By Rob Abruzzese
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The historic Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights is a very unusual street. On one end stands the huge civic center of Borough Hall, on the other is the promenade, while the four blocks in between are comprised of restaurants and retail stores that feature beautiful architecture.
Adding to Montague Street's uniqueness is the fact that several of the commercial spaces on the block are not actually on street level - many of them are above or below on the parlor level, the garden level, or even on the second floor.
“This is the way the street has always been and because it's landmarked, it hasn't changed over the years,” said Montague Street BID's Executive Director Brigit Pinnell. “It makes it a great place to shop because there are more shops on the block than there would otherwise be, and you get to enjoy the beautiful architecture of an old historic neighborhood while you are out."
Many shops on the block play up this historic feel.
“If you are in a historic landmarked building, you can take advantage of the architectural details and accentuate it in your layout," said Doctor Stuart Freedman, owner of Heights Vision. "I didn't want a modern looking office in an old building, so we came up with a nice, creative presentation and our patients have really grown to appreciate the historical throwback."
Typically, the street level stores are always the most sought after, as they are the most accessible for patrons and easiest for product deliveries. That doesn't mean that being off street level is a bad thing, though; in fact, most shop owners like the charm it brings.
Estela Johannesen, who owns James Weir Floral Co., explained that when she moved into the shop's current location, she worried about the steps leading down into the shop. However, she said that in the seven or eight years she has been at that location, she has never had a problem.
“The steps have not been a problem at all,” Johannesen said. “We have to help people sometimes getting up or down, but that's become part of our service and people have never had a problem with it.”
Juan Rivera, who owns the houseware and hardware store Variety Mart, said that his family has always embraced being downstairs.
“It's unique.” said Rivera. “That's the way the store has always been and it helps people remember us. We used to even have it on our sign: 'Three steps down.'”
Second floor storeowners have said that on occasion they face problems involving deliveries or people having trouble getting up the stairs, but ultimately they seem to embrace the difference.
“I love this space,” said Jennifer Hanser, a manager at Area Yoga. “It's nice to be able to practice and not have to see people on the street walking by. We've even had pre-natal classes here before and we had to help some women up and down the stairs, but it has never been a problem.”
Many have also remarked that they especially love dining in the second floor restaurants that provide a better view of the street than if they were on the street level.
Of course, the different levels come with different rents. Danny Korzeniewski of Brooklyn Landmark explained that the cost per square foot is about $100 - $120 per square foot, depending on the size of the space. Street level shops are the most expensive, the garden level shops comparable if only slightly cheaper, and the second floor shops are usually the least expensive.
Korzeniewski also explained that many of the street level shops are the largest spaces, making them even more expensive. “That's why you see a lot of the street level spaces have chain stores in them, because the independent business owners often can't afford them,” he said.
"Usually if any commercial customers have any doubts, they are squashed," said Joann Livia of Brownstone Real Estate. "They quickly realize that the unique qualities of the street draw extra foot traffic, and with proper customer service they can overcome any issues that may arise. Who wouldn't want to be on Montague Street?"