October 18, 2004
At 106 Flushing Avenue in Fort Green across from the walled Brooklyn Navy Yard, there exists a little remnant of the once powerful maritime industry that changed the borough forever.
Reliable & Frank's Naval Uniforms is piled high with heavy duty military garb. Pins of eagles and anchors shine in glass cabinets. At the end of the long room, behind a 19th century cash register, Vincent J. Faiella waits patiently.
He stands erect like a military man, but he was never in the navy. Neither was his father, Michael. Or his grandfather, Natele, who opened the store in 1927.
Arriving from Naples, Natele went where he knew he had family and took his shot at the American dream. He opened the original store a few years after he arrived on Sand Street across from the Sand/Navy Streets entrance of the yard. He joined countless others who ran bars, restaurants, and shops - an economy that catered to the workers and sailors of the yard.
By WWII, Reliable was among the 30 uniform stores selling to the tens of thousands who were working in the yard. However after the war ended, the work force was downsized. Also, construction of the Farragut Houses by the New York City Housing Authority, starting in 1950 and completed in 1952, forced him to move to his second location on Clermont Avenue.
The navy yard was decommissioned in 1966, which changed the state of the area's economy in a drastic way. Even though there would still continue to be some operations in the yard (now over 200 small businesses currently use the base for various kind of operations from ship repair to film production). But the need for naval uniforms, as well as hundreds of other associated services that lined the outside streets, was gone forever.
But Reliable hung on and the business was passed down the generations, even as other stores closed down. Finally at the current location on Flushing, Faiella keeps the business going largely through internet sales.
He is not fond of the neighborhood and considers it unsafe. He would be happy to move to another location, possibly closer to his home in New Jersey. He says that with the internet there is no reason he needs to stay in the area.
"The navy ruined this area, when they left," he says. "Who is going to come down to flushing now to shop? You walk one block in the wrong direction and you are in a bad neighborhood."
Although he has no immediate plans to shut shop yet, he isn't optimistic about the various city plans to reinvigorate the area. "They could have done something twenty years ago, but they didn't. Why should I expect them to do something now?"
This is the view of from the Sand street entrance of the Navy Yard today, where the original Reliable once sold its wares.
* Farragut Houses includes 10 buildings containing 1,390 apartment units.
- Located in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, the development is bordered by York, Nassau, Navy and Bridge Streets.
*Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Fort Greene), a proponent of the new development initiatives in the area, cites an unemployment rate of 65% in the Farragut Houses.
* The houses are named after David Glasgow Farragut , (1801-1870) who was a significant leader in the American civil war. Although from the South, he joined the Union as a Navy Captain and was responsible for the strategic victories at New Orleans and Mobile, AL. He went on to become the first four-star admiral of the United States Navy.Posted by alexis at October 18, 2004 11:44 PM
Just wanted to let you know I just featured this post of yours on Brownstoner this morning.
Love the blog.
Posted by: Brownstoner at October 21, 2004 11:40 AM