Where Did All the Truckers Go?

THE NEW YORK TIMES — March 16, 2008

“They’re going to call Gowanus ‘West Park Slope’ or ‘East Carroll Gardens,’ ” a local potter said.

“They’re going to call Gowanus ‘West Park Slope’ or ‘East Carroll Gardens,’ ” a local potter said.

TEN years ago, when a Bay Ridge businessman named Emmanuel Maropakis bought a former metal fabrication factory on a desolate strip of Third Avenue at Sixth Street in Gowanus, he thought he could make a few dollars renting the place out for storage.

The immediate surroundings were not promising: Local commerce included the South Brooklyn Casket Company, a pasta factory and a fairly active drug trade.

“It was all empty, empty, empty, except for the prostitutes,” Mr. Maropakis recalled one day recently as he stood in his building and wiped his hands on his paint-spattered pants.

But when he heard last year that a luxury condominium and a boutique hotel were planned for this stretch of Third Avenue, he got a better idea.

Just before Christmas, he started transforming the old factory into a sprawling pizza and barbecue restaurant, with nearly 300 seats. Mr. Maropakis’s most recent addition is a brick oven he built, which can cook 1,000 pounds of meat at a time.

Not everyone in the neighborhood shares his enthusiasm. In fact, about a month ago, when Mr. Maropakis spray-painted the words “Brick oven bar-be-que” on the plywood covering one of the windows, some people who work in the area thought it was a joke.

“I can’t imagine what it’s doing here,” said Adrienne Yurick, a potter whose studio is half a block away.

In the last couple of years, the high-end boutiques, cafes and restaurants that transformed Fifth Avenue have been spilling onto Fourth Avenue. But few residents expected Third Avenue to start going upscale so quickly, and some are already fearful that Park Slope and Carroll Gardens will merge to form one big brownstone Brooklyn neighborhood.

“They’re going to call Gowanus ‘West Park Slope’ or ‘East Carroll Gardens,’ ” Ms. Yurick said with a grimace. “It’s a joke. This is a truck route.”

The first major sign of gentrification on Third Avenue arrived in the beginning of February, when Bar Tano, an Italian restaurant with large glass windows and a bar that serves 40 types of Scotch, opened at Ninth Street in an abandoned storefront opposite a tire repair shop. Entrees include braised short-rib sandwiches with caramelized onions and homemade potato chips for $15, not exactly the plate of chicken and rice on the menu for $4.50 at Sonia’s, a Latino restaurant across the street.

A few blocks down, an old bodega is being transformed into a nightclub by Turan Kiremitci, who owned the former after-hours spot Save the Robots in the East Village. On Seventh Street near Third Avenue, the owners of Union Hall, a bar near Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, are opening a bar and performance space in a former warehouse.

Flirt, a boutique that has branches in Carroll Gardens and Park Slope, started offering sewing classes seven months ago in a classroom on Third Avenue between Carroll and First Streets. And a coffee shop is under construction in what used to be a beloved old Italian grocery on Third Avenue at President Street.

The real transformation, people in the neighborhood suggest, will come when Whole Foods opens a 68,000-square-foot market on Third Street and Third Avenue. Environmental problems on the site have delayed the project, but Whole Foods is pressing ahead.

Tony Nunez, who works as a cook at Sonia’s, has already noticed changes on Third Avenue since the arrival of Bar Tano, among them a decline in the number of prostitutes on the street.

“Now, maybe there’s just one, and I haven’t seen her in a while,” Mr. Nunez said. “They’ve all gone over to Second Avenue.”


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