Despite its rich array of multi-generation mom and pop shops, stunning historic architecture and abundance of locals, Park Slope is increasingly thought of, by Brooklynites and the rest of the world, as a whitewashed yuppie-haven full of luxury developments and wildly unaffordable housing. The area’s demographics have undeniably experienced a rapid change in recent years as rents and property values skyrocketed higher than the high rises being built along the neighborhood’s landmarked perimeters and longtime businesses close to be replaced by nail salons and chain stores.
It’s the sad reality of gentrification, and more than a few decades-old businesses have been casualties as of recent: after 29-years in business on 7th Ave., Sport Prospect called it quits earlier this year, a true loss considering their excellent sock collection and wonderfully familiar awning. Even Mayor de Blasio was a regular.
Below, though, are six shops that are still kicking, peddling their wares and holding down the fort in the name of indy businesses everywhere. You can’t bring back the dead fronts, but you can help keep those that remain alive, so next time you go to buy something on Amazon, be a good neighbor and consider buying local instead.
Fifth Avenue Record Shop & Tapes Center
439 5th Ave.
Known for: Selling records for 52 years
Best deal: Discount milk crates filled with records of all genres ranging from $1-5 for singles and $8 for doubles
After 45 years of welcoming customers, the faded vintage sign that reads RECORD & TAPE CENTER blew down recently in a storm but store manager Charles DeWeese thinks this will be a good opportunity to update with a new sign that says “Established in 1965.” This will reinstate to the community that Fifth Avenue Record Shop & Tapes Center has been here since then and they’re not going anywhere.
People walking by are often lured into Fifth Avenue Record Shop & Tapes Center by the vast selection of discount records in milk crates in the front of the store, with bins filled with records ranging from $1 to $8.
Searching for a record is much more pleasurable when you’re truly on the hunt, sifting through piles, bins and shelves. The disorganization and dust just makes sense when you stumble across a Hank Williams record for $1 or Mozart’s Don Giovanni for $4.
If you used to come to Fifth Avenue Record & Tape Center as a teenager in the 1990’s and buy single cassettes, nothing has changed. You still may even be able to find that same cassette. The store carries a wide range of oldies, current records, VHS tapes, CDs, cassettes and even 8-tracks.
Despite rumours of a closure in 2014, store owner Tony Mignone, 80, who has run the shop since it’s opening, is still at it. Mignone transitioned to selling coins and stamps to collectors in 1965 before quitting his job at USPS to open up the record shop.
The shop avoided closure in 2014 by creating a petition. “With the amount of people that signed it, it sent a message to Tony about not retiring,” says DeWeese.
Unfortunately the printed stories didn’t capture the full story, DeWeese laments. “All these people three years later are still calling to see if we’re open.”
Although Tony works a lot less now – he comes in about two times a week – he still loves making deals. He enjoys selling records, even if he doesn’t know the record. He is just purely about selling them, says his manager. “I play some of the records he’s been selling for 40 years or more that he’s never really listened to.”
Ask Tony to match as price of a record that you’ve seen elsewhere. Or if you bring an album you’re interested in to Tony, ask him to give it a play on his uncovered turntable. “We’re not just selling records. We’re winning friends, being kind and giving advice,” says DeWeese.
It might not be a straight line but, whether you know what you’re looking for or you’re on a random search, time spent at Fifth Avenue Record & Tape Center is a nostalgic experience. Not to mention the more time spent braving the narrow aisles the more likely you’ll be to stumble upon vintage rarities for knockdown prices. You never know who or what you’ll come across in the shop. Like when Bruce Johnson of the Beach Boys stopped by. DeWeese asked him if he was Bruce Johnson and he replied “let me sign your Beach Boys records.”
“I went to the show the night before in Coney Island and Johnson just happened to walk in the next day,” he recalls.
If you want to help the shop out and have some records to sell, right now the they are looking for classic rock LPs.
271 9th St.
Opened: Built in 1856. The music school was started in 1981
Known for: William B. Cronyn House. Its baby blue facade. Landmarked
Best Deal: Charles and Vita Sibirsky
If you’ve ever walked by 271 9th Street you’ve likely noticed the beautiful, landmarked, baby blue building setback from the sidewalk near the top of the block. It came as no surprise to us when we found out it is also the home to a music school: The architecture and the soft-painted details make us want to sing. On a warm summer’s night you might have even walked by and heard jazz or chamber music drifting through an open window.
The home is a historic piece of pre-Civil War Park Slope architecture, often referred to as the William B. Cronyn House in reference to the Wall Street merchant who built the home in 1856-1857.
But when Charles and Vita Sibirsky purchased the home in 1981 they just needed a place to live. The neighborhood was not yet overpriced and, desperate to find a home, they soon turned their new home into Slope Music.
When Charles and Vita Sibirsky purchased the home in 1981 they just needed a place to live. They had three kids, the neighborhood was not yet overpriced and so they chose the landmarked building out of necessity. Only upon move in did they make into Slope Music.
If you have ever been to Park Slope venues such as the now closed Puppets Jazz Bar and the Old Stone House you may have seen Charles Sibirsky playing the piano. He has been a working musician since the late 1960s and has been playing in jazz clubs in NYC for over 30-years. In addition to the piano he also has a strong interest in playing recorder and harpsichord and has even had one student who became a professional recorder play and now tours the world. Many of the Sibirsky’s vocal jazz and jazz piano students play in clubs around town.
A child of piano herself, Vita Sibirsky has been teaching piano at Slope Music since 1989, with students ranging from four-year-olds to seniors.
