Lowe’s Is Heading to Brooklyn


By Katerina Zachovalova


Monday through Friday during the working hours, the run-down streets of Brooklyn’s Lower Park Slope neighborhood roar and rumble.  Trucks fill its streets and small-to-medium-size manufacturers pollute air with debris, dust and noise.  Aggressive sounds of grinding and welding in ironworks and car-repair shops invade the nearby streets.  


But despite their surroundings, local residents who live in houses which had been built before this area was zoned as manufacturing enjoy to live here. “Manufacturers are good neighbors.  They are quiet during nights and weekends. More people park here during the day, but that is in the time when we are not here anyway,” said community activist and attorney Ben Meskin, 42, who has lived in the neighborhood for almost 13 years.


Ben Meskin and his wife Angela bought a one-family house on 11th Street two years ago.  While an unpleasant odor from a custom jewelry factory spill into Meskins’ backyard garden on weekdays, Angela plants flowers there during calm weekends. But, as a large home improvement retail chain Lowe’s makes plans to locate its first Brooklyn store on a long-abandoned site a block from their house, Meskins worry that the weekend idyll will be ruined.


Although the local residents and businesses agree that the site calls for development, they do not share the same opinion about who should become their new neighbor.  The homeowners who tolerate noisy and polluting factories fear that a large retail store may worsen the quality of their life.


“Traffic is always a problem around here,” said Ben Meskin.  He assumes that shoppers will invade neighborhood in the evenings and on weekends, and the nearby streets will roar and rumble even in the times when they are usually silent.  “Traffic is like water. It finds its own level. You can’t just say we will put it on this street. It will be everywhere,” he added. Meskin said that Lowe’s might become very attractive because a two-year-old Home Depot is close to Lowe’s site.  “It will create synergy. People will come and run back and forth. If they do not find something in the first one, they will find it in the other,” he said. Meskin prefers an industrial park or senior housing to a large retail store.


Since late 1990s, Lowe’s is the third candidate for a heavily polluted nine acre site between 10th and 12th streets on Second Avenue.  The plans to build a cinema complex or an IKEA retail store fell through.  A coal-processing plant producing gas operated on the site until 1940s.  Gas was made in underground tanks.  Its byproducts, benzene and other toxic pollutants, leaked to the soil around them and sat there for more than a half century.  Site’s developer, Forest City Ratner, is removing the polluted soil at a cost of several million dollars.  Once the clean-up is completed in mid September, said a source close to the negotiations, the company will buy the site from its owner, the US Postal Service.  Then Lowe’s is expected to move in on a lease.


In a telephone interview, Lowe’s spokesman said that the company still has to decide which site in Brooklyn it will use.  Nevertheless, Lowe’s has met community groups twice to calm their concerns and accommodate their needs.  Retailer promised that delivery trucks will not drive on small residential streets.  The company said it will plant a tree in the middle of each four parking spaces in its 500-car parking lot, build a green strip lining 10th Street and a public walkway along Gowanus Canal. “We usually hire 175 to 200 local employees in our stores,” said company’s spokesman Matthew Van Vleet.


Unlike homeowners, the local businesses are not afraid of Lowe’s, if they do not welcome it.  “It is good for our neighborhood.  More people will come here and shop,” said Raimond Duran, 35, who works as a salesclerk at Altagracia Grocery on the corner of Third Avenue and 12th Street. 


Peter Leopoldi, 37, a manager of a family-owned Leopoldi Hardware store on Fifth Avenue said he thinks Lowe’s will not have any effect on their business.  “If you run your business in a right way, you should be OK,” he said.  Home Depot did not hurt the store his father, Joe, opened shortly before his son was born 37 years ago. According to Leopoldi, the key is to stay competitive.  “Variety of products, competitive prices and knowledge,” he listed the main points, “many people who work in stores like Lowe’s do not know anything about the product.  I have been around the store my whole life, and it is my advantage.”


            Leopoldi’s customers seem to be resistant to retail chain store enticements.  Park Slope resident Faith McLellan, 41, belongs among them: “We hate Lowe’s idea. We like this store here. Can you go to Lowe’s and get your key fixed? No way!”