K-Dog and Dunebuggy, a coffee shop on Lincoln Road, by the south entrance of the Prospect Park B/Q station in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, opened on March 6, 2006. In the subsequent five years, it became a neighborhood fixture, the nexus of Lincoln Road’s strip of shops. “K-Dog transformed Lincoln Road from a block many people walked down only to go to the subway or the park to the vital center of our neighborhood,” wrote a commenter on The Q at Parkside. Earlier this month, the Hawthorne Street blog reported that the cafe might close as early as this Saturday because of a dispute between its owner, Gabrielle Lowe, and her landlord over lease terms. We talked to Gabrielle about how the neighborhood has changed since she moved in, the email campaign she started for neighbors to tell her landlord how much the shop means to them, and why the opening of a Dunkin Donuts could be the neighborhood’s worst possible fate.
How has Lincoln Road changed since you’ve been open?
When we first looked at the place, city was repairing the bridge over the subway and it had been going on for years, there were two little strips of sidewalk bordering a massive construction site and excavation. There was an abandoned building where vagrants slept, a nail salon, a bootleg-video and phonecard store, a couple empty storefronts, the bodega on the corner Papa & Sons, and a pharmacy on the [other] corner. The construction workers building the bridge were my first regular customers. Since we’ve opened the pharmacy got a new facade and sign, Papa & Sons began selling more upscale and organic items—a direct result of K-Dog; I’ve talked to him about it—and opened another fancier incarnation across the avenue. Jim Mamary opened a restaurant and a bar next to K-Dog. I helped encourage him to take a chance on this neighborhood; his kids went to Maple Street, the preschool up the block. A law office opened up across the street and the abandoned building was torn down. (Obviously I had nothing to do with that except that the owners saw that the neighborhood seemed to be changing and they wanted to capitalize on that.) Unfortunately, the recession put an end to the construction on the site. But then all the neighbors, organized by PLGarts, came out to paint murals on the ugly dividers that were put up around the site. We won the city’s 2008 Small Business Award for neighborhood achievement.
How has the rest of the neighborhood changed?
We’ve become a community, because we’ve had a place to come together.
What’s the worst case scenario for PLG’s future?
Dunkin Donuts is probably the worst thing I can think of, or maybe if there were nothing it would be worse. I grew up in the West Village and PLG kind of reminds me of The Village of my childhood, in the 70s and 80s. It’s the coolest nabe in New York, if you ask me. It’s diverse, on so many levels, and friendly and close to the park and so neighborly.
Do you think PLG is ever going to be the next “hot neighborhood”?
I love it here and I don’t think I want it to be a “hot nabe”. That ruins things. What I tried to do with K-Dog was make it truly accessible to all facets of this amazing place. I wanted everyone to feel comfortable here. I let kids have water after school and dogs have water on the way back from the park. We have art shows of neighborhood talent, even if you’ve never shown before; you just have to be from PLG. We’ve had game nights and knitting nights and movie nights and birthday parties and block association meetings and Meet-up meetings and art classes. We’ve tried to act as a catalyst for community on many levels. I don’t like when neighborhoods become exclusive; there’s a huge chunk of life that gets pushed out that way, good and bad.
How’s the email-writing campaign going?
We’ve gotten some really amazing emails, 110 all together so far. The landlord has been given 20 and told about the others…Even if nothing comes of it, I’m glad I did it, it helped reaffirm my faith in humanity.
What is it about the new lease-terms that you have a problem with?
What the landlord is asking for is a 17% rent increase, which I agreed to, but then she asked for me to pay 18% of her real estate taxes, which is not common practice and was not in my previous lease; normally, a commercial tenant would pay a percentage of the increase in taxes with the base year being zero. It would increase my monthly rent by $800. I believe it is impossible in this neighborhood, in this economy, for me to survive under those circumstances. There were other things in the lease that I didn’t agree with and she wasn’t negotiating and didn’t want to involve lawyers and I don’t think she even read our counter offer on the lease. And I’m tired. I’m tired of fighting with her and struggling. As a landlord she was particularly invasive. I’m basically just over it. I thought maybe she would be willing to negotiate with someone else, new energy, but I’m not really very hopeful that she’ll yield. I think she has some notion that she wants something more upscale, something “classier”. Who knows. It’s hard to tell with her.