While the Fulton Area Business Alliance Business Improvement District (FAB Fulton) has recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary with a high-powered marketing campaign that included pitches to all the local media outlets with rave reviews, several shop owners in the district are saying they need more services and demanding a greater say in the services they get.
Underscoring this demand is that FAB Fulton’s Executive Director Phillip Kellogg is stepping down this month and a petition from small business owners to get a vote for the next director has not been acknowledged by the board as of this post.
A BID is a quasi-government operation that offers local businesses added governmental services — like hanging up Christmas lights, providing sidewalk cleaners and extra trash pick up — in return for a fee that the city holds, and that is imposed on the landlords/developers that own the retail properties.
Oftentimes, however, this fee can and is passed down to the shop owners who rent out the retail spaces, either through an increased rent or by having to pay the fee itself in addition to their rent.
There are currently 23 BIDS in Brooklyn with about half in smaller corridors of residential neighborhoods and the other half centered in highly-trafficked and sought after neighborhoods.
FAB Fulton is in one of these highly sought after neighborhoods, running from the eastern edge of Downtown Brooklyn along Fulton Street through Fort Greene and Clinton Hill from Rockwell Place to Classon Avenue.
The corridor, which includes part of the BAM Cultural District, has seen a number of highrise buildings either developed in recent years or currently in development.
According to FAB Fulton’s 2019 fiscal statements, the organization received $605,146 in total support and revenue in the last fiscal year. FAB Fulton Spokesperson Madeline Aleman said local merchants are getting a great bang for their buck with this money.
“Over the past 10 years, FAB Fulton helped secure more than $9 million in grants, sponsorships, and in-kind support for various initiatives including the construction of new public spaces at Fowler Square, Putnam Triangle, 7-Corners, and Gateway Triangle,” Aleman said in her email pitch to Kings County Politics. “Since FAB FULTON was founded, 76,999 hours have been logged by its supplemental sanitation crew, 8,455 instances of graffiti removed, 125 bike racks and 41 light-pole banners installed, 45 trees planted, and more than 30,922 people have been reached with the organization’s marketing materials.”
The email also explained that storefront vacancy within the parameters of the BID has decreased by 5% during FAB’s 10 years operating, from 12% in 2009 to 7% in 2019.
The marketing campaign also included a walkthrough visit that Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams took with Kellogg around some of the stores in the Fort Greene part of the BID including into the Greenlight Bookstore, Levels Barbershop and the long-standing Brooklyn Moon Restaurant.
“There’s a sense of community that each one of these businesses foster. They’ve contributed to a greater sense of community throughout the district,” Kellogg was quoted as saying in an article from the Brooklyn Downtown Star about Adams’ visit. “It’s these individual mom-and-pop businesses, and the personalities they lend, that make Fort Greene and Clinton Hill so special, and Fulton Street in particular. We don’t have a lot in the way of chains.”
Also weighing in favor of FAB Fulton in the emailed press release was the city’s Department of Small Business Services (SBS) Commissioner Gregg Bishop.
“For ten fabulous years, FAB FULTON has been helping to build a stronger neighborhood by supporting local businesses and creating opportunities and a welcoming environment for residents, merchants, and visitors,” said Bishop.
But longtime Clinton Hill community activist Schellie Hagan, who is familiar with a number of small business owners along the corridor, said that FAB Fulton’s connections with local electeds and SBS has not been beneficial to the small businesses in the BID.
“The stores are at the mercy of whoever walks in from whatever department,” said Hagan, noting several small businesses receive regular summonses for relatively minor infractions. “The real problem with the BID, though, is that it doesn’t listen to the store owners”
Among these merchants is Hakam Abdelfattah, who owns Country House Diner, 887 Fulton Street on the Clinton Hill end of the BID, and who has served on the FAB Fulton board for about three years.
“The BID never stood by us,” said Abdelfattah, noting when FAB Fulton first started they spent money throwing a festival in the whiter area of the BID in Fort Greene.
It brought a lot of attention and business to the stores in that part of the district, prompting store owners from the Clinton Hill side to ask for a parade or celebration to be arranged in their area, according to Abdelfattah.
Kellogg and the BID said they would the following year. It’s been nine years since and the Clinton Hill section of FAB Fulton still has not gotten their parade, said Abdelfattah.
“They did not want the minority businesses over here, because, to their understanding, this small minority business here brings the ‘ghetto’ customers to the neighborhood, because we have cheap prices,” Abdelfattah said, referencing a member of the Pratt Area Community Council, which works with FAB.
“I sell my coffee for $1, the guy across the street sells his coffee for $5 with the same brand cup of coffee from the same wholesalers. That’s the kind of clients they’re trying to bring to the neighborhood and that’s the kind of businessman they want to bring to the neighborhood,” he added.
There seems to be a pattern of FAB not following through on promises, a sequence as laid out by Hagan and the businesses in the area.
Andrew Thompson, owner of the BID’s Golden Krust, 918 Fulton Street, said that he doesn’t feel that his store has been very supported by FAB, mentioning that he hasn’t received the extra street sweeping that the BID is supposed to provide.
But Wally Abulawi, owner of Do it Best Hardware, 900 Fulton Street, has a relatively neutral view of the BID. His store has been on Fulton Street for around nine months, and he said that in that time, he hasn’t had much contact with FAB FULTON, although he acknowledged that he never requested assistance from them, so it’s not like the BID has been ignoring him.
The BID did give him a welcoming when his store first moved in, and they gave him some advertising, but other than that, he hasn’t heard from them much. He said, however, that it couldn’t hurt to hear from FAB Fulton’s board a little more.
“The more you support the businesses, the more you will get out of it,” Abulawi said.
KCP reached out to Kellogg several times for comment in response to the business owners and activists’ claims, but he did not respond.
City Council Member Laurie Cumbo (D-Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, Bedford Stuyvesant), who sits on the board of the BID, did respond to a request for comment.
“I think that the challenges that small businesses are facing in the Fulton Area Business Association are the challenges that many businesses across the state, but more specifically the city, are experiencing,” she said. “So, I think it’s more prudent upon us to be able to do more, to have more protection for small business owners.
“A lot of the issues that adversely impact small businesses are issues that often can’t be remedied by a BID alone. There’s a lot of policy and legislative changes that need to happen in terms of commercial rent control, being able to make sure that businesses have the support they need to implement new policy changes and procedures that the council implements.”