Smith Stree + Fifth Avenue = ‘Smifth’

The Brooklyn Paper
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Yes, you are seeing double.

Smith Street and Fifth Avenue are becoming mirror images of one another — thanks to at least half a dozen entrepreneurs opening shops on both streets.

Call it “Smifth Avenue.” Lucia, Something Else, Soula and Flirt, plus chains like Brooklyn Industries and Area Kids, have staked a claim on both streets.

Owners say they’re making life easier for shoppers, not trying to erase Brooklyn’s long-standing neighborhood distinctions.

“We noticed that we had significant numbers of customers who shop on Smith Street, but live in Park Slope and Prospect Heights,” said Soula owner Rick Lee.

In almost all cases, shop owners opened their first outlet on Smith Street before expanding to Fifth Avenue.

“There was an attitude of ‘If we were able to do it on Smith, now we’re able to do it on Fifth,’” said Samantha Delman Caserta, the owner of 3Rliving, a Fifth Avenue shop, and head of the Fifth Avenue Merchants Association.

That’s because the wave of Smith Street restaurant and boutique openings, galvanized by the arrival of the trend-setting restaurant Patois, took off in the late 1990s, a few years before Fifth Avenue got going.

But restaurants like Patois would never have been drawn to Smith were it not for a major rehabilitation of the street and sidewalks earlier in the decade.

Shop owners say Fifth Avenue didn’t have a bellwether like Smith. Instead, it was part of the rising tide that lifted much of the rest of the borough, starting in 2000.

There’s still an imbalance in terms of real-estate prices. On Smith, the average store is 650 square feet, and rents for about $3,000–$4,000, but restaurants and bars pay more. Fifth Avenues prices are lagging, but only slightly.

Those rents are anywhere from 50 to 100 percent more than just five years ago, said Tim King, senior partner at Massey Knakal, a realty services firm. The priciest portion of Smith, from Butler to Union streets puts it in league with some of the borough’s other expensive strips like Montague and Court streets near Borough Hall and Seventh Avenue in Park Slope.

Delman Caserta says the surge in rents might soon stifle the “Smifth” phenomenon, because “rents are pretty high for what a small, independent boutique can afford.”

In some respects, the streets have always had a lot in common, though not necessarily duplicate shops. Before the glitz and glamour remade both streets, mom and pops served the day-to-day needs (and still do) of the neighborhoods, whether it was Paisano’s Meat Market on Smith Street or A&S Pork Store on Fifth Avenue. When people wanted more specialty shopping, they headed to Manhattan, now Gaphattan

“We’ve really nurtured those people on Smith Street,” said Betty Stoltz, director of the South Brooklyn Local Development Corporation, a group that has focused on developing Smith Street. “They were our target audience … because they had already given votes of confidence to the neighborhood by living here.”

Some of these chic homegrown businesses are so well supported that people might wonder if they’re creating a shopping empire.

“We’re all Brooklyn-based businesses. We’re not a large corporate entity,” said Lee, the owner of Soula.

Now their success seems entrenched to the point of creating a horde of Brooklynites in Cobble Hill and Park Slope dressed the same from head to toe, but shoppers are more preoccupied about national chains hijacking their local wardrobes.

“Urban Outfitters is apparently moving onto Atlantic Avenue, which, with the American Apparel on both Court and Smith streets, may start lending a less original vibe to Cobble Hill,” said Astrid Corvin-Brittin.

Updated 4:34 pm, July 9, 2018
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