Slope Music currently has six teachers. They teach piano, guitar, flute, sax, clarinet, trumpet, violin, electric bass, recorder, harpsichord and voice. The studios at Slope Music feature Steinway Grand pianos, the same nine-foot model that graces the stage at Carnegie Hall.
One of the major differences about Slope Music now versus when the school opened is that most of their current students are not kids, says Charles Sibirsky. “In 1981 most moms stayed home and raised the kids. Now, [the kids are] mostly in after-school programs and don’t have time for lessons and practice.” Although, he adds that the kids they do teach are very talented practicing musicians.
The music that starts in the baby blue house travels far.
Joseph’s Haircutting Salon
97 7th Ave.
Opened: Joseph Volpicelli took over in 1968
Known for: Cuts Senator Schumer’s hair.
Best deal: Decently priced, quality haircuts in an unpretentious neighborhood joint
Joseph’s Haircutting Salon has been a community staple since the 1960’s. People new to the neighborhood walking by who don’t know the salon’s history might just dismiss the bright red sign that says established in 1968, but the neighbors who grew up with Joseph cutting their hair know his salon is imperative to the neighborhood.
When current owner Joseph Volpicelli, 77, started working at the barber shop in 1961 he was 21 and only male customers were allowed because state law banned uni-sex salons. Today, however, many of his employees and clients are women.
Joseph’s Salon is a neighborhood staple that is something between a traditional barber and a more upscale salon. Haircuts are range from $20 to $25 for men and $30 for women (that’s with a blow dry).
In 2011, Volpicelli was given a proclamation from Marty Markowitz, the former Brooklyn Borough President, for 50 years of hair cutting service to the Park Slope community. Below where the proclamation hangs in the shop there is a signed picture of the barber with Senator Charles Schumer, signed, “To Joseph, who cuts a winning margin.” He has also cut former Mayor David Dinkins’ hair.
From his shop, Volpicelli has witnessed the evolution of Park Slope. He has seen children grow up into adults and some who have left the neighborhood still come back to see their barber for a trusty cut.
454 5th Ave.
Known for: Being open 24/7 for nearly 41,000 consecutive days
Best deal: Supporting a local family-owned pharmacy that has been serving the Park Slope community for 116 years
The old-school Rx Drugs Neergard fluorescent pharmacy sign lights up 5th Ave. The “Open” portion shines a bright red but below, “24 Hours” is no longer illuminated.
Last November, the New York Daily News reported that Neergaard Pharmacy would no longer be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but would instead close at midnight everyday. Why was that news? Previously the pharmacy had been open 24/7, 365 days a year since 1901. Aside from hurricane curfews and federally enforced closures, in the 115 years since the Neergard Pharmacy opened it was operating on a 24/7 schedule. The pharmacy was open pretty much non-stop, serving the Park Slope community for 41,000 consecutive days.
It wasn’t until 1965 that a pharmacy in Manhattan remained open for 24 hours.
Julius De Neergard, an immigrant from Denmark, opened the pharmacy in 1888 after passing the New York State Boards of Pharmacy. A few years later, his son Bud was born in the apartment above the pharmacy. Bud went on to become a pharmacist and so did Bud’s son, William.
In 1987 Tom Sutherland and his family took over the drugstore from the family who had been running the pharmacy one year shy of a century.
Today, Neergard’s is a place to pick up your prescriptions and it also carries medical equipment, smaller necessities, and a wide range of cosmetics and toys. Aside from that, the pharmacy is known as a place in the neighborhood to pick up last minute gifts. Gift wrap for items bought at the shop provided at no cost.
Additionally, if you have a sketchy apartment buzzer or a phantom mailbox, there is a UPS access point in the back right of the store where you can get packages delivered to.
Leopoldi’s True Value Hardware
415 5th Ave.
Opened: 1966 by Joe Leopoldi. Taken over by his three sons, Joe, Pete and Rob when their father passed away in 1989
Known for: 80-year-old Flo Leopoldi, or Ma to all the regulars, who sits at the front of the store everyday and always brings cookies and candy
Best deal: Personal service of the like you will not receive at a Home Depot
Leopoldi’s True Value Hardware is among a diminishing quantity of family-owned stores on 5th Avenue, a strip that once had hardware shops on every other block. Joe Leopoldi bought the storefront in 1966 before real estate prices in the area went skyrocketing.
As you walk into the 1,000-square-foot hardware store, the wooden floors you are walking on are the same ones that the first customers of Leopoldi’s Hardware walked on. If you look up, you’ll see the original ceiling fans hanging over the coolers.
143 7th Ave.
Known for: Tiny the huge cat
Best deal: Buy a book and read it in their backyard
It’s in their name. Community Bookstore is not only a place to browse literature but has been a space for people in the neighborhood and fellow wanderers to gather since 1971.
It is a place visitors can go to read in solace in their rustic, vine-lined back garden or a place visitors can go to play with Tiny, the shop’s cat, who wears a spiked collar. Tiny is so famous he’s on the cover of a bestseller in Japan. They also have a turtle who lives in the pond in the back garden.
The store not only sell books but also host numerous popular book talks. Last September they hosted a sold-out evening with Patti Smith for the release of her book M Train. The store carries everything from literary fiction to art books to bestsellers to signed and rare copies and indie publishers. They also emphasize recognizing local authors, many of whom will stop by for readings.
Does anyone remember that episode of Louie where he asks a seemingly adorable bookseller played by Parker Posey on a date? That was filmed at Community Bookstore.