Mr. Laboz and his two younger brothers followed their father into the real estate business, and it was on the mall where they got their start. Daddy Laboz arrived at the end of the beginning, when Martin’s department store closed at 505 Fulton, in 1979. It was a part of Fulton Street’s commercial quartet, along with Abraham and Strauss, May’s and E.J. Korvette. Only the first still exists, in the form of Macy’s. The location is one of the company’s top grossing stores.
Mr. Laboz is a Brooklyn boy, born and raised in as much comfort as the borough could afford: Manhattan Beach, the Riviera of Coney Island. He and a partner set up shop around the corner from his dad’s place in 1985, after they had taken a stake in the property. He eventually bought out his father as he continued to expand along the corridor.
“From a real estate point of view, the building was always a success,” Mr. Laboz said. The ground floor had been chopped up into smaller storefronts and stalls, all paying a decent rent for the tens of thousands of shoppers, office workers and students streaming by each day. Upstairs were government agencies. Now they have been cleared out, along with a stand of five rowhouses, demolished to make way for the H&M. Mr. Laboz is even considering lofts on the upper floors of the old Martin’s building.
“I don’t want to sound like Donald Trump,” said Mr. Laboz, “but my site is the best location in the block. It’s across from Macy’s, it’s on the 50 yard line.”
Part of the problem with developers, politicians and the media talking about the transformation or revitalization of Fulton Street is that it suggests there was something wrong in the first place. Unlike Smith Street or Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, which were largely empty, the Fulton Mall has always been packed. With its 110,000 patrons a day, it is the third busiest retail strip in the city, besting Madison Avenue and behind only Fifth and Times Square.
The idea is that with 12,000 new residents in the adjacent towers, the people will need somewhere to shop. But this also presumes such changes will not alienate the current clientele. Were this to resemble Smith Street, with its boutiques and boulangeries, it would be a failure for the landlords on the strip, who command $200 a square foot, compared to $70 per on Atlantic Avenue and $50 on Smith, according to numbers furnished by brokerage Prudential Douglas Elliman. Some of the national retailers are even paying upwards of $300 a square foot, which helps explain the desire for change, even if the demand may not follow.