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A hidden gem on the New York Bay

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“We like the way we are.”—When gentrification happens to most boroughs in New York City, how Bay Ridge, a historic neighborhood that has been through several changes, keeps its legacy of old Brooklyn?

Step into Anopoli, a restaurant at the corner between the Third Avenue and the Bay Ridge Avenue, you can see the floor seems mottled because there are missing tiles.

“We can’t find the new ones to match those original things,” says Manny Saviolakis, owner of the 116-year-old restaurant, “so we just leave it there.”

“My dad took over the place from the landlord about 20 years ago,” the Greek descendent continued. “See that lady in the picture? She was the landlord; her family used to own the place before World War II.” Saviolakis pointed to a black and white photograph on the shelf.

After Bay Ridge was renamed from being known as "Yellow Hook" since the 19th century, family-run small businesses, also referred as “Mom and Pop stores,” have become the major ingredients in this historic community. The traditional neighborhood, however, is gradually attracting more and more people outside of the borough rushing down to trace the hidden treasure. “It used to be only local food here,” says Saviolakis, “but now new restaurants are coming in.”

Although there is no official figure to show the number of newly opened restaurants on the Fifth Avenue, a street that condenses international cuisines more than anywhere in New York, it’s hard not to notice that within a block there are at least five to six restaurants—either the historic type like Gino’s Pizzeria and Hinsch’s, or the retail chains like McDonalds and Starbucks.

Facing the limited market share is being split by the instant food suppliers, Saviolakis feels optimistic.

“Competition is everywhere, you have to expect that.” He says, “But if people ask for good food, they’ll come to us. Because we're homemade; we know the taste.”

Anopoli has been adapting various business tactics to maintain its century-old success: built up social media pages to promote the restaurant; revised the menu to provide more dinner choices; extended the delivery service to the north, somewhere beyond the neighborhood.

Yet so far that’s the only ingredient the 35-year-old owner is willing to substitute.

As time passes, the interior decoration of the less than 700-square-foot remains as the way it was as in the 1890s. Either the clock that has been tik-toking over the century, hanging against the ceiling, or the vase that sits on the counter, greeting to countless customers who came in for a bite—everything seems a sincere set-up with an original flavor.

“Mom and Pop style is why we succeed and is how makes us special,” says Saviolakis, “Why this place is different? Think about it.”

Unlike other waterfront neighborhoods in Brooklyn that usually first jump into most New Yorkers’ mind, such as Dumbo and Williamsburg have developed an image of youthful urban chic, or Coney Island has presented as a leisure destination with amusement parks, Bay Ridge is a “land for peace” where is full of laid-back elders and forgotten historic sites. The unique character that the serene town has is the distance that keeps it enough away to stay its suburban life style but also makes it be a part of the empire city.

Like elsewhere in the city, the housing condition of this friendly charming town starts heating up.

“People who don’t know well about Brooklyn don’t come to this way (Bay Ridge).” says Richard La Rosa, 47, a real estate broker works in a local realty office. “But it’s been changing.” As a lifelong resident in Bay Ridge, La Rosa has been acting as a real estate broker over eight years. “It is a reasonable neighborhood for the ‘one-to-three family’ home,” he said.

Real estate brokerage Douglas Elliman released its quarterly survey about New York metropolitan areas’ residential sales in October. The report specifically shows that in the third quarter of 2013, one-to-three family house in South Brooklyn (where Bay Ridge is included) had a sales increase of 8.1 percent, compared to the same period in 2012.

The hidden town provides one of the highest quality public schools among the five boroughs, which is a trigger factor that helps multi-family homeowners select to settle down here. NYC Geographic #20, where the town belongs, owns one of the best public schools of the state.

As a result, “houses in Bay Ridge now are averagely worth about $100,000 more than last year. Demand certainly has been here.” La Rosa added.

Small business like Anopoli is also suffering from the burden of its increasing lease. "It goes up little by little.” says Saviolakis. The lease could have gone higher; instead Saviolakis family has remained the old friendship with the landlord to hold the rate fixed in a certain way.

New comers are certainly the emerging forces that affect the living cost.

“Bay Ridge historically had Irish and Italian,” says La Rosa, “now more and more immigrants from other ethnicity are moving in.” From 2006 to 2010, non-white population has enlarged to approximately 27,000, is equal to an 8 percent expansion. Also, an online real estate, Zilliow.com, shows that the land of nearly 80,000 residents favors to non-native newbies, a term to describe foreign-born individuals who just moved to U.S.

“But the market may not increase dramatically as other areas in Brooklyn, like Park Slope.” says La Rosa.

As mentioned in the quarterly survey, the average sales price in South Brooklyn went up to $538,828 in October, which values 22 percent lower than the average price of entire Brooklyn; 41 percent less than the north Brooklyn that consists of Dumbo and Williamsburg; 43 percent cheaper than the northwest Brooklyn where Park Slope is located.

Despite the changes slightly happen in the district of 249 blocks, the residents of Bay Ridge have been intentionally maintaining the old-fashioned style within the area without being through gentrification, a situation that the urban community shifts to be wealthier with increasing valued properties, because of “the politicians have been keeping the development out of the area.”

Several years back, when developers were trying to brick up commercial residence with at least seven-story buildings to replace the 30-feet or less tall detached homes in Bay Ridge, City Council approved the rezoning proposal from the residents that helped to protect the neighborhood against the new development. Despite it “made the neighborhood becomes less desirable for developers,” but that’s how the coziness, quietness and greenness exist in the last peaceful land.

“Whatever the changes are, we hope to keep the way it is.”says Philip Fahey, 46, also a Bay Ridge born and raised small business keeper.

Indeed, the yellow hook wants the way it was; it is.

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