Developer Greg O’Connoll credits his real estate savvy to his time as a narcotics officer when New York was hardest hit by the crack epidemic.
Not only did he develop a nose for someone looking to make a deal, he honed his psychological skills in sealing them, and then arresting the eager dealers. When he turned his eye to Red Hook in 1981, the same year he resigned from the force, O’Connell found under-utilized historic buildings and a stunning view of the harbor amid crime and a declining waterfront industry. His development of the Red Hook Stores was initially met with great community resistance.
The first major developer in Red Hook, Irish immigrant William Beard, built the Red Hook Stores in 1870s as part of the major expansion of storage and warehousing inside Erie Basin and along the Red Hook waterfront after the Civil War. The waterfront was booming, and more storage areas conveniently located near the docks expanded the capacity for moving goods in and out of the area.
Come the 1990s, the storehouses were vacant city property amid a failing waterfront industry. When O’Connoll proposed to move Fairway into the Red Hook Stores, the Community Board was torn by the possibility. The supermarket chain would bring in jobs, but it would also mean more car traffic from outside the neighborhood. In the end, O’Connoll was granted permission to develop the location provided that 33,000 square feet would be allocated for free space to artists and non-profits.