Mom & Pop art T-shirt shop Brooklyn Rock is out but not down. After 21 months in Coney Island, the arrangement they had with Thor Equities for space in the developer’s retail building at Surf and Stillwell has come to an end. The 1,500-square-foot store, for which they paid a percentage of income as rent, will be partly taken over by celebrity burger chain Wahlburgers, which is set to open its first New York franchise in May in the vacant restaurant space next door.
As ATZ reported earlier this month, the one-of-a-kind Brooklyn Rock shop was open daily regardless of the season or the weather, and was one of the few places in Coney to buy a souvenir tee in February. “At the end of the proverbial day, it was a pop-up shop and we had a good run,” says Brooklyn Rock brand manager Seth Braunstein, who doesn’t want people to feel sorry for them or villainize Thor, with whom they parted on good terms. “I might get a call at some point to do a pop up in another of their Brooklyn locations. Who knows?”
Brooklyn Rock’s tees, hoodies, aprons and other items are hand-dyed in unique colors and hand-printed from hand-drawn designs by artists Chris Smith and Yukiko Wada, the couple who founded the business in their Bushwick apartment in 2002. Braunstein says they’re relocating the wholesale print operations to a mezzanine space within a larger retail environment in Greenpoint called the Flying Squirrel. “It is an amazing children’s shop that we’ve wholesaled our gear to since they were located on North 6th in Williamsburg. We’re excited at the huge wholesale opportunities ahead and are gratified at the run we enjoyed in Coney.”
Before opening their Coney Island store in May 2013, the Brooklyn Rock team also wholesaled their merchandise to Coney Island USA’s gift shop, which they hope to do once again. Their previous retail shops include a street kiosk on Bedford Avenue, a shipping container at the now defunct DeKalb Market where Century 21 was built, and a Pintchik property across from Barclays Center, where foot traffic turned out to be slow. “When you’re an independent little guy, you’re swimming with sharks. We’re still swimming. We’re good. Ultimately we’re survivors,” says Braunstein.
When ATZ interviewed Braunstein for the post that ran earlier this month, the shop had already received the vacate notice, but we did not mention it because they were hoping for an extension from Thor, as had happened last year. At that time, Luna Park offered them a kiosk in the amusement park, but they declined since they were able to keep their store. As for the vacant stores on the north side of Surf, where property owners have leased to restaurant and food businesses, Braunstein doesn’t think the location would bring them as much foot traffic as the south side of Surf.
While Brooklyn Rock is confident about landing a better spot, this story underscores the dim prospects for Mom & Pops hoping to come to Coney Island amid the influx of chains, both at Thor’s property on the south side of Surf and with the property owners on the north side. Currently there are a dwindling number of spaces for lease and Coney Island’s risk-averse landlords prefer the better-funded chains and franchisees. Brooklyn Rock’s lucky break came when Braunstein saw a news article about space for lease in Thor’s then-vacant new building and sent them a proposal. Thor Equities had sent out a press release that said: “Thor To Add Local Flavor To Coney Island By Leasing Major Surf Avenue Parcels To Local Brooklyn Merchants At Reduced Rents For 2013.”
Tenants at Thor’s now fully-leased “Retail Ride of A Lifetime” building across from Stillwell Terminal include candy chain It’Sugar, apparel chain Rainbow Shop, the Brooklyn Nets Shop, Brooklyn Beach Shop spin-off Surf and Stillwell, and the soon-to-debut Wahlburgers. The building also had a Little Caesars Pizza pop-up last summer and two incredibly tiny mini-arcades, which are the shameful extent of the amusements required by the City’s Coney Island Comprehensive Rezoning Plan passed in 2009.
It’s telling that in recent weeks ATZ’s top ten posts have been about IHOP, Wahlburgers and other chains coming in 2015. In addition to the already opened national chains and franchises such as Applebee’s, Rita’s Italian Ice, and Dunkin’ Donuts on Surf Avenue, a few new Mom & Pops like Lunatics Ice Cream and Luna Park Cafe opened last season. An outpost of Piece of Velvet, a cake and cupcake shop with locations in Fort Greene and Harlem opened on Valentine’s Day. On the north side of Surf, IHOP recently signed a lease to open a restaurant while Johnny Rockets remains under construction and Subway Cafe and Checkers have put their signs up and are almost ready to open.
Related posts on ATZ…
December 5, 2014: Wahlburgers Burger Franchise to Open in Coney Island
December 19, 2012: Will Coney Island’s Surf Ave Become a Mecca for Franchises?