01 December 2008

Weird Mystery Building Now Has Scaffolding



The Vermont Market and Pharmacy—ghost store of Carroll Gardens, mysteriously shuttered and cluttered since the late '90s—has become enough of a subject of fascination for locals and visitors alike that it was the subject of a piece of detective work in the the New York Times last July.

The article uncovered that the store and building's owner, Mark Stein, is a bit of a nut, "a recluse who wears suspenders and prefers walking in the street, a genius with a deep knowledge of homeopathic remedies who had some sort of position at a local university, and a property owner stuck with a valuable building he is either unable or unwilling to sell." Stein's father bought the building from the previous owners, some gun-running pharmacists.

But it just sits there, crammed with antique and modern bric-a-brac—scales and boxes and vials and junk. Barely a bit of the fine old tile floor can be seen. The "Les Miz"-like etching of a waif's head in the window spooks me every time I walk by.

And now there's another wrinkle. Scaffolding has been erected around the building. According the Department of Building website, there have been a number of complaints against Stein over the past year. One from October reads: "CALLER STS THE STRUCTURE OF THE BUILDING IS VERY UNSAFE INTHE BASEMENT THE OUTSIDE WALL IS CRUMBLING IN THE BASEMENT, AND THEFOUNDATION IS UNSAFE , SECOND COMPLAINT." There are also regular charges that the boiler doesn't work.

Recently, the DOB issued a violation, charging, "FAILURE TO MAINTAIN BLDG WALLS. ON SACKETT ST SIDE EXTERIOR WALL ON 2ND FLOOR LEVEL BY THE FIRE ESCAPE HAS APPROX 3" WIDE CRACKS & 4' LONG.ALSO 4TH FL OVER WINDOW HAS APPROX 1" CRACK."

Is this how business would be conducted in Vermont? Maybe Stein should go into group counseling with the Rat-Squirrel House lady.

11 comments:

Robin said...

Mark has been in the area for years. Years ago people in the area just minded their business. Why is this store front such a big deal?? It's really nobody business what he does there. The building belongs to him and he doesn't have to explain himself to anyone. Mark has always kept to himself. Why is this a topic of discussion. Why not talk about the old timers who have been pushed out of the area because of the high rents. Better yet why don't we talk about the poor old lady who use to sit in front of Met food all the time cause shed didn't have anywhere else to go. What about the old man who sits there from time to time and eats out of a garbage bag. I bet you walked by her & him when you were on your way to Mark's place to find out what was or wasn't going on there. Talk about something more important that what Mark is doing. In the old days this type of stuff didn't go on in the neighborhood. Now people are worried about what you do with your own building. MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS

Brooks of Sheffield said...

I don't know, Robin. Why are people curious? Also, it's no longer just Mark's business if he has created an eyesore and is endangering his neighbors by letter his building fall into ruin. I guess the gun-runners who used to business out of that storefront were also none of anybody's business, huh?

Rob said...

As long as that man pays his taxes on that building it's his place.
Because you feel that the front of someone's building is an eyesore that makes it your business. It's not your business. This story didn't start because of the damage on the side of this man's building. It started because his store front has been vacant for the past 20 years and all of a sudden everyone wants to know why. The story about his building falling into ruin came later on.

If it's such an eyesore just walk down another block.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

I'm sorry, Rob. I try to keep things civil here, but really--what an asinine response. Walk down the block? WALK DOWN THE BLOCK? You're the same guy who says "Don't like the government? Move!," aren't you? Property is not just a private affair, as many on the right would like to believe. The life of a building affects the people who live around it as well as the people who live in it. When the building falls down due to neglect and maybe injures or kills someone, or closes down the block for days, is it still OK because the owner paid his property taxes? By your and Robin's way of thinking, I don't have any right to complain if my neighbor plays loud music all night (it's his building, his business) or if his building has a gas leak (his business) or attracts rats and termites which undermine local health and foundations (his business). No man is an island in a city as densely populated at New York. And yes, I was first interested in this building because it was a curiosity, a mystery. No gripe against it, really. Just wondered. But now it's a bit different, isn't it? The owner's not just a harmless eccentric, is he? He's a scofflaw.

david said...

