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For displaced, misplaced, and nostalgic ex-Brooklynites

Survey No. 9: Shopping in Brooklyn

Fulton Street, Flatbush Avenue, the local schmata store...boy did you know how to shop! Growing up in Brooklyn was a testament to the resourcefulness of the financially challanged, to use some nineties terminology. This survey examined where and how you shopped in Brooklyn. At first, the response was slow, but at the end of the two weeks during which the survey was open, we received a flurry of submissions on this topic, and just about everyone had a special shopping memory to share. The number of unique, usable responses was 132. Thanks to all who participated.

A number of responses contained references to restaurants (both eat-in and take-out). This survey wasn't intended to include them as part of the shopping experience, so they won't be mentioned here.

Which of the following did you shop for in your immediate neighborhood?
(Multiple responses were allowed, so the sum of percentages will exceed 100)

Total ResponsesPercentage
Books and Magazines9169%
Groceries (Fresh)12494%
Groceries (Packaged)10580%
Records (Music)2620%

Here are some of the local "others":

Many also mentioned butchers, bakeries, and fish markets, but I included these in "Fresh Groceries".

Which of the following did you shop for in a specialty "shopping area" of Brooklyn?
(Multiple responses were allowed, so the sum of percentages will exceed 100)

Total ResponsesPercentage
Books and Magazines1914%
Groceries (Fresh)3527%
Groceries (Packaged)2116%
Records (Music)4333%

Here are some of the specialty area "others":

Several people mentioned shlepping down to Sheepshead Bay for fresh fish, and a few also mentioned special neighborhoods where they shopped for kosher foods. I added these to "Fresh Groceries".

Was your block regularly visited by truck-based vendors?

Total ResponsesPercentage
Don't Know2317%

In your opinion, what area of Brooklyn offered the best shopping opportunities?

Get out your black leather jacket, because it looks like it's the "Kings" vs. the "Fultons" on this one. About 80 percent of the responses were split right down the middle between "downtown" Brooklyn (Fulton Street) and Kings Highway. Here are some of the other areas that were mentioned as favorites. Only those mentioned more than twice are listed here:

Briefly share one or two reasons that you feel made shopping in Brooklyn unique.

Many responses shared a common thread: friendly, homey service and ambience, diversity, and ethnicity. However, the presence in Brooklyn of the Manhattan-type department stores was also a favorite memory. Here are some other comments:

How do you feel about the following statement:
There were no "upscale" shopping areas in Brooklyn because there were no "upscale" people.

Total ResponsesPercentage
Totally agree2620%
Not sure1612%
Totally Disagree2015%

If you had a time machine, what one store would you "give anything" to revisit today? Why?

Considering the popularity of "downtown" Brooklyn, it was no surprise to find A&S and Mays so frequently mentioned. However, just like the responses to this survey for ex-Bronxites, Korvettes was high on the list as well. Completely unlike the Bronx folks, you ex-Brooklynites were much more sentimental about clothing, school supplies, and toys. (Bronxites mentioned small, local delis or appetizer stores most frequently as their wishful destinations.)
Here is a list of all the stores that were mentioned in at least 2 responses (in no particular order):

(Junior's was mentioned several times, but it's a restaurant, not a store.)

Since leaving Brooklyn, have you gone back specifically to shop there?

Total ResponsesPercentage

Considering all aspects of the shopping experience, how would you compare today's shopping malls with the neighborhood shopping areas you grew up with?

Total ResponsesPercentage
Malls are better2116%
Malls are worse4030%
They're about the same54%
Malls are better in some ways,
worse in others
Not sure64%

Where the Bronx had "Uptown" (and Alexander's), Brooklyn had "downtown" (and A&S). A subway trip to Fulton Street, lunch at Junior's, and beating the racks for those off-season bargains was a ritual enjoyed by many who responded to this survey. And yet, as popular as the downtown area was, many shared fond memories of the local candy store, the bakery, the mom-and-pop grocery that was only a short stroll from their building's stoop. If you didn't get your Keds® at one of the myriad shoe stores on Flatbush or Fifth Avenue or in Kings Plaza, then it was at that little local store where the salesman knew your name. Perhaps like any city, Brooklyn was a collection of little villages, each with its own shopping area catering to the needs of the locals.

You certainly won't find the ethnic diversity, personal attention, or that musty familiar smell in the mega-malls that are too rapidly eradicating the small neighborhood shops. As Paul Simon wrote, "Preserve your memories; they're all that's left you...".

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©1999 SofTech Consulting, Chappaqua, NY, USA