Last Thursday afternoon, the Grand Street Business Improvement District (BID) hosted a tour of vacant stores available for rent along Grand Street in East Williamsburg. Roughly 20 retail spaces are currently unoccupied along the six-block stretch between Union and Bushwick avenues.
More than a dozen prospective business and property owners went on the tour, looking at 13 spaces that range in square footage, shape and rent.
Natalie Mendell, program director for the Grand Street BID, said connecting property owners and new businesses helps fill the vacancies and promotes an active corridor.
“It is important because we’re hoping they get leads out of it and get new retail tenants,” she said. “We wanted to make it an easy way to view spaces all in one day.”
Mendell said she hopes the tour spreads awareness about the district to entrepreneurs looking to open up shop along Grand Street.
Lawrence Nathan, founder of the co-working space company Savtha Coworking, said he was interested in the tour because he wanted to see if there were any locations along the strip that would be of interest.
He’s particularly interested in East Williamsburg because of the high volume of freelancers who live and work in the area.
Nathan said when he’s looking at storefronts, he considers a number of factors, including the appearance and shape of the store, how it has been maintained, the size of the windows, and the neighboring stores.
“I like to take that whole context, because that’s really what a customer is going to see,” he said.
Once inside, Nathan said he observes the depth and size of the space, checks to see if it’s the right size for his company, if it has the proper amenities, and how friendly the landlord or broker is.
The biggest challenge in finding a space, Nathan said, is the high rent in commercial properties. He said that’s the main factor limiting most operators from opening up their own shop.
“I think there’s a big divide between what landlords and brokers want and what business owners are willing to pay,” he said.
Shon Shalit from the Bushwick Supper Club, which hosts pop-up dinner events in the borough, said he’s looking to purchase a first brick-and-mortar location. Shalit wants to open a space where the front would be a dive bar and the back would be for dining.
“We’re just trying to see as many places as possible to get an idea of some prices,” he said.
Shalit said the first thing he looks for in a storefront is the shape to get a “feel” for the location.
“I kind of have a concept in my head of how I want to lay it out,” he said. “You walk in, and you see what a place could be. Then I see if it’s in line with what I want or if it isn’t.”
Like Nathan, Shalit said rent is the biggest obstacle. But he said it’s important for him not to compromise when finding the space that fits his vision.
Local entrepreneur Mustafa Hermanstyne, a current partner at Irvine Bottle in Bushwick, also wants to open a new bar/restaurant. He said he’s looking at the Grand Street area because the population is “booming.”
“It’s a good time to have a business model that works,” he said. “I think if you find your niche and you make it work, this could be a great area to have it.”
Hermanstyne said he considers many factors while choosing a site, including how much work he would need to fix the place up, where it’s situated on a block, and how many tenants are in the building.
He said larger spaces are not always optimal because they can be “cookie-cutter,” and many customers prefer smaller spaces with a homey vibe.
Nathan praised the tour as an “amazing initiative” that more BIDs should consider to begin tackling the problem of vacant storefronts.
“I think more areas should do it,” he said. “I think it’s helpful for all parties.”
For more information on the available storefronts, visit GrandStreetBK.org.