Crown Heights is at a crossroads.
The central Brooklyn neighborhood, characterized by a mix of historic brownstones, dilapidated structures and new condos, is still somewhat affordable. But locals wonder if the recent constructions — and their wealthier residents — will eventually outnumber the older buildings.
At the same time, the neighborhood is experiencing a thriving dining and nightlife scene, as Franklin Avenue has transformed into one of the hippest streets in all of Brooklyn.
The neighborhood’s other main drags, Washington and Nostrand avenues, have trendy lounges bumping up against long-standing Dominican barbershops, 99-cent stores and doubles (a Trinidadian sandwich) shops — testaments to the area’s history as an enclave for immigrants from various Caribbean islands.
Jesse Hirsch, 38, the editor of the blog and magazine Edible Brooklyn, moved to the area last September because of the affordable rent, “reliable train service, lots of trees and a fascinating intersection of cultures.”
The food scene is an added bonus.
“[It’s] great, especially if you like Caribbean,” he said. “And of course — as with any neighborhood in transition — there are increasingly more places to get farm-to-table fanciness and $16 cheeseburgers.”
Even the kosher restaurants that cater to the area’s Chabad Lubavitch community around Kingston Avenue are upping their foodie game.
For example, Boeuf & Bun, on Kingston, serves artisanal burgers (like the Green Monster with guacamole and green chili relish) alongside craft beer. Izzy’s BBQ, on Troy Avenue, is the only kosher smokehouse in New York City.
The lively and diverse atmosphere makes the area popular for young people these days, according to Citi Habitats real estate agent Greg Smith, who has lived in Crown Heights since 1999. But families might have a harder time settling in.
“I do a lot of renting to people graduating from college and getting their first job, and couples just starting out,” he said. “Families are looking to buy, but there’s just not a lot of inventory here. Whenever there’s a house, there’s a bidding war.”
The median rent on a one-bedroom in 2015 was $1,700, according to StreetEasy. The median sales price was $442,500.
Rents get cheaper past New York Avenue toward Utica, Smith said, with two-bedrooms $2,300 to $2,400 compared to about $3,000 a month for between Franklin and Nostrand avenues.
And prices are on the rise. Median condo sales prices in Crown Heights went up 78% in the past year, according to data from the Real Estate Board of New York.
The hike comes as the area is in the middle of a residential development boom. Between 2013 and 2014, Crown Heights saw more new development than any other area in the city, amNewYork reported last spring.
And it isn’t over. For example, developer Cornell Realty filed permits last March to construct a 12-story, 173-unit residential building at 109 Montgomery St. on the site of an old Brooklyn Botanic Garden building at the edge of Prospect Park.
With the neighborhood’s escalating prices, “people who grew up in the area all their lives who now can’t afford to live here, which is really unfortunate,” Smith lamented.
The area’s popularity is only growing, say locals.
“Crown Heights used to be a place where you couldn’t get people to move [to],” recalled Julie Reinken, 46, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 15 years, first with roommates and now with her husband and 3 1/2-year-old son. “Franklin Avenue north of [Eastern Parkway] was a dead zone. Now, it’s the opposite! People would kill to [live] here.”
Crown Heights is bordered to the north by Atlantic Avenue and to the south by Empire Boulevard, according to StreetEasy. It is bound to the west by Washington Avenue and to the east by East New York Avenue.
688 Franklin Ave.
Southern at heart, this restaurant has been a local favorite since it opened in October 2013. You can’t go wrong with shrimp and grits at brunch and buttermilk fried quail at dinner. And be sure to get a side of spoon bread.
The Food Sermon Kitchen
355 Rogers Ave.
Opened last year by St. Vincent and the Grenadines native and French Culinary Institute-trained Rawlston Williams, this restaurant offers an updated take on the many (excellent) Caribbean eateries in the neighborhood.
638 Park Place
Creative sushi in a tiny spot off Franklin Avenue. Its signature silver rice cup is topped with your choice of fish or vegetables.
899 Bergen St.
This gigantic beer hall, owned by the founders of the Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg, features food from Mighty Quinn’s Barbecue, the Sussman brothers’ Samesa, Ed & Bev’s and Lumpia Shack.
1095 Bergen St.
It always feels like summer at this pastel-accented, 1940s-style bar with a Miami Beach vibe and a menu of drinks like pina coladas, daiquiris and the Palo Chino, made with tequila, grapefruit juice, honey vinegar and lime juice.
Friends and Lovers
641 Classon Ave.
A music venue/bar in an old warehouse on a deserted block is one of Brooklyn’s greatest inventions. Enjoy soul night or play hip-hop trivia.
Owl and Thistle General Store
833 Franklin Ave.
This shop, which offers locally-made gift items, opened back in 2011, when the now-bustling Franklin Avenue wasn’t so trendy. It moved to a larger space on the south side of Eastern Parkway last year.
Lady J Jewelry
679 Classon Ave.
Owner Jessica D’Amico creates beautiful and unique jewelry sold in this tiny spot. Select clothing and gifts are also available.
Marche Rue Dix
1453 Bedford Ave.
The owners of the lovely Senegalese-French restaurant Cafe Rue Dix also run this next-door store, selling vintage and new clothing, as well as select home goods and accessories.
