Gentrification is a real thing. It affects people in ways that many may not even realize. On the one hand, lower rent to live in NYC is appealing to some, but on the other hand, families that have lived in neighborhoods for years are getting displaced.
If you follow me on Facebook, you probably have seen me post about gentrification once in a while, especially in NYC. I have friends currently living in Washington Heights, working hard to fight gentrification in their beloved communities. Although I’m not from Washington Heights, I know the rich culture that the area is known for. It’s a shame what’s happening just so people can move in and cash in on the lower real estate. In turn, making it so that the families and communities that lived there for years can no longer afford to live there.
My family is from Williamsburg, which is currently going through some serious gentrification. It saddens me, because it’s almost like your childhood is being erased, like it never existed because you can never go back to that place where you grew up and show your kids what it was like growing up as a child from Brooklyn.
It’s been years since our family moved away from Williamsburg. Over 20 years to be exact. Gentrification was the catalyst for my family’s decision to move to upstate New York.
I’ve mentioned quite a few times how my mother was a hairdresser. When I was six months old, she decided she wanted to be a hairdresser and 18 months later without even speaking English, she received her diploma and passed the cosmetology certification.
Fast forward to when I was about 7 years old. My mom was always independent, never wanting to work for someone else. Here we were strolling about on Broadway Ave, on the cusp of the Williamsburg and Bed-Stuy neighborhoods, when a storefront caught her eye. I remember tugging at her dress because I was impatient and she was in awe of the space. That woman is a visionary because that place she was in awe of was in ruins. There was a fire that did a lot of damage and the space wasn’t usable as is. But it was still available for rent.
She saw potential in the space. She took a lease out on the space, taking on the job of hiring contractors to completely gut the place. When it was done everything was new from floor to ceiling, walls, bathroom and custom mirrors and barber stations/chairs. She took pride in her business, never late on rent, always busy on Fridays and Saturdays. At that age, I was helping her take accounting of her days, writing in a notebook the people she serviced and how much she earned. Those times our fridge was never empty, always overflowing with food, snacks and drinks.
Due to this business, I was able to walk down to Graham St. aka Borinquen Place, to purchase my back to school clothes and supplies supporting other local businesses. San German’s music was the backdrop to most of my back to school shopping! We also supported local businesses by sometimes ordering out on our busy Saturdays. In those days, unless you were McDonald’s or Burger King, those other chains didn’t exist. When she was too busy to make dinner, we survived on local pizza, the Mexican restaurant that was two doors down from her beauty salon, the Chinese place around the corner. And they showed love by getting their hair done at my mom’s place.
When her lease ran out 7 years later, the landlord decided that now it was prime real estate. And she had completely increased the value of his property. So he tripled her rent. And in case she couldn’t afford that, he offered her the deal of purchasing the property from him for an obscene amount of money.
That’s when my mom decided it was time to shut the doors of her pride and joy, say goodbye to her faithful clientele, and pack our bags to move upstate. Business wasn’t doing so well either. I could tell by our fridge, only the essentials, no extra drinks or snacks.
NYC was always known for their multicultural melting pot. Little Italy, Washington Heights, Williamsburg…these are all communities that were strong and supported each other. Growing up I didn’t need to leave Williamsburg for anything. You can watch a movie, go to the bank, grocery store, get your hair done, back to school shopping…all in the same neighborhood. The owners of those stores knew me. I’m talking about really knew me, because I went to school with their kids. Some of us were in the same class since Kindergarten through Jr. High School. If that’s not a community, I don’t know what is. Some of the kids in my mom’s class got their hair done at my mom’s shop. The boys even came in for a fresh cut!
Now NYC’s history and culture is being erased due to big business and high rises. It’s being watered down and it’s definitely not the same NYC I grew up in, that my cousins grew up in. That our parents worked hard to migrate to. What will happen when this city becomes just like every other cookie cutter city with their same food chains and retail chains? Even after moving away so long ago, I was always able to ride the Amtrack down to Madison Square Garden and do some back to school shopping when I was a teenager. Now I can pretty much get the same things anywhere since it’s all a chain store. Gone are all those mom and pop stores that we all loved growing up.
I still plan on going back to school shopping on Graham Ave for my kids, I have always tried to support the local businesses when I can, even though I don’t live there anymore. I am distraught by what’s happening in my beloved community. It’s like a part of me is being erased.
Let’s not let Graham Ave go without a fight. Those businesses still struggling to hold on like San German need us. And Brooklyn always holds their own and takes care of their own!