The Changing Face of Manhattan Avenue Stores
Manhattan Avenue retail is in the midst of a rapid transition and very soon the avenue will be completely transformed into something totally different. Although there are some stores that have been on the avenue for my entire quarter-century in Greenpoint, a new breed of business is emerging, pushing out older established businesses and giving the avenue a new feel. As we reach the end of 2018, it is good to reflect on both what has remained unchanged, what has disappeared and what new businesses have taken root on the avenue.
There are a number of businesses that have deep roots, going back generations. Although the following list is not complete, Cato’s Army and Navy (654 Manhattan Ave.), Peter Pan Donut Shop (727 Manhattan Ave.), the Associated (802 Manhattan ave.) and C Town (953 Manhattan Ave.) supermarkets, McDonalds (904 Manhattan Ave.) and the Triple Decker (695 Manhattan Ave.) come immediately to mind as established institutions. Italy Pizza (788 Manhattan Ave.) and Russ’ Pizza (745 Manhattan Ave.) also have been serving great slices in the area for decades. Kiszka Meat Market (915 Manhattan ave.), Irene’s bar (623 Manhattan Ave.) and the Cafe Riviera (830 Manhattan ave.) are other examples of hardy Polish veterans that have changed little in the past 20 years.
Then, there are those businesses that were once institutions but have vanished. I still miss Cheap Charlie’s (712 Manhattan Ave.) where you could buy just about anything. Gone are Radio Shack (760 Manhattan Ave.) and Off-Track Betting (756 Manhattan Ave.), which were once thriving businesses on the avenue. When I first walked down Manhattan Avenue Corwith Brothers, which had generations of real estate sales in Greenpoint was on the East side of the street and Trunz meat market was across the street from it. For years there was a very popular English language school, I believe called the Greenpoint English School and a popular Polish disco called Europa (now the Good Room) on the corner of Meserole. There seemed to be ubiquitous dollar stores, some of which still survive at least until the lease is up. There were actually very few chain stores and most of the businesses on the avenue were family-owned, mom and pop stores. The Joseph and Sons furniture store comes to mind as does Jam’s stationary, and the Paris Shoe Store.
One of the most unique stores on the avenue was the Manhattan Furrier (695 Manhattan Ave.) The owner, Irving Feller, was a character who loved art. He sketched in the back of his store that not only featured furs, but also Navajo Native American silver jewelry that he purchased at a fraction of its value from reservation pawnshops. A lady was trying to make a documentary about Feller a few years back, but I do not know if she succeeded. There were ridiculously cheap, but good Polish restaurants that could not pay the rent and ended up going out of business such as Happy End and Lomsynianka. In mid-December 2018 Mazur Meat Market closed with no signs of reopening.
While we are on the subject of vanished Polish businesses we must recall the Wedel chocolate shop (772 Manhattan Ave.) on the corner of Meserole and the Green Farms Market, which closed last fall.
There was also a Polish camera store near the corner of Nassau and Manhattan avenues that had cool vintage cameras in the windows. There are a host of others. Finally, there were even businesses that were a little bizarre like the Chinese place that made Mexican food Yummy Taco (941 Manhattan Ave.), but it also closed.
Today the avenue is transformed and many businesses cater to millennials. Greenpoint has to be one of the best places in the world to get your nails done. I cannot count how many nail salons we now have and we also seem to have a growing number of Chinese massage joints. Coffee shops have sprung up like mushrooms and do I even have to mention Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks? There are a number of newer bars like Lake Street, Sunshine Laundromat and Troost just to name a few. Back in the day, there were few foreign restaurants in Greenpoint, but one was a Chinese place on the corner of Meserole. The avenue has at least four Thai places and a number of other ethnic restaurants that offer a huge choice of good eats. The quality of bars and restaurants is far higher than it was a quarter century ago, but then again so are the prices. It is now hard for local businesses to make ends meet because of the prohibitive rents. 25 years ago, rents were cheap and businesses could pass their savings on to their customers. Today with high rents business owners must cover their costs with higher prices. What will the avenue be like 25 years in the future? I hope I am around to tell you.