The Florida-based seafood chain will open its doors on Nov. 11 in a long-vacant retail space. Small business owners believe they are being pushed out of the neighborhood.
Move over, James Brown. Harlem’s about to get a brand new bag — and it looks like this sack will be filled with popcorn shrimp.
The brand is sure to ring a bell, but until recently in this storied center of African-Americana it would have been a little off-key.
It’s Red Lobster, and it’s soon to become the latest national chain to relocate to historic 125th St. in a sleek, new retail space right next to the legendary Apollo Theater.
The Florida-based seafood restaurant is expected to open Nov. 11. in a long-vacant, three-story space between Frederick Douglass and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvds., which will eventually be shared by other retailers.
Other national chains on the main street include Starbucks, a Gap Outlet, American Apparel and plenty of banks.
“Twenty years ago, this was Black Harlem. Now they’re raising the rent in Harlem so people can’t afford it,” said Mohamad Pullum, 46, who worked at Mart 125 across the street from the Apollo Theater for 14 years selling jewelry, before it closed a decade ago.
It’s not fair,” said Pullum. “We made Harlem, and now it is being taken over by corporate companies like Red Lobster, Gap, Starbucks.”
A Prudential Douglas Elliman report in 2012 showed retail rents in Harlem increased 33% from 2011 to 2012, from roughly $50 to $75 per square foot to upwards of $100.
“The rent is going up like crazy. There are a lot of big people coming in here like Red Lobster,” said Able Woodard who has owned All Eyes On Us Optical with his wife for three years.
“There’s nothing we can do about it,” he added. “We don’t have a say. Eventually, all the mom-and-pop stores are going to be out.”
Now, experts say, the homogenized new face of 125th St. is almost complete.
I see 125th developing to resemble 34th St.,” said John McGuiness, a broker with Harlem Properties. “I think Red Lobster is probably going to do very well.”
“It’s almost like the uptown Times Square,” he said.
Business advocates attribute the shift to corporate recognition of West Harlem’s high volume of foot traffic.
“We are averaging over 900,000 people a month on the corner of 125th St. and Eighth Ave.,” said Barbara Askins, President and CEO of 125th St. Business Alliance. “That kind of volume is going to be attractive to businesses.”
Chip Wade, a Red Lobster vice president, says the retail climate is perfect for Harlem to start see-ing food differently.
“We’re excited to join the Harlem community, and hope that our restaurant and the nearly 250 people we employ will be embraced by the community.”
By Joey Scarborough / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS