Frederick Douglass Blvd., has become a prime culinary destination and … winner of the Best Neighborhood Award … in 2011.
Merchants and community leaders from uptown’s new “it” neighborhood have created a colorful guide to market services and stores from W. 110th St., to W. 124th St., hoping to lure shoppers and tourists to “The Gateway to Harlem.”
“There are so many reasons to come to the neighborhood now,” said Lia San Filippo, co-owner of the hip new “5 and Diamond” restaurant and co-president of the recently formed Frederick Douglass Boulevard Alliance (FDBA).
“And that’s why the map is so important,” she said. “It helps people know that we are here and helps them find us easily.
The other night, we had customers who came from 110th St. and one woman said, ‘Oh my God, I have been living here 20 years and never walked in this direction.’ ”
The FDBA represents 45 of the businesses on the street, including Harlem Vintage, the first upscale wine store, hip new butcher shop Harlem Shambles and the first supermarket, Best Yet. There’s also Land Yoga, Harlem Children’s Zone, two beer gardens and the classic old gas stations and beauty salons that line the boulevard.
“The most important thing about the map is that there is something to put on it,” said Hans Futterman, who designed the upscale condo 2280 FDB and three more condos on nearby Harlem streets.
“For decades,” he said, “you could drive up and down FDB and there was little to attract your attention of any positive nature – just a lot of vacant, burned out blocks, drug dealers – things that made people feel they wanted to hurry through the neighborhood.”
The dramatic transformation was spurred by a 2004 rezoning of the boulevard which the paved the way for more high-rise residential construction and ground-level retail space at a time when 40% of the street’s 226 storefronts were vacant.
Today, Frederick Douglass Blvd. has become a prime culinary destination and was the winner of the Best Neighborhood Award given by the Curbed NY blog in 2011.
The Alliance plans to mail the map to 1,200 households and have it posted on Columbia University’s student and faculty websites.
Merchants say they are there to stay, and have been able to rejuvenate the historic boulevard with the joint help of the Columbia-Harlem Small Business Development Center, the Harlem Community Development Corp., Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Office.
Marcelo Orve, owner of MB Dry Cleaners, was one of the first new businesses to open on the street 11 years ago, when crime and empty lots were the norm.
“When we first came in 2001 we had the doors locked all the time,” said Orve, relaxing behind the counter of his store last Tuesday night. “Little by little, more developers came. Now, everyone wants to be here.”