Turning a Page In Cobble Hill

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The neighborhood is losing bookstores and gaining realtors. Not everybody likes the story.

 

Cobble Hill, the Brooklyn’s neighborhood known for its nostalgic, Woody Allen-esque-version of-New York-City appeal, has been going through a real identity change. Exhibit A: Two local bookstores on Court Street, only a 1,000 feet apart, have closed or announced they are about to close. One of them will be replaced by a real estate agency, one of the many that have been proliferating.

When John Scioli, owner of the illustrious Community Bookstore—a shop at 212 Court Street that The New York Times called “a place to rummage and ruminate, a place for treasure hunters and lost souls”—shut its doors in May, major New York outlets like The Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker wrote about it, as did many local Brooklyn papers. They did so for a reason, as Community Bookstore was no ordinary bookstore.

Where

Where Community Bookstore used to be, and where a new real estate agency will replace it. (Igor Bosilkovski/ The Brooklyn Ink)

In the store, thousands of books were simply laid on the ground, piling up to human-sized walls. Scioli, who had owned the building since 1985 when he bought it for $500,000, lived in it. The bookstore was basically an extension of his home. “He constantly said he was in fear of waking up one morning and having a pile of books fall on top of him and not being able to get up and dying in the bookstore without anybody knowing,” said Danny Murphy, manager of Layla Jones, a small, local Italian restaurant, and a next door neighbor to Scioli for the past 10 years.

On the other hand, “If you said ‘Hey I’m looking for True at First Light by Hemingway,’ John would go right away, shove his hand in a pile of books, and yank it out. The man had a very weird, ingenious way of remembering where everything was,” Murphy said.

Scioli, however, is nowhere to be found lately. In May this year, after selling the building in 2015 to Dr. David Sitt for $5.5 million, he moved out.

Not a full year later, the building will soon get new tenants: The real estate firm Compass.

The problem? Many Cobble Hill residents moved or live in Cobble Hill precisely for the neighborhood’s charm and culture, a part of which seems to be disappearing in the rapid transition.

Nora, who has lived in the neighborhood for seven years, was walking Court Street—and buying only from locally-owned stores. She said that she was “supper bummed” about the closing of Community Bookstore. (She did not want to supply her last name.) “When I moved in Cobble Hill it was really cool,” she said. “And real estate is getting more and more expensive where there’s less and less fun independent stores.”

The influx of real estate agencies, Nora said, doesn’t bring much amusement to the neighborhood. “They don’t feel special and they don’t make this neighborhood feel like a special place that you would want to go to, that only exists in New York,” she said. Nor do they bring “any sense of community.”

Dr. Sitt said Compass and his company, 212 Court Street Realty LLC, signed the lease at the end of October, and that Compass had approached him before his company started marketing the building. “It’s a bustling residential neighborhood and there is a large need for brokers,” Dr. Sitt said. “It’s just throwing a hat in an area that they determine is one that is fertile.”

Patrick Brennan, senior managing director for Compass, agreed. “Cobble Hill is such a beautiful neighborhood and centrally located, so it was high on the list among our agents as a prime retail presence,” he wrote in an email.

The building is under reconstruction, and Compass is expected to move in in the first quarter of 2017, with office space that will take up more than 2,000 square feet on two levels. According to Brennan, next year the office is expected to host 40 to 50 agents.

Some of Compass’ neighbors in the immediate vicinity will be other real estate agencies, like Ideal Properties Group at 232 Court St., Douglas Elliman on 189 Court St., Halstead Property at 162 Court St., and CORE Real Estate at 180 Smith St.

That’s a lot of realtors. Danny Murphy, the manager of the next-door restaurant, Layla Jones, isn’t particularly happy with the way Cobble Hill is starting to look. “This neighborhood has gone to crap with the real estate agencies,” he said. “All the small businesses are closing down. We lost four businesses that have been here for 15 plus years in the last year alone because their landlords decided to double up on the lease.”

Ellynne Skove, who has lived in Carroll Gardens, which is just down the street from Cobble Hill, for 32 years, is one of the people who feel like a local bookstore for a real estate agency—or any store that’s part of a chain—is not a good trade. “I can go to Manhattan or a mall for that,” she said. “That’s not why I live in this neighborhood.”

In the meantime, on December 6th, another iconic bookstore on Court Street, BookCourt, announced that it will also close down. “After 35 years of rewarding work, we have made the decision to retire from bookselling and close BookCourt,” read the public statement signed by BookCourt’s owners, Henry M. Zook and Mary B. Gannett. (A local resident, Emma Straub, says she and her husand will try to open a new small bookstore to fill the void.)

BookCourt’s building was bought for $13.6 million by Eastern Capital. The last day of business for the store will be December 31st.

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