WHAT YOU DONT SEE IS WHAT YOU GET by Lou Cespedes
A funny thing has been happening on the way home from work. When I’m on the train heading toward Flatbush Junction, more and more often, I see black folk coming home with bags from Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. This is extraordinary for two reasons. First, that’s a long trek for groceries even within Brooklyn. Second, it means that people are willing to invest time and money to buy what they cannot get locally. My point; we have money but we don’t have options in E. Flatbush.
There are deeper underlying issues that require a diagnostic analysis which I will provide here. It has to do not only with the quality and size of available retail spaces (which I discussed previously) but also with an erroneous perception of what type of services our E. Flatbush demographic deserves. Simply put, there is a belief we deserve low quality services and experiences because that’s all we can afford. Consequently, this belief results in a form of repeatable mono-commerce that I find offensive; Liquor stores, bodegas, 99 cent stores, churches, beauty salons, Jamaican bakeries, Chinese food, Laundromats, mobile phone dealers, check cashing, and repeat ad-nauseam. There is no diversity in the services or goods offered in our community. There is not a private sit-down restaurant within a mile of my house. If I want to have a date night with my wife, I either go to Franklin Ave on the subway or walk to Ditmas. This is SO wrong and tragic.
Additionally, this belief causes a catastrophic cascading effect that I call “what you DON’T see is what you get”. A simple illustration will suffice here:
On any given week we may order our household needs from any variety of providers, Fresh Direct, Food Kick, Prime. That may not strike you, but we are only one household. If you factor in that thousands of households are doing this, and you add take-out orders on Seamless or Grubhub, what becomes evident is we are siphoning millions of dollars out of our own community because what we need IS NOT HERE. Those dollars are flowing to neighboring communities, Ditmas, Crown Heights, Lefferts, anywhere within a 30-minute delivery range by car or e-bike.
This is what a ___________ desert looks like! You fill in the blank.
We are hemorrhaging money! Our leaders know this! They are complicit, negligent, or ignorant, but what difference should this make to us? We lose either way; no growth, no jobs, and no future for residents that have been here for decades. If my message is not clear yet, consider this: If you cannot afford to get what you don’t see in your community through internet, this means you probably won’t be in E. Flatbush much longer because you won’t be able to keep pace with the cost of living to satisfy your basic needs.
Translation: By not seeking business development in our community, our leaders are instead invested in our failure.
As I write this article Community Board 17 is looking to change the zoning in our community to single-family homes. This unsustainable and unthinkable change in zoning will make homes in our community affordable to only millionaires. If passed, our property values would plummet while our taxes soar. When coupled with larger mixed-use developments on Nostrand, Rogers, and Church Avenues, the tax implications and spike in housing costs will be devastating to long time residents. They won’t be pushed out; they will be crushed!
Agencies like NYC Small Business Administration and much touted MWBE Programs, or the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, are not providing any real or tangible help. We have no Community Development Corp to partner and invest in new businesses, and we have no Business Improvement District north of Flatbush Junction – and even that BID is an epic failure.
It must be asked – What are our leaders doing as our community slowly slips from our hands?
I write for my community because G-d allowed me to be here and blessed me with the opportunity, knowledge and ability to communicate. I’m relatively new to this community and it is difficult to discuss these realities. Yet, it is my purpose as a leader, a homeowner and entrepreneur to educate and promote my community. What does it mean then that those that have been here much longer than I are unable to see and respond with solutions to save our community and grow our commercial base?
It simply means there is no leadership, in either business or politics, in E. Flatbush. This is a lethal combination in any community. We are not being led to success, but rather led through a managed phase out and break up of our community by the very people we’ve elected.
Sadly, here my maxim also rings true. What you DON’T see is what you get.