At home in Bay Ridge: A diverse community that has it all
Bay Ridge in southwest Brooklyn has long been a haven for blue-collar workers and their families.
Scandinavian, Italian and Irish families have populated the neighborhood in the past, and today, Asian, Greek and Arab Americans also call Bay Ridge home. More recently, New Yorkers priced out of Manhattan or Park Slope digs are also moving in.
The nabe is close to the rest of the city, but far enough away to maintain its unique character.
“It still has a small-town feel,” said Jack LaTorre, a former cop who runs the Bay Ridge Historical Society. “If you walk along Third Avenue or Fifth Avenue, you’re going to still see mom and pop stores.”
But these family-owned shops have been shuttering their doors of late, as store owners have retired or been unable to hunker down through the recession.
However, the Arab community that has settled in Bay Ridge has kept the small-business districts vibrant.
“Not only have they been able to integrate, but they have been an asset to the community,” said Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Bay Ridge-based Arab American Association of New York, located on Fifth Avenue and 78th Street. The influx of new residents has made the neighborhood a mosaic of newer ethnic cultures.
Now, one can get lunch at a Norwegian deli or dine on Lebanese cuisine, then grab an Italian dinner and finish the evening with a drink at an Irish pub or hookah at a Middle Eastern café.
Despite the new demographics of Bay Ridge, what has remained the same over the last few generations is the desire to keep the area clean, safe and close-knit; a place where neighbors are familiar and help each other out.
“That has stayed strong through the years,” said Arlene Rutuelo, president of the Norwegian Day Parade and owner of Nordic Deli, at 6909 Third Ave. “We’re just really fortunate to have a community that really cares.
Bay Ridge’s borders are 65th Street to the north, 95th Street to the south, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to the east and the Hudson river to the west.
With only one train to get into and out of Bay Ridge, transportation to the area is rather limited. Residents depend on buses to get to places besides Fourth Avenue. Taxi services are popular.
The R trains stops along Fourth Avenue from Bay Ridge Avenue to 95th Street.
B70; B64; B16; B63; S79 to Staten Island; and x27 and x37 express buses to Manhattan.
Bay Ridge Library, 7223 Ridge Blvd.
6803 Fourth Ave.
8801 Fifth Ave.
High School of Telecommunications Arts and Technology, 350 67th St.
Fort Hamilton High School, 8301 Shore Rd.
P.S. 185, 8601 Ridge Blvd.
P.S. 102, 211 72nd St.
P.S. 264, Bay Ridge Elementary School for the Arts, 415 89th St.
Crime in the 68th Precinct this year has been mainly thefts and misdemeanor assaults. There were 31 robberies to date this year, down from 43 at the same point in 2012.
Schnitzel Haus, 7319 5th Ave.
The German eatery offers an array of sausages served with sauerkraut and potatoes, and beer from Deutschland. 718-836-5600
Zio Toto, 8407 Third Ave.
An Italian restaurant that serves brick-oven pizza and Sicilian dishes. 718-238-8042
David’s Brisket House, 7721 5th Ave.
The brisket, pastrami or corned beef gets piled high at this sit-down deli. 718-333-5662
Skinflints, 7902 Fifth Ave.
Skinflints bar and restaurant is a popular Bay Ridge institution that looks frozen in the 1970s. 718-745-1116
Balady Halal Foods, 7128 5th Ave.
This Middle Eastern grocer and deli has a definitive selection of spices, meats, rice, olives, cheeses and other food items. 718-567-2252
Century 21, 472 86th St.
The retail chain that opened its first store in New York City in 1961 is popular for discount prices on designer clothes. 718-748-3266
The Bookmark Shoppe, 8415 Third Ave.
This independent bookstore has been in the neighborhood since 2002, and holds events with authors and workshops. 718-833-5115
Discoveries, 8315 Third Ave.
Antique furniture and decorations store with a collection curated by owner Robert D’Amico. 718-745-4040
Bean Post Pub, 7525 Fifth Ave.
This pub boasts 21 draft beers and more than 50 bottled beers, as well as 13 televisions for sports games. 718-745-9413
The Hideout, 8415 Fifth Ave.
Formerly called The Wicked Monk, The Hide Out is a bare-bones dive bar for Bay Ridge residents who need a no-nonsense place to get a drink. 718-836-4314
Salty Dog Restaurant Bar & Grill, 7509 Third Ave. The Salty Dog sports bar is a favorite among firemen. The bar displays a vintage fire truck inside. 718-238-0030
Meena House Café, 476 Bay Ridge Ave.
At the Meena House Café, patrons can finish a meal with a hookah and watch a soccer match. 718-238-3274
Pilo Arts Day Spa and Salon, 8412 Third Ave.
Those in need of a day of relaxation can get pampered at Pilo Arts Day Spa. 718-748-7411
Alpine Cinema, 6817 Fifth Ave.
Alpine Cinema is Bay Ridge’s seven-screen movie theater, which plays new releases. 718-748-4200
Owls Head Park, Colonial Road and 68th St.
This park is located along the waterfront at the top of Bay Ridge. The park connects to Shore Parkway Greenway, which has biking and walking lanes along the coast down to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
Bay Ridge is becoming what is known in urban planning as a NORC, or naturally occurring retirement community. Older residents who moved to Bay Ridge to raise their families are staying put as their grown children move elsewhere. The neighborhood has two local chapters of the AARP.
Yet this aging community with high quality-of-life standards has to contend with the neighborhood youth.
Linda Sarsour of the Arab American Association of New York stressed that more youth programs are needed in the community to keep the youth population occupied.
Q&A with Helena De Paola
Local gardener on the area’s greenery
Bay Ridge resident Helena DePaola and her husband were teachers with a gardening hobby when they decided to open their shop in 1974.
Decades later, DePaola is serving a second generation of customers at Indoor Outdoor Gardener, a hydroponic plant store on Fifth Avenue that is a favorite among local green thumbs.
DePaola hailed from the South Bronx and came to Bay Ridge in 1972. She was struck by the neighborhood’s greenery.
“I didn’t even know what a blade of grass was when I was in the Bronx,” she said.
What was your first impression of Bay Ridge? Wow, there’s green around. There are trees. There are buildings that are separate, not tenements.
What is the sense of community like here? I have second-generation customers here. My best friend is one of my first customers. I can only speak about the people that come into the store, you can’t hide in Bay Ridge. When you’re a biz owner and you have kids, everybody knows what everyone else is doing … One person knows the next. It’s a very friendly neighborhood with beautiful homes and beautiful gardens.
What have you seen change over the decades? What has changed is the ethnicity … You have now a minimum of 15 cultures here, which I could rattle off … However, what’s been a constant: price of land has not gone down here, not at all. A home gets put up for sale, it lasts a very short time. People are dying to come to Bay Ridge and buy a home. Again, because of the proximity [to the city] and because of the restaurants … There’s a certain amount of small-town goodness. People are there for each other, know each other. But a lot of the little stores are gone. That’s what I miss.