Ridgewood Knitters Confront Pattern of Displacement

The industrial portion of Ridgewood, Queens, south of Myrtle Avenue was the heart of New York’s knitting industry in its heyday in the 1950’s, but over the past few decades dozens of small mills have buckled against competition from cheaper imports and gone out of business.

Until recently, the area remained largely commercial, but lately the last wave of knitting mills in Ridgewood are being converted into mixed-use buildings, spurring a wave of much-needed residential development.

Kalmon Dolgin broker Jean Cook said she has put three former mills on the market this month; the owners cannot afford to convert the buildings into apartments.

“We’re seeing knitters displaced throughout the ([area] who are forced to sell," she said. "I make money either way, but it’s really a drag what’s happening because of NAFTA and free-trade agreements."

Kalmon Dolgin sold a $1.55 million two-story warehouse on Stephen Street to a Manhattan contractor on Monday. The buyer plans to house his wood shop in the 1,000-square-foot ground-floor space and double the building’s height to accomodate a 9,000-square-foot shop and an additional 9,000 square feet of residential apartments, Ms. Cook said.

The firm has also listed a 4,500-square-foot mixed-use building on Hancock Street for $1.3 million and a 2,500-square-foot building for $799,000 on George Street, both of which are owned by knitters.

Theodore Renz, the executive director of the Ridgewood Local Development Corporation, said only a handful of operational knitting mills are left in the neighborhood and the rest are now vacant or occupied by self-storage facilities and carpentry workshops. He said a local university is finishing a study on behalf of the Ridgewood community board to determine the best uses for the industrial buildings bordering Bushwick, but wouldn’t offer more details until it was complete.