Forgotten Storefronts in Williamsburg

I’m always on the lookout for the remnants of old storefronts. You can pretty much find them in any residential area that has gone through a period of economic decline, and Williamsburg is no exception. One in particular I’ve always wondered about is at the corner of North 5th Street and Berry Street…

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Now boarded up and most likely part of an apartment, this was clearly some sort of establishment at one time. But what?

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I was looking through BrooklynPix.com, an incredible site with hundreds of Brooklyn pictures spanning the past century, and happened to find a picture of the intersection taken in 1960 showing it as a bar & grill.

Picture courtesy BrooklynPix.com – Check out the site
for hundreds of amazing Brooklyn pictures

Incredibly, if you follow the roofline, you’ll see that very little has changed on the block in the ensuing 50 years.

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Wish I could read the name of the bar. I also wish New York still had those awesome one-way signs.

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I’m curious at what point the windows were shuttered over. Are the window frames left over from the last bar on the premises?

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I wouldn’t be surprised if the lanterns date back to its bar days as well:

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Next to the bar is another storefront space – perhaps a continuation of the bar? Or maybe a separate retail store:

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My absolute favorite former storefront in Williamsburg is the old barber shop on Driggs Ave btw. North 7th & 8th Streets.

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Frankly, it almost seems too perfect, like someone knowingly hung the American flag and broken barber pole. Regardless, it’s a beautiful storefront, and I can only assume the owner is sitting on it until the right price is offered.

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The broken barber pole:

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I love the segmented blocks – I hope this eventually gets restored.

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It’s funny where these old shops turn up. Here’s one on North 4th Street between Bedford & Berry in an otherwise generic apartment…

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…But if you look closely at it, you’ll see some neat details in the woodwork:

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These arches hold up the windows (though most of the design elements have been lost under smears of paint):

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Spiraling poles border the windows:

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One more I’ve always wondered about can be found at Grand Street and Bedford Ave. Of all the places I’ve mentioned, it boggles my mind that this hasn’t been opened yet as a store or restaurant.

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Two enormous columns, big corner picture windows on each side…

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…and a really neat wreath encircling a window above the front door.

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And hey, while I’m in the neighborhood, one of my absolute favorite Brooklyn storefronts, and a great example of what all of the above could become with a bit of elbow grease:

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Got a favorite storefront relic in New York? Post in the comments!

-SCOUT

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28 comments

  1. When you say “segmented blocks,” I think you’re referring to the dentil?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dentil

  2. There are a few storefronts like this on 84th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues in Manhattan. I saw them a couple of years ago and was amazed that they were still around.

  3. Slightly off topic, but in the wide shot of Bedford and Grand, did you talk to the two guys sitting on the front step? before…during…after shooting them? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had “non-combatants” freak out when they just happened to be in the shots I was taking.

    (Worst one was shooting a pan on Houston Street and some guy comes screaming at me because he thought his wife had hired me to keep tabs on him. When I got the shots printed, I realized he’d been charging me from the first shot in the pan and he was in every single frame, shaking his fist and getting ready to go ballistic on me.)

  4. The Bedford Cheese shop – although a lovely shop – painted over one of my favorite signs from the previous storefront that was “Downer’s Pharmacy”. Can’t get better than that! Here is a photo I found: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lady3jane/141580152/

  5. I love that storefront on Driggs. If you peek in the alley way, it looks like there might be a house in the backyard as well.

  6. I had someone “go ballistic” on me once as I shot a pan at Lex and 76th. Insane homeless guy. He punched me in the face while I still had the camera up to my face. A little blood. I waited for a cop, and pointed out the maniac. Cop asked me if I wanted him to tell the guy to move it along and I said, No, I want you to arrest him! Cop called for backup, the guy got arrested, and a couple weeks later I got a call from an ADA who said they’d found crack and a big old knife on the guy and that he was going to be going away for a stretch.

  7. Also in Williamsburg: 13 Conselyea St, halfway between Union and Lorimer Sts. “Italian Bakery” still carved on the front of the building (visible via googlemaps street view), though no longer occupied by a bakery, if anyone.

  8. I live directly across the street from the storefront on Driggs, and I see people stopping to photograph it all the time. Still have no idea what the story behind the building is, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s fixed up and turned in to a boutique or something soon.

  9. Hi Nick,
    I want to thank you :). I just came back from a trip to New York and thanks to you, I checked out a couple of cool things while I was there :) – things that no one else told me about.
    I realize I have to go back to New York more often – I so love the mix of old and new there! And I’ll be sure to take more pointers from your blog.
    Once again, thank you :)

  10. Around 1940, NYC’s friendly tax folks took pictures of every building in the five boros. I know of no way to access them on the Internet. But if you are armed with the block and lot numbers, you can haul into Manhattan, view them on microfilm, and purchase prints if you wish. That could answer a lot of history questions. Too bad it is so awkward.

  11. go down flatbush ave, south of empire. there are remnants of amazing buildings that have been painted over, converted to sneaker shops, or just plain abandoned. The best of the lot is Loews Kings Theater but there are other gems in there too.

