Southern Brooklynites of a certain age will remember Ceasar’s Bay Bazaar, a cavernous building housing hundreds of independent vendors, who hawked their wares flea-market style. It lasted 13 years at the end of Bay Parkway, though most Bay Ridgers probably took the Belt or rode their bikes all the way past the Bridge, a little more than two miles to the End of the Bike Path. It seems like most locals just assumed Ceasar’s Bay was the name of the waterway. It’s not—it’s Gravesend Bay, stretching from the Bridge to Coney Island Creek.
“Ceasar’s Bay” was named for Ceasar Salama (note the atypical spelling), who opened the bayside Bazaar in 1982 with partner Joseph Gindi, hoping “to restore the [shopping] center’s economic vitality while preserving its image as a marketplace for first-rate goods,” the Brooklyn Spectator reported June 2, 1982.
Salama “was actually in the tablecloth business, and every week people would come in and buy large lots and then sell them at the local flea markets,” his son told the Daily News in 2002. “He liked the idea of people having a chance to express their entrepreneurial spirit. He took the old E. J. Korvettes site on Bay Parkway and turned it into Ceasar’s Bay Bazaar.”
E. J. Korvettes was a chain of department stores with a flagship in Herald Square that revolutionized the business with sharp discounts, particularly for appliances—so much so that founder Eugene Ferkauf appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1962. That was
around the time just a few years before the Korvette’s opened in Bensonhurst (ca. 1967), near the intersection of Bay and Shore parkways; it would define the site for the pre-Ceasar’s Bay generation. As far as I can tell, this was this part of the waterfront’s first foray into major retail; before that, it was home to warehouses, docks, piers, beaches, trees and homes. (In the 1950s, the big attraction seemed to be the Shore Haven apartments.)
In his book The Old Neighborhood: What We Lost in the Great Suburban Migration, NPR host Ray Suarez describes E.J. Korvettes as “a middlebrow retailer for a middlebrow neighborhood.”
It was predicted, in the sixties, when Korvette’s opened its doors, that it would destroy [the shopping district in Bensonhurst on] Eighty-sixth Street. Family-owned businesses catering to shoppers on foot had been hurt by the opening of department stores in many other parts of New York City. But it didn’t happen quite that way. What brought down Eighty-sixth Street was the same change that eventually brought down Korvette’s itself: the transformation of consumer taste—the “un-middling” of retail, as merchants were forced to head way up- or way down-market or close their doors.
Korvette declared bankruptcy in 1980, and later the following year contract negotiations on the Bay Parkway site were close to completion. On June 4, 1982, Ceasar’s Bay Bazaar, boasting 100,000 square feet and 2,000 parking spaces, opened in what was then called the Bay Parkway Shopping Center. (The Toys ‘R Us that’s still there shared the building and opened in September.) “It is a weekends-only center of discount booths for merchants and manufacturers of everything from clothing to gold items,” the New York Times reported.
But it is not a flea market, insist Joseph Gindi and Ceasar Salama, owners of the one-time anchor store for the center. There will be no inferior goods, no used items and no flouting of the state’s sales tax laws, they say. All laws will be strictly enforced and all the tenants will have a seven-day refund policy.
The assurances partly calmed merchants from a commercial strip four blocks inland who, as the Bensonhurt Board of Trade, opposed the bazaar, fearing that rendering unto Ceasars would amount to unfair competition.
“It’s like a department store gone crazy,” Salama told the Brooklyn Spectator. “Having 500 salespeople to serve the public, cutting prices to the bone.”
I have only one memory of it—buying a gray-felt Chicago Bulls cap there in what must have been the very early 90s from a booth that sold hats—one of the space’s 500 or so. “Equal parts flea market and department store, Ceasar’s gave hundreds of small, independent merchants the chance to peddle their goods from small booths, and offered shoppers an eye-popping array of wares,” according to the Daily News.
“The Planning Department is trying to encourage more recreational marina development in this area,” the Times reported, in 1984. “The waterfront already has 10 percent of the marina slips in Brooklyn, a mini-amusement park called Nelly Bly, a bicycle path and a rocky breakwater that often is speckled with fishermen.” The Bazaar “came along about the same time as Toys ‘R’ Us and Chuck E. Cheese, a $1 million entertainment center,” the Times added, transforming Ceasar’s Bay from a shopping site to a shopping center—one that today still calls itself the “Ceasar’s Bay Shopping Center,” even though the anchor store, the Bazaar, closed in 1995, and not necessarily because its business model was untenable.
“We operated for 14 years on Bay Parkway, where we shared ownership of the former Korvettes site with Toys ‘R’ Us,” Ceasar’s son told the Daily News. “Then Kmart came in and made an offer we just couldn’t turn down. We love Brooklyn and tried to open another one in Brooklyn several times, but the costs were just too prohibitive.” (Emphasis mine.)
Kmart became Kohl’s, which now shares the center with a Toys ‘R’ Us, Babies ‘R’ Us, Modell’s, the Vitamin Shoppe and other national chains, many of whose stores here were hit hard by Superstorm Sandy. (Long departed chains include
Best Buy, Roy Rogers, Waldbaum’s and Radio Shack.) A new Ceasar’s Bay opened on Staten Island in 2002—but apparently didn’t last long, because I can only find one mention of it on the entire Internet.