SUNSET PARK — Happy Days appear to be coming to an end in Sunset Park.
The popular children’s clothing store Happy Days, 4802 Fifth Ave., a neighborhood staple, is shutting its doors after 25 years.
The store is expected to close for good some time in January, according to the staff.
The likely closing is a blow to locals who shop at the store, as the commercial strip continues to change.
“It’s always a great loss when one of these familiar stores, that so many people have shopped at for generations, leaves the neighborhood,” David Estrada, executive director of the Sunset Park Business Improvement District, told this paper. “Sometimes they’re corporate chains like Payless Shoes or Petland. Other times, a business operator or a family-run business makes a decision to change what they’re doing.”
Last year, the store put up signs suggesting it was going out of business; however, this time around, it seems like it will really happen.
“Happy Days had a run-up to a possible closing last year and I think they came to some terms in extending a bit, but clearly didn’t make a commitment to a long-term lease,” Estrada said. “Happy Days will be a loss because a lot of families rely on the value-price clothing, especially for kids. They have a great selection. I’ve shopped there myself. My kids will be running around with clothes from Happy Days for a good long while.”
For some residents, the store’s impending closure is the end of an era. Many put up sad face emojis on social media.
“Aww my Son grew up on clothes from there,” said one shopper.
“Oh no… why are they closing.. they have been my kids ‘go to’ forever!” said another.
Nor is Happy Days the only store along the thoroughfare to close. Estrada noted that the hardware store at 57th Street and Fifth Avenue recently closed when the owner retired. In addition, he said, popular eatery, International Restaurant also recently shuttered.
“It was another multi-generational family fixture in the neighborhood,” he said.
Estrada, who has been executive director of the BID for over a year, has noticed a trend in Sunset Park that is also playing out in other parts of the city, namely that stores that also have second floor or basement space are feeling pressure because of the cost of their lease.
They “don’t make the same economic sense that they did a decade ago when some of these leases were established,” he said. “A number of stores are making critical decisions about whether they can keep that big of a footprint and that’s not always because of landlords. That’s often because of online shopping and changing shopping patterns among customers. That’s why it’s so important, when you live in a neighborhood, that you spend a dollar in that neighborhood. That dollar is going to stay in the neighborhood and multiply because of local workers and supplies the store needs.”
But, he stressed, it’s not all bad news for the BID as new local small businesses come in.
“We’ve seen some successes,” he said. “Judy’s Coffee Shop is coming up on a year anniversary. Other restaurants are thriving.”
The stores on Fifth Avenue in Sunset Park are truly neighborhood retailers.
“These are everyday shops,” he said. “This isn’t a Fulton Mall or downtown Manhattan. I’m sure people come outside the neighborhood as destination shoppers because there are great deals, whether artisanal crafts from Puebla or specialty foods or discount clothing, but a lot of the day-to-day commerce that we see are local residents meeting their immediate needs with merchants that have adapted to them over time.
“The stores that we’ve seen recently offer goods and services and food that fit the needs of the local population,” Estrada stressed. “That’s why we want to see the new stores that come in reflect the needs of the folks that live in the neighborhood. It’s always sad when someone decides to go. But every new leasehold is an opportunity to see what’s going to be successful in the neighborhood and how it’s going to work.”
One change, said Estrada, reflects the neighborhood’s history.
“There is a trend in some buildings in Sunset Park to return to the way they were two generations ago with residential or professional services on the second floor and retail occupying the ground and basement floors,” he said. “That’s probably what we will see with some of these locations. In some buildings, there are market rate apartments going upstairs that are reflective of the old certificate of occupancy.”
So, what does the future hold?
Back in August, the Department of City Planning (DCP) released “Assessing Storefront Vacancy in NYC,” a new report offering a detailed exploration of recent retail trends and storefront vacancies in New York City in the context of shifting technology, economic forces and consumer preferences. The most data-driven, in-depth look at these issues to date, the study surveyed shopping corridors in 24 neighborhoods across the five boroughs
“In an ever-changing city where neighborhood shopping is an important facet of urban life, it’s crucial that we put as much reliable data as possible into the hands of business owners, residents, policy makers and elected officials. DCP’s research shows that the reasons for storefront vacancies are complex and varied and that solutions must be nuanced and targeted — or we may do more harm than good. And, encouragingly, our research also reveals that many community shopping districts are thriving,” said DCP Director Marisa Lago.
Although Sunset Park wasn’t one of the neighborhoods in the study, among the takeaways were the fact that retail is changing rapidly across the city and the country. Vacancy rates are volatile, the study says, varying from neighborhood to neighborhood and street to street, and reflect a variety of factors, including local and citywide market forces and spending patterns.
Estrada remains optimistic.
“Closings hurt, but because of the buildings and landlords we have, I see the neighborhood we have changing but continuing to serve the local residents, and that’s the key,” Estrada said.