Fulton Mall up for a Facelift


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Jimmy Jazz and Dr. Jay's are two of the most popular hip-hop clothing stores in Brooklyn, and they are packed with shoppers on what seems like an average Sunday at Fulton Mall. But amidst the sea of end-of-winter sales signs, there are even bigger banners announcing better bargains, some items marked down more than 50 percent.

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Everything must go! Everything must go!

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Everything must go, the man says, sitting on a broken stool outside of the NuCastle Jewelry and Electronics store. That store, along with others on Fulton Street--is going out of business. Real estate developer Albert Laboz is buying what he considers undervalued properties on the strip, and raising rents to pay his mortgages. The Diamond Girl clothing store does a booming business with lower income female shoppers. But the store's owner David Sharifian said his rent tripled from $15,000 to $45,000 after Laboz bought the place. His customers cannot afford higher prices, he says, and after 12 years, he is packing up.

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A lot of people, these people here they're not really rich. They ain't got money for a department stores. They can't afford to buy from smaller stores. They're prices are not high that much. We raise the prices like 30 percent to 20 percent profit. We don't sell it like 100 percent profit but we sell at 30 percent and we sell a lot. So, they won't be coming down to this neighborhood.

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In February, local advocacy groups Downtown Brooklyn Council and Municipal Arts Council held a public meeting to discuss the mall's future. Laboz, who is also co-chairman of the Fulton Mall Improvement Association, concluded that the mall is "underutilized," --not adequately serving Forte Greene and Cobble Hill and other upscale neighborhoods in the area. Developers want to raise rents to marketable rates, open more brand-name department stores, and maybe even open residential spaces, in order to-- in their words-- better integrate the mall into the surrounding community. Michael Burke is the director of the Downtown Brooklyn Council.

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There's a lot of things we're looking at, everything from artist space to upper floor retail to professional office space. Now were just beginning that process of figuring out which of those would be the most successful uses for those upper floors so it may be a while before we come out with final recommendations about which buildings should be targeted and what their uses should be converted to.

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Fulton Mall specializes in urban wear for primarily lower income minorities, some of whom travel from outside the city to shop there. Vicki Weiner of the Pratt Center for Community Development conducted a study that was presented to the Fulton Mall Improvement Association. Weiner found that the mall is an important social environment for the shoppers--

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But the space itself is not very accommodating to being used as a public space, a public square. There's not a lot of good seating, for years there was no seating whatsoever, and there really isn't any gathering places there.

That feeling of alienation has lead residents moving into the area to feel somehow separated, or, unwelcome at the mall.

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So a lot of misperceptions emerged as the biggest obstacles to the mall's future, we felt.

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Malik Muhammed, a Pakistani immigrant entrepreneur who owns and operates a perfume stand tucked away inside the Music Factory store still feels welcome. His space- essentially a glass case packed with perfumes and fragrances sold at discount prices, hasn't been bought by a developer.

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Rent? I have a couple spots for a period, and almost the same, not too high, like what I paid two or three years ago.

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But Muhammed senses that that tide of higher-end developments will ultimately push him and other immigrant entrepreneurs out.

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Where do we go? For example they build a new mall here. How much they want? $5,000, $10,000, we don't have that much money.

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Michael Weiss of the Fulton Street Improvement Association says the mall is the heart of downtown Brooklyn's economy, but that consumer tastes change, and shopping areas must change with them.

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We're looking just to compliment what's there…it's not an attempt to…We're not Madison Ave-inizing Fulton Mall. What we're trying to do is serve all of the shoppers in Brooklyn, as it has, but do it in an even better and more exciting way.

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By late afternoon, bargain hunters were still pouring into NuCastle, Diamond Girl and other stores looking for a good deal. The prices are still low, but that might soon be changing.

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Everything must go! Everything must go!

Joseph Chaney, Columbia Radio News