John Chu is the manager of H & C Bakery, which has been serving up roast pork buns, ham and egg croissants and the like for the past three years at its location off of 70th Street. When asked how business was, he simply said, “so-so.”
“Before there were lots of pizzerias here and lots of bakeries,” he explained. “Now, it’s lots of 99 cent stores.”
The times they are a changin’, so the song goes and such is the case for the stretch of 18th Avenue in the heart of Bensonhurst. Longtime neighborhood institutions such as Cristoforo Colombo Bakery and Gino’s Focacceria have shut down, owners saying that business just wasn’t the same.
Popular chains, including Mandee’s and Blockbuster Video, are also in the process of closing their doors while new ones – like trendy yogurt shop Red Mango, coming to 66th Street – are popping up.
Also sprouting up are new businesses, like the Brooklyn Center for Musical Arts, One Stop Wedding Studio and 18 Bakery Inc.
But one particular block – between 70th Street and Bay Ridge Avenue – will eventually have three shuttered storefronts in a row: Cristoforo Colombo Bakery, HSBC Bank and Blockbuster.
“The neighborhood has completely changed,” said Sayed Akhter, who co-owns Michelle’s Boutique Hosiery off of 67th Street, adding that the store has been open for 20 years. “We would like to move, but it’s not easy. Things used to be good.”
Antonio Garitano owns Little Records near 62nd Street. His shop is filled with shirts that say “Italia,” and old movies and records from overseas. He said that he had sold the location and will close within three months.
“The Chinese don’t buy Italian stuff much. The Italians all moved to Staten Island, New Jersey, Long Island and Florida,” Garitano explained. “I’m here working for nothing.”
A and L Pizzeria has been on the corner of 61st Street for decades. One of the employees, who only could give his first name, John, said, “We are struggling.”
Alongside spinach rolls and calzones on the menu are also tacos, nachos and tortas, a testament to the neighborhood’s changing face.