  12. Both my brother and I went to what was Holy Ghost Ukranian Catholic School on North 5th Street between Bedford and Driggs Avenues in the early-to-mid 1970s. There used to be either a candy store or bar on Bedford between North 4th and 5th Streets whose father had a daughter that was one of my brother’s classmates. The father was killed when the place was bombed by the mob. Boy, has the neighborhood changed. What is now Mugs Alehouse was a real rough neighborhood dive bar 35 years ago. If the present clientele were ever to set foot into what the bar once was, they’d still be finding pieces of them off the piers.

  13. I have to say I was a little sad that the Bedford Cheese Shop got rid of the Downer Pharmacy sign.

  14. I’m pretty sure that the bar at the corner of North 5th and Berry was the original Ship’s Mast. It closed in the early 90s – remember going there once or twice.

    The Driggs barber shop does have a house in the rear – there are a large number of these rear tenements in the neighborhood. There are even a lot of rear houses that have lost their front houses – so they have a huge front yard but no rear yard. Rear tenements used to be very common throughout the city.

    In addition to people not wanting their photo taken, I get a lot of people who WANT me to take their photo. Why? I have no idea – it’s not like I’m ever going to see them again, but they always come up and say “Take my picture.”

  15. Yes, the first establishment on nth 5th and Berry was Gallagher’s Ship Mast, a local bar that closed in 1993 and that made Turkey’s Nest look like a Starbucks. The ceiling and floor were wildly uneven and were never more than seven feet apart. There was always a hot plate of lasagna or some other kind of food in the back and the williamsburg artists that frequented it tended to be closer to 40 than 20 and more often than not covered in fresh paint. Additionally, the bar was featured in the climactic scene of “Laws of Gravity” with a young Edie Falco, Peter Greene and Saul Stein — a fantastically underappreciated gritty drama shot across the then deserted Northside streets. Watch it sometime.

    • Ahh yes, the Ship’s Mast! That’s definitely what used to be at this location, what a wonderful dive. Cartoonist Tony Millionaire practically lived there!

    • The Ship’s Mast was the nexus of Williamsburg in the 90s. There was a free hot buffet, and cheap Guinness. John Gallagher was the proprietor/ barkeep, and his wife Nora Kitten was the barmaid. There was a silver fringe curtain and you never knew what would come out of it. The first time I went, I was thinking it was right out of a David Lynch movie. Maybe 20 minutes later the midget from Twin Peaks came out and danced around; his name was Michael Anderson. The Waterfront Week was a zine that told you where everything was going on that weekend. It featured Tony Millionaire’s Drinky Crow, Spike Vrusho’s beat-poet sports column, and various poetry & short stories. It was edited by a tall transvestite named Medea DeVyce. She would cut & paste (literally!) everything onto an 11×17 inch paper right there on the bar and xerox it in the back room. The other three great early 90s bars were the Right Bank (poetry readings, etc.), Teddy’s ($1 imperial pints of Sierra Nevada on Saturdays), and the Green Room (an apartment with live entertainment on Saturday nights, and if you stayed all night you could have breakfast there). Good times.

  16. Corner of Nostrand Ave and Lincoln Pl. facing Lincoln Pl. A beautiful old shop window that cantilevers out over the sidewalk a foot or two and painted rust red and gold. It’s been empty for years.

  17. I just heard 2 days ago that the place on Bedford and Grand is actually a storage space for a nearby hardware store with a much less desirable location! Why they don’t switch storefronts, I don’t know!

  18. One of my favorite Williamsburg storefronts is Jack’s Cancellation Shoes at 161 Havemeyer St. I don’t know if it’s abandoned but I’ve never seen it open.

    • jacks cancellation and rachels corset over there… I’ve seen jacks open a few times recently, but never rachels. that entire stretch of havemeyer between s1 and s2 is completely abandoned.

  19. Just walked past and remembered a couple more: 286 Graham Ave., and across the street (295?) at the corner of Graham and Powers. The awning/store-front of the former is (was; recently moved) a hair stylist, but the upper facade is bright metallic red, with huge letters: “Jacob M. Aufrecht” …across the street is a laundromat with “Metropolitan Tobacco Co.” across the top of the building. More, as usual, from FNY: http://www.forgotten-ny.com/STREET%20SCENES/manhattan.graham/graham.html

  20. One of my favorite old store fronts is Where the current Artland Bar is located on Grand Street and leonard St. It used to be a Buster Brown Shoe store where I got my first shoes as a kid. My dad also grew up in Williamsburg and he has the craziest stories, like how there used to be a small horse stable on Grand street down by the waterfront which people utilized for big moves. II believe the address is 77 Grand St.

  21. Fantastic pictures of the old neighborhood. My favorite is the barber shop on Driggs Ave Between North 8th and North 7th , where I had many a hair cut as a young boy in the Fifties until we moved to Long Island in 1961. My grand parents lived in the house behind the store, thru the small alley on th right. For a short time my uncle lived in the apartment above the barber shop.

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