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City Living: Bed-Stuy has brownstones, history and diversity

LINDA ROSIER

LINDA ROSIER Credit: LINDA ROSIER

In recent years, Bedford-Stuyvesant, the sprawling, historic brownstone neighborhood in northern central Brooklyn, has become a sought-after area for real estate.

Residents there say it should be no surprise that it is once again blossoming to be what it was before its downfall in the 1980s. They say its housing stock -- mainly filled with 19th century brownstones and row houses (some with gas lamps out front) -- matched with its diversity of residents and businesses, proximity to Manhattan (30-35 minutes), and progressive decrease in crime over the last 20 years is what always made it a hidden gem. It is now becoming less hidden.

"Bed-Stuy is the forgotten about part of brownstone Brooklyn. For years Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Park Slope and Fort Greene got the shine," said Citi Habitats Real Estate Agent Kyle McCullers who’s lived here since 2011. "But you can get these really charming historical homes for a lot less than you would in those neighborhoods. Now word is out and people are buying."

Michael Lambert, executive director of the Bed-Stuy Gateway Business Improvement District agreed.

"Over the past five to 10 years, we've seen a significant level of change. People are starting to take stock of what Bed-Stuy has to offer," he said.

Bed-Stuy is populated predominantly with African Americans and Caribbean Americans but a range of ethnicities call it home. Lambert calls it "a literal melting pot." Though many new and younger residents are moving in, he said it's not uncommon to go to a community board meeting and find people who have lived on the same block for 45 years.

Many of the side streets are tree-lined with brownstones dating back to 19th century architectural styles. This includes the ornate Alhambra apartment building at Nostrand Avenue and Halsey Street, one of the first things people see when they step out of the Nostrand Avenue A train station, designed by Brooklyn architect Montrose W. Morris and built in 1889.

The commercial corridors have distinct personalities, for example Lewis Avenue, which offers a quaint retail experience and Fulton Street, where it's common to hear reggae music wafting out of a small clothing store or a Caribbean shipping business.

Part of the area was given the status as a historic district by the City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2013. This district consists of Macon Street, Halsey Street and Jefferson Avenue to the north, Fulton, Chauncey and Decatur Street to the south, Tompkins Avenue at the west and Malcolm X Boulevard at the east. It was an expansion of the Stuyvesant Heights historic district, designated in 1971.

Bed-Stuy is also known for its role in hip hop culture, being the home town of big names like rappers Jay-Z and The Notorious B.I.G. 

Today many of the old brownstones are being renovated and new buildings are being built with modern amenities, catering to buyers and renters who are looking for something traditional or contemporary.

"If you're looking for a decent deal you can still come here; you don't have to kill yourself," said another Citi Habitats agent, Joaquin Pinkney, who was raised in Bed-Stuy and still lives there. He says the area attracts mostly renters and the typical dwelling includes one-bedrooms and studios.

Pinkney admits the atmosphere of Bed-Stuy today wasn't the same when he was growing up.

"It's more peaceful now, you see kids outside, people walking dogs; you didn't see too much of that back in the day," he said.

He noted that after the mid ‘90s, it began to be looked upon as not as bad as before.

"There used to be a lot of vacant lots," he said. "But now you can't find them because stores, complexes and playgrounds have taken the place."

He doesn't plan on leaving Bed-Stuy anytime soon.

"Years and years ago people lived here because that's all that they could afford. Now people want to be here," he said. "That's a thing to be proud of."

Find it:

Bedford-Stuyvesant is located between Bushwick, Clinton Hill, Williamsburg and Crown Heights. Its northern boundary is Myrtle Avenue and its southern boundary is Atlantic Avenue. To the east it is defined by Broadway and to the west by Classon Avenue.

Trains:

A to Nostrand Avenue, Utica Avenue, and Broadway Junction

C to Franklin, Nostrand, Kingston-Throop, Utica, Ralph, and Rockaway avenues, and Broadway Junction

G to Classon, Bedford-Nostrand, and Myrtle-Willoughby avenues

J to Myrtle Avenue, Kosciuszko Street, Gates Avenue, Halsey Street, Chauncey Street, and Broadway Junction

L to Broadway Junction

M to Myrtle Avenue

Z to Myrtle Avenue, Chauncey Street, Gates Avenue, and Broadway Junction

Buses:

B7, B15, B20, B24, B25, B26, B38, B43 B44, B46, B47, B48, B52, B54, and B60

Library:

Brooklyn Public Library, Macon branch, 361 Lewis Ave.

Brooklyn Public Library, Bedford branch, 496 Franklin Ave.

Post office:

USPS, 1360 Fulton St.

USPS, 1205 Atlantic Ave.

Crime:

The Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood is covered by two precincts, the 79th Precinct at 263 Tompkins Ave. and the 81st Precinct at 30 Ralph Ave. At the 81st Precinct, for the week of Feb. 10-16, there were six burglaries reported, up from one in the same week the year before. Crime in 2013 was down 67% total from 1990.

To eat:

Ali's Trinidad Halal Roti Shop, 1267 Fulton St.

