Not long ago, a stroll down Smith Street meant contending with caving sidewalks, dusty bodegas, and a lot of empty storefronts. “It was like Beirut,” says a longtime local. These days, expect stroller gridlock, restaurants that serve tart tatin, and haute hippie boutiques. “The hype gets pretty out of control,” says novelist and relative newcomer Joanna Hershon, who just saw her neighborhood in a travel magazine. “They made it look like Paris!”
STREET LIFE: Carroll Gardens’ blocks of brownstones, some with actual gardens in front, finally caught the eyes of Manhattanites, filling the gentrification gap between the Heights and Park Slope. Smith Street has become the standard by which other recovering commercial streets (Fifth Avenue, De Kalb) are judged. The speed of its revival has entrepreneurs imagining buried treasure behind every rolled-down storefront. The brasserie needs of the new population are now met with places like Grocery, Mignon, and Banania crowding the traditional dining infrastructure of fake-brick Italian palaces like Marco Polo. Boerum Hill, which has a large public-housing presence, has been slower in remaking itself, though the prostitution problem has been largely curtailed. “There are still a couple side streets where you’re careful of showing apartments after dusk,” says one broker.
MIGRATIONS: Graying Italian men still patrol the streets of Carroll Gardens—”They’ll be here until they die,” says one broker. In Boerum Hill, development is rapidly displacing the old-timers. Notwithstanding a few tenacious “members only” Latino clubs on Smith, Marilyn A. Donahue’s Allan Gerovitz says that “unfortunately, the Dominican population has really shrunk.” Newcomers are now paying more than $700,000 for historic townhouses on Wyckoff Street that couldn’t fetch $300,000 five years ago. You can almost walk clear to Park Slope without passing a single bombed-out shell. “The boundaries are fusing,” says Roslyn Huebener of Aguayo & Huebener. “There are no more demilitarized zones.”
WHAT’S NEW: Bergen Street between Court and Smith is completing its transformation from light industry to luxe living. At 25 Bergen Street, the Icco Cheese warehouse has become the Westcott, a fifteen-unit condo topped by a three-bedroom penthouse with 360-degree views (asking: $925,000). “It’s going to bring a lot of newcomers to the neighborhood with a higher disposable income,” says Corcoran’s Steven Gerber. “There’ll be even more reason for these hip stores and restaurants to be in existence.”
PROGNOSIS: The scarcity of housing and the proximity to industrial wastelands in the southern reaches of Carroll Gardens make expansion there unlikely in a recession, but fixer-uppers are still a bargain down to West 9th Street—and farther in Boerum Hill, all the way east to the artsy fringe of Park Slope. Carroll Gardens near the subway and Smith Street proper should hold its value, as will the Boerum Hill historic district.
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