store, she says she has no gripe with the café opening. She does wonder however how little stores like hers are expected to survive in a neighborhood that once embraced them but now has little demand for them.