Due to the numerous calamities that have befallen Columbia Street during the last 50 years—the big sewer dig of the 1970s; the erection of the BQE; the extension of the Brooklyn docks between DeGraw and Atlantic; all of which knocked out dozens of old Columbia Street buildings and businesses—there are precious few mercantile remnants of the thriving business district that once was.
One of the last survivors was the Sokol Bros. Furniture store, which took up three former brownstones on Columbia between President and Carroll Streets. The business was founded in 1950, making it a relative latecomer to the strip, which was by then already in decline. Michael Sokol took the reins from his father and uncle in 1976 and ran the shop until last fall, when he sold it for $3.3 million.
Lately, the place has been gutted and scaffolding has been erected. Construction is constant. The building will be converted into luxury apartments and three stories will be added to the edifice, making it easily the tallest, largest structure on Columbia Street (which is not protected by any sort of landmarking).
One of the one good things about such repurposings as this is you briefly get to see what the old building once looked like, as they tear away at the walls. Sokol Bros. has been covered up with an awful overlay of cream-colored bricks for years. Underneath somewhere are some ancient red-brick houses. Walking by today, I peeked inside and could see where old brick walls and a fireplace were revealed.
Sokol Bros. was a funny place. Though I bought a couch there once, and Michael was always on the premises, I never saw much business going on inside. It was the sort of family-owned, bare-bones, no-frilled, frozen-in-time furniture business that you used to see a lot of in Brooklyn. Every neighborhood had one or two. The furniture styles were always a few seasons behind the times, but the prices were good. The sprawling office in the back, walled by large wooden-framed windows, was left very much as it must have been in 1950. I would sometimes go in to ask Michael questions about how the old neighborhood used to be. He was one of the few remaining local experts.
Part of the store's appeal was the grand old, hollowed-out neon sign that adorned it. (See below.) It must have been something in the days when the Sokols bothered to fill the large metal letters with neon tubing—something I never saw. It hasn't lit up in decades.
I can't tell if the sign is still there. The scaffolding obscures the view.