Find traditional Trinidadian dishes here like doubles with tamarind sauce or curry chicken with roti. 718-783-0316

Saraghina, 435 Halsey St.

This cozy spot serves up home-made Italian pizza in an authentic atmosphere. 718-574-0010

Peaches HotHouse, 415 Tompkins Ave.

Nashville-style hot chicken is the main, well-loved dish here; it comes crispy, juicy and spicy all at once. People say it’s not for the faint of heart. 718-483-9111

To party:

Gallery Bar, 1056 Broadway

Local artwork blends with food and cocktails at this rustic yet cozy spot. There is outdoor seating when the weather is warm. 718-928-7466

Black Swan, 1048 Bedford Ave.

This beloved spot offers a variety of wines, beers, scotches and whiskey, along with their famous Bloody Swan drink and a mix of snacks. 718-783-4744

Vodou Bar, 95 Halsey St.

A swanky bar and restaurant that promises its patrons will become spellbound. Cocktails like The Initiation, The Offering, and The Vodou That You Do and décor meant to invoke an escape make it a great place to unwind at week’s end. 347-405-7011

To shop:

Vianova, 707 Myrtle Ave.

This boutique sells vintage clothing and jewelry and antique furniture from independent designers. 347-378-2218

Jasmine’s House of Scents, 514 Nostrand Ave.

Candles, essential oils, soaps and incense in a variety of scents can be found in this shop. 347-425-8898

Charlie’s Calypso City, 1241 Fulton St.

Find a range of vintage records catering to the music loved by Bed-Stuy’s Caribbean community.

To do:

Brooklyn Art Incubator, 677 Lafayette Ave.

The BAI is a place where children can go to explore their creative side with workshops in ceramics, painting, jewelry making, dance and spoken word. 347-365-6991

The Billie Holiday Theater, 1368 Fulton St.

The 2013-2014's season of this off-Broadway playhouse include “Maid’s Door,” a play the theater calls “an intense family drama.” Thebillieholiday.org

Sistas’ Place, 456 Nostrand Ave.

Enjoy live jazz performances every Saturday night at this small storefront. 718-398-1766

Real estate:

To rent:

251 Jefferson Ave. One-bedroom, one-bathroom; 500 square feet: $1,200 per month.

227 MacDonough St. Two-bedroom, one-bathroom; 900 square feet: $1,700 per month.

To buy:

537 Greene Ave. #2. One-bedroom, one-bathroom condo; 720 square feet: $450,000.

770 Putnam Ave. Three-bedroom, two-bathroom townhouse; 2,288 square feet: $799,000.

Looking for a home in Bed Stuy?

Joseph Felix Realty, 718-919-6800

Rapid Realty, rapidnyc.com

The buzz:

While Bed-Stuy offers relatively affordable rental units and houses, the area's prices are rapidly rising. Some condos are going for rates as high as its nearby darlings, Clinton Hill and Fort Greene. Joaquin Pinkney, a real estate agent at Citi Habitats who lives on Greene Avenue and brokers in Bed-Stuy said that just a few weeks ago a million dollar penthouse condo at at 105 Lexington Ave. was sold.

"I would also say that Bed-Stuy is already starting to be priced out,” Pinkney said. “Within the next few years it will be like Williamsburg and Greenpoint in terms of the pricing so now's definitely a great time to buy while it's still affordable."

According to a December 2013 Brooklyn rental market report from MNS, a real estate brokerage and marketing group, overall rents in Bed-Stuy increased by 6.5% since December 2012 from $1,742 to $1,886. Studio apartments saw a jump from an average of $1,475 in December 2012 to $1,670 in December 2013. One-bedrooms jumped from $1,695 to $1,781 during that same period, and two-bedrooms went from $2,067 to $2,116.

Real estate agents say that one reason for the jump includes the influx of new establishments in the neighborhood, which drives in potential residents with higher incomes. However, the average prices are still not as high as areas like Boerum Hill and Clinton Hill.

Q&A with Debbie McClain: Owner of Sankofa Aban Bed & Breakfast

Debbie McClain was raised in Bedford-Stuyvesant and is the owner of the Sankofa Aban Bed & Breakfast at 107 Macon St. She opened the four-story brownstone business in 2009 because she wanted visitors of New York to feel at home and experience what Bed-Stuy is all about. The establishment is in what used to be her grandparents’ home and is also known for its Brownstone Jazz series, a traditional jazz fest and fish fry that she hosts every weekend featuring seasoned jazz musicians. The event attracts locals and people from all parts of the United States and the world.

What was it like growing up in Bed-Stuy?

Growing up, my neighbors were amazing. I loved my childhood growing up in Bed-Stuy; everyone was like family, everyone knew each other and looked out for each other’s children. No one’s doors were closed to anyone.

What is a common misperception about your neighborhood?

When I have my guests come they always tell me that they’ve been told negative things, revolving around safety. But crime has been dropping and when they come they thank me for changing what they were told and what they originally believed. You would be as safe here as you would anywhere else.

How has the nabe changed over time?

I wouldn’t call it change. It’s revolving -- Bed-Stuy is now is heading back into the direction it was before some unfortunate things happened. It’s coming around again.

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