One way to get to know a neighborhood is by exploring its buildings. So we did. This story is part of a series in The Brooklyn Ink on some of the structures in the borough, and what they tell us about the life in and around them.
The bleak, boarded-up building at 8121 New Utrecht Ave. in Brooklyn is typical of changes in Bensonhurst. The space, which once housed a generic supermarket staple, is slated to become the latest location of a growing, specialty food franchise.
Waldbaum’s, the supermarket that once occupied this brown-bricked building for 37 years, closed its doors last November, allowing the owners of J-Mart, an Asian grocery store, to secure the space in a winning bid, as reported in the The Brooklyn Bean. J-Mart is slated to open in early 2017.
The closing was the result of bankruptcy at The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, Waldbaum’s parent company, also known as A&P. According to The Wall Street Journal, A&P filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this past July.
Though Waldbaum’s has occupied the New Utrecht Ave. space for quite some time, the supermarket’s land lease appeared to be on tenuous ground a few years ago. A 2013 Massey Knakal real estate flyer advertising the building’s commercial space for rent described the then current lessee as “affiliates of Waldbaums” whose lease was set to expire that December.
But Waldbaum’s hung on, at least for a while. A property deed search on the New York City Department of Finance website indicates that various LLC’s associated with the Waldbaum’s chain continued holding the lease until the bankruptcy. The most recent lessees are Utrech 18 LLC and 8121 Property LLC.
The building, which sits on 60,288 square feet of commercially zoned land, has been vacant since November, and The Bensonhurst Bean reported that its parking lot has become a dumping ground for trash. This development, as well as the impending demolition associated with the building in preparation for J-Mart’s arrival, has angered some residents (it is unclear if the entire building is set for demolition or merely components of it). Residents have complained about the demolition at various meetings of Community Board 11, the local governing body of Bensonhurst. At a meeting last February, for example, Jodie Sparacio argued that demolition of this magnitude should not be conducted in a residential area.
The New York City Department of Buildings lists three formal complaints about the building: its lack of handicap accessibility (2011), plumbing that was not up to code (2008), and the initiation of construction work without a permit (2005). These complaints appear to have been settled and there are no active building violations associated with the property.
Some Bensonhurst residents are also upset over J-Mart securing the building, as they feel the Asian grocer will not carry many everyday staples and American-style foods. At Community Board meetings, residents pointed to the overall paucity of neighborhood supermarkets and the limited shopping options. Some launched a social media campaign last fall to express their frustration; a campaign that according to The Besonhurst Bean featured some racist commentary against Asian Americans.
Brooklyn Councilman Mark Treyger, who represents the Bensonhurst area, addressed such comments at a February Community Board meeting, saying that they would not be tolerated in the community. Moreover, he raised another significant issue at the meeting: the loss of 70 local jobs as a result of the Waldbaum’s closing. The Councilman’s spokesperson, Eric Faynberg, said Treyger had voiced his concerns about lost jobs to the owners of J-Mart.