Commercial strips in primarily residential neighborhoods are often a reflection of it’s residents. Of course, in the many “up-and-coming” (e.g. gentrifying) neighborhoods you find in NYC, often the commercial businesses lag behind the actual residents (for various reasons).
Communities can be defined by many things: the architecture (think Carroll Gardens, or Tribeca, or parts of the West Village); the energy and character of its residents (Astoria, the East Village, chunks of Park Slope); its cultural, culinary, or nightlife offerings (Chelsea, Williamsburg, Chinatown, the Lower East Side).
Of course, you don’t have to actually find a NYC rental apartment in any of the above neighborhoods in order to take advantage of the things that make them appealing places to live; that’s always been my favorite part of living here, the easy access to everything the city has to offer, so you can live in one place, work in another, and play everywhere.
That said, one of the keys to finding an apartment in a community that really feels like home is the neighborhood’s most immediate commercial strip; the stretch of town on which you’ll walk again and again, on your way to and from wherever you go; the place where you’ll do all of your local, every day shopping and dining. If this half-mile or so of retail blocks feels right, you’re probably going to like your neighborhood.
So, let’s take a look at two developing commercial strips, and one long established one.
I was reminded of all this by recent articles about three different community-defining commercial strips. If, for example, you’re thinking of looking into Harlem rental apartments, take a look at this piece in the Wall Street Journal about the resurgence of West 116th Street in Central Harlem, both as an important commercial area as well as an increasingly residentially-developed strip.
For years, 125th Street was (and remains) one of the top commercial strips in Harlem. However, according to the Journal, in addition to all of the new condo and rental towers that have gone up on the street in recent years (many of which are looking to rent out their street-level storefronts to more upscale stores and restaurants than these blocks have seen in the past), there is also My Image Studios to look forward to, a 20,000-square-foot entertainment venue and African and Latino-themed cultural center.
This new 116th Street commercial and residential street is helping to define a new Harlem. Or, some might say, a return to Harlem in it’s heydey.
Heading downtown to Greenwich Village, the Daily News takes a look at that somewhat confounding block, Eighth Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, which by all rights SHOULD be the heart of this historic, high-end, almost unfairly pretty part of town, a block from Washington Square Park, where NYU meets old-world wealth, but for years has fallen into near-decrepitude, with empty storefronts and failed restaurants being the norm.
Not that it’s affecting the always-on-fire market for Greenwich Village rental apartments, but still, it’s exciting to note some of the changes coming to Eighth Street, led by the opening this spring of a big new Stumptown Coffee, the excellent Portland transplant whose only current Manhattan location is the packed storefront off the lobby of the Ace Hotel. And already on Eighth Street is the trendy-looking Wine Cellar, the family-friendly Textile Arts Center (complete with looms!), and Growler Station, which serves freshly-made brewed beer to go.
Perhaps Eight Street will soon become the commercial strip it always should have been, giving University Place and MacDougal Street some competition as the commercial heart of Greenwich Village.
Finally, for those of seeking Queens rental apartments, the Forest Hills neighborhood around Austin Street seems like a good place to include in your hunt. As the Journal reports, for a while now Austin Street has been the commercial center of this leafy part of eastern Queens, and even a recent influx of chain stores–an Ann Taylor here, a New York and Company there–and higher rents that are merciless on some newcomers, there remains a hefty percentage of “mom-and-pop” stores on Austin Street, and a good balance between the familiar and the new.
Independent, boutiquey food shops seem to be particularly popular among Forest Hills residents, with newcomers like La Boulangerie Artisan Bakery and Café, the Brownies and Cream specialty bakery and Mr. Vino Wine and Spirits all faring well. Austin Street remains the primary commercial strip in Forest Hills, and is worth a trip on the subway if you’ve never been there.
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