Crain’s Puts Spotlight On Bath Beach’s Demographic Changes

Can’t we all just get along? (Source:dtanist/Flickr)

Crain’s New York Business Journal turned its gaze to Bath Beach, making the less-than-subtle observation that “Chinese replace Italians as area’s dominant force.”

M’kay. Not exactly a newsflash to those that live around here. But it opened with some interesting history:

Bath Beach, a neighborhood in the far reaches of southern Brooklyn that runs along the Belt Parkway, just inland from Gravesend Bay, gets the first part of its name from the famous English spa town. And though it’s hard to believe—looking at the area’s main drag, gritty 86th Street—a century ago it had its own alluring stretch of sand that served a similar function for New Yorkers as the Hamptons serves today.
The beach disappeared in the building boom following World War II, as a wave of Italian immigrants moved in. Now Bath Beach is seeing another monumental shift.

While there were some rather obvious remarks about business signage and census data that we’ve delved into before, the writer spoke to St. Finbar Catholic Church’s Reverend Michael Gelfant, who noted that the demographic changes were causing the old-school businesses to struggle.

The problem for them is that many of the area’s new Chinese residents are opting to shop in Sunset Park. That neighborhood, just a mile and a half north, in recent years has become the home of Brooklyn’s largest Chinese population, one that boasts a retail and restaurant lineup to match. For many of Bath Beach’s Chinese residents, language barriers make it hard to shop locally.
“There’s not a lot going on at a lot of the Italian- and Irish-American businesses, but that’s because of a lack of communication,” Father Gelfant said. “They’re not [shopping elsewhere] to be rude—they just can’t communicate.”

Gelfant said a number of local Irish and Italian businesses are on the market.

The piece also briefly touched on the tension between long-time residents and the various new immigrant groups, including Russian and Gautemalan. The write-up went much like our comments section, with people grousing over “Beijinghurst,” and more sensible readers pointing out… well, let’s allow Father Gelfant to say it:

“A few of the Italian parishioners were complaining to me,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Don’t blame those people that moved in. Blame all the people that sold their houses.'”

And to those who still grumble over their new neighbors? Well, it’s New York City. Wait seven years and you’ll have a whole new set of neighbors to complain about.

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