Quietly, Harlem has become one of Manhattan's hottest neighborhoods.

Rent prices for Harlem apartments have gone up over the last year as home hunters found an abundance of inventory going for relatively reasonable rates, real estate experts said.

The nabe's popularity is furthered by an onslaught of new stores and restaurants as well as its uniqueness and history, according to residents, experts and area business owners.

"The thing about Harlem is that it's still Manhattan, still the 212 number and we have the architecture and flavor that no other neighborhood has," said Anahi Angelone, who moved into the neighborhood four years ago and opened The Corner Social, a restaurant and bar on Lenox Avenue. "No one put money into it before and now we're bringing it back to life. It was a matter of time."

A report by the real estate group MNS last week found that average rent prices in Harlem went up 9.4% from $2,191 last year to $2,397 in January, the biggest increase in Manhattan. In 2002, the average rent was $1,200, according to the nonprofit Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development.

MNS and other real estate groups, like Douglas Elliman, say Harlem's real estate success -- which also includes an increase in home sale prices -- began during the economic crisis when good values were hard to come by. New apartments at buildings like The Adeline at 23 W. 116th St. have found buyers and renters quickly.

Mark Menendez, director and executive vice president for Douglas Elliman, said for many up-and-coming young adults, families and other prospective New Yorkers, Harlem is a win-win with a relative wealth of available homes with great amenities.

"There is great potential, great shops that are affordable and great transportation. We've seen some new developments come up in the neighborhood and they are affordable," he said.

An influx of new stores has also attracted visitors and new residents, while being patronized by longtime Harlemites as well, Menendez said.

The new additions to Harlem in the past few years include Whole Foods, Red Rooster restaurant, '50s themed restaurant Harlem Shake and brasserie The Cecil.

A key to success in the neighborhood, according to owners and managers of the recent additions, is the community spirit that aids in finding local employees and getting the word out about new homes and shops.

"The sense of 'Let's help each other out,' I've never experienced anywhere in the city," said Angelone, who has lived in and run restaurants in other parts of Manhattan.

Although the neighborhood has seen an economic boom, concerns about gentrification remain.

"It's cool that people are moving into the neighborhood, but hopefully Harlem's look won't change that much," said Nick Kukal, 32, of Prospect Heights, who frequently comes to the area to visit his friends.

Gentrification is a frequent topic of conversation among residents, Angelone added. Preservationist groups have expressed serious concerns about the neighborhood's landmarks.

However, Angelone predicted that no matter what the future holds, the neighborhood will still be a welcoming environment.

"Since I've been here, there's always been that community togetherness and it's been here for a long time," she said. "I don't think that's ever going away."