Not so suddenly, Grand Street has become a thriving retail strip.
The April/May 2008 issue of WG (the newish Williamsburg Greenpoint News + Arts paper) has a great article by C. C. McGurr on the retail renaissance along western Grand Street. By her count, there are 62 businesses operating on the six block stretch from Kent to Marcy (I can think of at least two or three establishments that were left out). The eastern portion of the strip is dominated by food & drink, but throughout Grand Street, the diversity of retail is pretty impressive. More impressive is the fact that (by my count) about 50 of these 62 establishments have opened since 2001. Better still, there have been relatively few closures in that time (regrettably, Alioli was one of them). And these numbers don’t include the stores and restaurants on the avenues just off Grand Street, easily another dozen, if not two.
McGurr blames the BQE for the demise of Grand Street’s retail in the post-War era, but I’m of the opinion that the BQE actually helped Grand Street. What makes the western portion of Grand Street so special is that is not a through street. The relative lack of vehicular traffic gives the strip a quieter, more relaxed feel. Combined with the low-scale buildings fronting on a wider street (at least west of Roebling), this makes the street much more open and pedestrian friendly. Compare Grand Street to Metropolitan (in the extreme), or even Bedford Avenue, and you’ll see what I mean. (As for the BQE, ten years ago, most of Williamsburg’s historic ground floor storefronts were boarded up or converted to residential, and the BQE was not responsible for all of that.)
[WG has a website, but no web presence. If you want to see the article, pick up a copy at a local store, bank, etc.]