Five Myles Gallery
558 St. John’s Place
Although the Brooklyn Museum is nearby, this small gallery is also a great place to see up-and-coming artists such as Amanda Turner Pohan, who will be featured in an exhibit opening on Jan. 23.
Brooklyn Children’s Museum
145 Brooklyn Ave.
Take the little ones to the first children’s museum in the United States, and possibly the world, built in 1899. Fun, educational exhibits teach kids of all ages about world culture, science and history.
Weeksville Heritage Center
158 Buffalo Ave.
This museum sits on a historic site that was home to an African-American community in the 19th century. Rediscovered in 1968, the original houses are now New York City landmarks. The center offers tours and has an educational space, cafe and library.
The Buzz: Longtime residents try to stem tide of development
As many long-time Crown Heights residents are being priced out of the neighborhood, some elected officials and community members are looking for ways to keep the area diverse and affordable.
The recently-announced plan to create affordable housing at the long-vacant Bedford-Union Armory at 1579 Bedford Ave., which was transferred from the state to the city in 2013, may be one approach to achieving this goal.
On Dec. 17, 2015, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), together with Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams and other officials, revealed that the 113-year-old, 138,000 square-foot former military facility will be transformed into a 500,000 square-foot, mixed-use complex comprised of more than 300 affordable and market-rate apartments, private condominiums, office space, community event space and a public recreation center.
“Transforming underused public sites into dynamic mixed-use developments that include commercial space, jobs and recreational facilities, as well as critically-needed affordable housing, are key to achieving thriving, diverse neighborhoods,” New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been said in a NYCEDC press release announcing the plan.
The NYCEDC and Bedford Courts LLC, which includes Brooklyn-based developers of BFC Partners and Slate Property Group, will develop the property.
The architect is not yet announced.
The recreation center, which could include a swimming pool, basketball courts and an indoor soccer field, is being built with funds from the Carmelo Anthony Foundation and will be operated by the nonprofit Church Avenue Merchants Block Association, a Brooklyn-based social service provider, according to the plan.
The apartment units, half of which are slated to be affordable housing for low- and middle-income residents, will be built on a parking garage on the armory’s east side.
The private condos will be created in the space once used as horse stables, which is being sold to the developers outright. The remainder of the property will be developed under a long-term lease with the city, as reported by DNAInfo.
Some residents remain skeptical of the plan.
“I highly doubt that half of the apartments will be ‘affordable’ since that’s an incredibly subjective word, especially around here,” Julie Reinken, 46, said.
But the NYCEDC said the community will benefit from the renovation.
"The Bedford Union Armory has been a centerpiece of the Crown Heights community for more than a century, and by reactivating it, we are building upon its potential to benefit the entire neighborhood,” said NYCEDC President Maria Torres-Springer. "We are responding to the needs and priorities of this vibrant community."
Real Estate: 2015 market data
Median sales price: $675,000
Number of units on market: 506
Median rental price: $2,300
Number of rentals on market: 5,421
Q&A with Debbie Martine Hardy, owner of Martine’s Dream
Stylist and designer Debbie Martine Hardy, 46, grew up both on the island of Jamaica and in Brooklyn and has lived in Crown Heights for 12 years. She opened Martine’s Dream, a cozy clothing and accessories boutique at 681 Nostrand Ave., in April 2014, after getting her start at the Brooklyn Flea. Textiles from Guatemala and jewelry from Thailand, as well as clothing that Hardy designs and has manufactured in India, all have a place in her shop, which also serves as a de facto gathering spot for many in the neighborhood.
How has traveling influenced your store?
I always thought one day when I’m able to, I’ll travel. And when I started I just couldn’t stop — I have the bug. Before Martine’s Dream, I was a stylist and a collector of textiles — I love textiles. I didn’t really do anything with this stuff, I just collected it. In my travels I would see the most amazing stuff, especially handmade, hand-blocked, hand-woven textiles. And then one day when I was in India I decided, “I’m going to do a line of dresses.” And the response was amazing. So with the dresses, and then with other things that I had kind of grabbed along the way, I came back and that’s how I started.
What kind of customers do you typically get?
I get everyone. Every race, every age, every religion; just everyone. A Rasta man will come in and get a head wrap. And a Muslim guy will come in and get a long scarf. And a Caucasian couple will come in and get something for the baby, the house. We get foreigners, we get locals. It’s a melting pot. It’s our little world on Nostrand Avenue.
What’s your favorite thing about Crown Heights?
The mix of people. That mix of people is what makes Brooklyn home for me. I call it a village, where it’s just a mix of different people, but [the community rallies] around you. And that’s one of the reasons I love Nostrand [Avenue]. Nostrand is everyone. Because it’s a main hub, with the trains on either side, you get people passing. Even just sitting here I can see the different people that pass. I hope it keeps that; I don’t want to look outside and see just one set of people. That’s not the world.
2 to Franklin Avenue and President Street
3 to Franklin Avenue, Nostrand Avenue, Kingston Avenue and Crown Heights-Utica Avenue
4 to Franklin Avenue, Nostrand Avenue, Kingston Avenue and Crown Heights-Utica Avenue
5 to Franklin Avenue and President Street
Shuttle train to Franklin Avenue, Park Place and Botanic Garden
Long Island Rail Road at Nostrand Avenue
Celebrities from Crown Heights: