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The Raiders of Main Street

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Headlines recently have frequently blended stories about invading giant stores seeking or secretly buying zoning favors to squeeze into prime corners of our borough.

Rarely do the raiders come to our “Main Streets” that are more competitive, and patrolled by meter agents, socking it to shoppers that get back to their cars five minutes after their time has run out. Historically, they pick a nice wide roadway, or parkway, isolated from competition, where they can build vast, free parking lots! Kings Plaza comes to mind. So does the Gateway center off the Belt.

“Main Street?” they question. “No, too competitive!” They prefer to suck you someplace far away, like Kings Plaza, hooked onto a sparsely occupied auto dealership corner, on just two bus routes (Avenue U and Flatbush Avenue), with its 10-story parking lot — the king of garages in Kings County. When it was built, our city planners agreed to build a marina nearby, so patrons could come by yacht! Of course, this was a fib.

Then other invaders found rare roadsides (and politicos nice enough to take a bribe) and “bought” other locales amidst our great city.

I remember when the West Side Highway was a highway in the truest sense of the word, towering above a dying and desolate waterfront, much like our Gowanus Expressway does today.

But now, the West Side is alive, thanks to the slow-moving parkway with traffic lights, where businesses developed waterfront sites that draw pedestrians, bicyclists, and people from within those cars!

As our weekly newspaper headlines draw out more rumors about BJ’s or Walmart or giant hardware stores, I cringe. Lowe’s successfully fought for a spot neighboring to Kings Plaza — right next to a Home Depot!.

And it is not the big-boxes first move into far reaches of borough

First, their realtors went into an old corner of Bath Beach, off the Cropsey Avenue exit of the Belt near Coney Island, where they threatened aged homeowners: “If you don’t sell your house to us, you will wind up the only house in a big shopping center!”

Some were defiant at first, but as one neighbor after the next sold out, it became clear the land would be cleared. I watched the wheels spin at City Hall, like a game of “Let’s Pretend”: the first speaker that day was a rep of Home Depot.

The newspapers had his photo with the story: Home Depot looking for “new worlds to conquer” — and it did! They win with other deviant motifs.

During the lengthy hearing, I went to a rest room across the hall in the City Council auditorium.

Standing at a microphone, a lady lawyer had two boys practicing how she wanted them to testify. First she opened up a brand new white shirt for each youth, instructing, “Remember, when they call your name, step up to the microphone, and say, ‘We live in Coney Island and we are glad that we got a nice big store now, so we can get jobs for our fathers because they haven’t worked for a long time…’ ”

All the youths really needed was an orchestra and tinkling piano when they later drew tears with that sobbing plea for “Jobs in Coney Island,” even though it was across the Coney Island Creek, in Bath Beach.

Included in that same plan, the Depot people promised to build a park, which they probably forgot about — and we haven’t found any entrance to one. Have you?

Look around here! Are you beginning to note their rhythm? There’s the first one across the line off the Queens Boulevard exit. One at Cropsey. One at 39th Street — and wherever there is a parkway, the Depot will seek a “home” — so you won’t have to shop at home, where you live!

This is Lou Powsner.

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