A Glimpse Of History On Newkirk Plaza

6 newkirk plaza old bootery sign

We always love an unexpected peek at the vintage signs in our neighborhood, and Newkirk Plaza, the oldest open air shopping mall in the US, is a great place in particular to consider the past. As Lost City puts it:

Newkirk Plaza isn’t new. That’s apparent from clapping eyes on the shops, which look like they probably did a brisk business in egg creams and hula-hoops once upon a time.

Like the old Albemarle Road footbridge, which was eventually dismantled, no one is really rushing to claim ownership of the property over the former Newkirk Avenue/current Newkirk Plaza subway stop. Lost City continues:

It has a weird ownership set-up. The Transit Authority owns the deck and station and the Department of Transportation owns the bridge [note: we’re not even sure the DOT does at this point]. Plus, the buildings on the Plaza are possessed by private owners. This division of property may partly explain why the place looks like such a time capsule; what are the chances that all three parties ever agree on anything, improvement-wise?

In addition to the regularly visible nostalgia-inducing signage on the Plaza, we recently noticed that 6 Newkirk, currently the Plaza Hair Salon, was in the middle of an awning revamp–exposing a funky old sign for the Newkirk Plaza Bootery. It got us wondering what else had occupied number 6, and the surrounding spaces, over the past 100 years.

6 newkirk plaza waldell hobbies 1962 via brooklyn visual heritage

In 1962, 6 Newkirk Plaza was Waldell Hobbies. On either side of it was a fur store and a shoe shop, and just down the way (somehow at 7 Newkirk Plaza) was Paul’s Barber Shop, which had been on the Plaza almost since its inception and remains to this day as Leon’s Fantasy Cut.

newkirk plaza 1962 via Brooklyn Visual Heritage

One could also chow down on a steak during the trip, if he or she worked up an appetite from all that shoe shopping, hair styling, and fur buying.

newkirk plaza via brooklyn visual heritage

Oh, and flowers, too! If the furs proved to be too expensive, you could at least pick up some roses for your sweetheart on your way to or from Lipton Chemist at 14 Newkirk Plaza.

And of course, over the years, there were well loved Plaza spots like Grillo’s and Ebinger’s as well as the still-standing Almac Hardware (open since the early 1900s).

newkirk plaza via How to Save Your Own Street

The shots above and below from Raquel Ramati’s book How to Save Your Own Street give us an idea of how the Plaza had changed in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

newkirk plaza via How to Save Your Own Street

Forgotten NY has a fascinating look at Newkirk Plaza too, including the origin and meaning of its name.

I had originally thought of “Newkirk” as a Scottish name meaning new church, but it turns out it’s yet another of Brooklyn’s many Dutch appellations and honors the immigrant Nieukercke family, through whose farm the avenue was built in the late 1800s. The family had arrived in the colonies in 1659. As it happens the name translates to new church in Dutch as well.

The mall has had a less-than-stellar reputation in the past (“Newcrack Plaza,” anyone?), but recent initiatives like the Newkirk Plaza passageway mural, hard work by the Friends of Newkirk Plaza, and recent station rehab have helped to clean the place up a bit, thankfully without sacrificing all the relics of the last century.

If you grew up on the Plaza, what are some of your favorite shops or memories? Any of the Bootery, in particular?

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Comments

  1. Newkirk Plaza has been one of my favorite places since I moved to NYC. The first time I saw it was while it was undergoing reconstruction or something and all boarded up, but you could still tell the station/shops/open air combo was a great neighborhood location.

  2. Newkirk Plaza is one of my favorite spaces in all of DP. When I first discovered it only about two years back even though I’ve lived close-by for years, it made me so happy thinking that eventually this will be an amazing spot for high end shops and cute restaurants and cafes. So surprised no restaurateurs or cafe owners moved onto this strip and offered some sidewalk seating. Keep a lookout at Newkirk Plaza, this should become a fascinating destination for the years to come.

    PS. I know Coffee Mob is about two steps from the plaza and I love them for it but maybe if your lease expired, this would be a really cool destination if there was availability here. Would be such a magical destination for a stroll and breakfast stop.

  3. Awesome article!!

    I always feel like Newkirk Plaza doesn’t get the recognition/attention it deserves. I love living on this side of DP (I always see Coffee Mob referring to it as DP West? Would Ditmas Park South be more appropriate?) and am excited to see it grow and change.

  4. The mix of businesses on the Plaza will change as the surrounding neighborhood changes, a la Cortelyou Road. It’s happening, but very slowly. Milk & Honey, The Creperie, Coffee Mob and Oxcart (our favorite) have opened in the area, along with our go-to places like Leon’s, Newkirk Station Wines and LIquors, and Almac, so it’s starting. Folks talk well about Alex’ shoe repair and DonBurrito as well. I think one issue for the Plaza is that while it is certainly transit friendly, to park conveniently is more of a challenge. Also, some of the buildings themselves look like they could use an upgrade.

  5. Newkirk plaza surely has a lot of potential and I have the greatest respect for its storied history, but imho the vibe is not that special right now. Two attempted bank robberies last year if I recall correctly, homeless lady begging for change (who doesn’t even say thank you), one storefront that’s been vacant for a long time, etc.

    I’d love to see it get back to its former glory with a hobbies and trains shop (imagine that!), but I don’t see that happening in this decade.

  6. My family lived on Rugby Road between Ditmas and Newkirk from 1956 until @1990. After reading this post my aunt and I enjoyed remembering the many shops on “The Plaza” over the years. My mouth still waters at the thought of Ebinger’s blackout cake. In addition to the many places already mentioned, my aunt recalls a dress shop (The Mayflower?) and we both recall that for many years there was a small post office branch, and also a card shop/bookstore that had a small lending library in the back. Thanks for prompting a nostalgic conversation.

  7. We lived on Marlborough between Ditmas and Dorchester. I remember spending all my time at Holiday House in the very early 50s buying Ginny dolls, and was there constantly looking for new ones which might have come in. I still have some of them.

  8. My dad worked at the bagel shop (which is now a kebob place) in the mid-’70s, and we lived at 622 Marlboro on the second floor. Lots of fuzzy memories of the plaza, and particularly of the Chinese restaurant, which I think is still there!

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