You know, in a way I agree with Robin. I think that speculation, on real estate, neighborhoods, blogs obsessively documenting each and every new cafe or building that goes up,etc...is some small part of this whole development boom we have seen in NYC over the last decade. There was a time (before Web 2.0) when people did not have an outlet for all of this speculation and things were able to develop more naturally. I think that all of the new media has created MUCH more speculation which is a large part of what drives real estate in NYC. I'm not saying that exact posts like this one are bad (i live nearby and have wondered myself about this storefront) but one can only assume that blogs like this one, Vanishing NY, Curbed, Brownstoner,etc have accelerated the gentrification and development boom in some way. I'm not sure I can intelligently say why exactly, but it seemed tied in to me.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

An interesting idea, David. Although, I doubt developers would agree. They hate blogs like the ones you mention, because they make it more difficult to proceed in their development in a speedy manner. But who knows? Things have a way of boomeranging on you. I appreciate the thoughtfulness of you post, btw.

Carol Gardens said...

I have always been curious about the storefront but I actually half-agree with Robin. No one had the right to tell the owner to rent out his storefront or renovate it because it's an "eyesore" (and actually, I am happy that there are some eccentrics left around her-I also like the looks of Bedbug Club and the Potpourri.) But I don't agree with Robin about ignoring neglect when it becomes a hazard. If a building is collapsing or a landlord isn't providing heat for tenants, etc. then it is not a bad thing for people in the neighborhood to get involved.

david said...

Yeah I guess I just feel like things in NYC have a way of being willed into existence. If enough people chatter about gentrification in Bushwick, it seems to accelerate the actual gentrification process, for example. The same goes with giving hoods absurd acronymns....the more high status blogs document things, the quicker it seems to actually happen in reality. I really do think that speculation drives the engine of gentrification. I think that often these posts about vacant storefonts in hoods are thinly veiled hopes that "we will finally get a cafe in or hood!" or something of that ilk. I think Robin is right in a way to say that people probably did mind their own business and let their neighborhood just be what it is vs. obsessively wondering what the "scoop" is or what will be coming in to transform the hood even more. I am on both sides of the fence. I like some of the blogs and visit them daily, this one included. But I also feel like the advent of them has something to do with gentrification. When you have blogs like Racked for example, which is all about shopping and catalogs each new place to buy things (and buy experiences maybe?), I have to wonder how much that shapes the idea that NYC is now basically a place to shop. I guess ultimately

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Ah, you're a thoughtful man, David. Very interesting. One thing I'd like to point out, though: while Robin is probably right that people did mind their own business in the past, in Carroll Gardens that was probably because they'd get their legs broken if they didn't. I'm only half kidding.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Voice of reason as always, Carol.

Robin said...

As I mentioned before the story didn't start because the building was falling apart. It started because the store front is vacant. All of a sudden a vacant store front in Carroll Gardens is so important that the New York Times writes about it.

I was born and raised in the neighborhood and so were my parents. Back when I was growing up you did what you wanted with your property. Now a days every move you make is watched and talked about. If property owner paints their building bright orange with green strips the next day there's a posting about it. The paint on the building isn’t even dry yet before someone is talking about how it's an eyesore.

And yes property owners can do what they want with their property. If property owner is neglecting their building and it's falling apart of course you have the right to call the buildings department. If that same owner doesn't shovel the front of his house after a snow storm, yes you have the right to call the city and report him. If your neighbor is playing loud music after a certain time, yes you have the right to call 311 and complaint. I'm not saying that you don't have the right to report a property owner who is putting the people who live around him in danger.


But this story didn’t start because the building is falling apart.

What I'm saying is that as a property Mark has the right to keep that store front vacant as dirty as he likes. No one has the right to question him as to what he is or is not going to do with the store front. The reporter from the New York Times made a trip down to Sackett and Henry Street just to do a story on a vacant store front. Not once in that article did it mention that the building was falling apart.

Now a days every single move you make is put under a microscopic. Why aren’t we talking about how people don’t pick up after their dogs? Better yet what about how every pole in the neighborhood has a bike chained up to it. I can’t park my car in front of a pole because there’s a bike chained up to it. Let’s talk about how people are now chaining their bikes up to other people’s property. Why don’t you go down to Sackett between Court and Smith st and take a look at the last house on the corner of Sackett & Smith. The owner of that house has been there for over 30 years. Take a look at all the signs she has posted in front of her house.

I'll say it again. The story about Mark's Pharmacy didn't start because the building is falling apart. It started because the store front has been vacant for years. If you think that the storefront is a mess, you should check out Mark's car. Why don’t you do a story on that