On the shelves of Polish grocery stores in Greenpoint, bottles of Mountain Dew and Diet Coke are beginning to crowd out liters of Zywiec Zdroj and Nateczowianka.
But it’s not just groceries that are becoming more American in Brooklyn’s Little Poland. The neighborhood is, too.
“Nearly half the Polish people who used to live in Greenpoint have moved away,” said Walter Gul, co-owner of Polski Meat Market on Manhattan Avenue. “Here in Greenpoint we have an old generation of Polish immigrants. But the new immigrants are moving to Queens.”
Between 2005 and 2006, the number of Polish immigrants living in Brooklyn decreased by 4,010, while the number of Polish immigrants residing in Queens increased by 4,109, according Census statistics. The similarities in the numbers is no coincidence.
“It started about five years ago when the rents [in Greenpoint] started to increase,” said Steven Tychanski, owner of Steve’s Meat Market, a Nassau Avenue staple, which has operated from the same storefront for the past 35 years. “Landlords started raising the rent and people from outside started buying up houses — some of the Polish people couldn’t afford to stay.”
In Greenpoint, a one-bedroom apartment that rented for as little as $700 per month in 2005 now rents for $1,200–$1,800, according to local broker Krys Kardaz.
In Ridgewood, Queens — which boasts a growing number of Polish businesses and services — a similar apartment rents for $1,000–$1,200 per month.
And it’s not just residential rents, Kardaz said. “Commercial rent has increased just as much, if not more.”
It’s no surprise who’s driving those rents up into the neighborhood’s increasingly high skyline. Young professionals who once nested on the Lower East Side of Manhattan are now seeking bargains in hipster Greenpoint — but those bargain rents are only relative; indeed, longstanding Polish residents can no longer afford them.
“Young people are coming from all over and the rent just keeps going up,” said Christine Sankner, who has lived in Greenpoint for the past 52 years.
Despite the soaring rents, the glass condos and the Polish exodus, Sankner is confident that Greenpoint will remain a Polish neighborhood.
“They’re not going to take over all of the stores,” she said. “Greenpoint will always be Polish.”
That’s not so clear. If there’s one truism about life in New York it’s that neighborhoods change. It can take two generations, but neighborhoods change.
It’s already starting in some stores, where shop owners are stocking more American goods.
“You have to move with the crowd, so now we also carry American things,” said Joanna, an employee Hurtownia Slodyczy, a grocery store on Nassau Avenue.
And other storeowners can see the end is near.
“Business is going down and down,” said Marzena Parys, who co-owns Polski Meat Market with Gul. “We hope it will come around, because otherwise, I don’t think there will be a future for our business in this neighborhood.”