West Williamsburg: 'From Hipsterville to Collegeville in the Last Year'

In the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge—and now luxury condominiums—West Williamsburg forms a nice artists’ enclave on the Brooklyn side

In the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge—and now luxury condominiums—West Williamsburg forms a nice artists’ enclave on the Brooklyn side of the East River.

The neighborhood, on a sliver of land between the river and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and which a handful of northern Brooklyn’s 125,000 residents call home, flies in the face of the rest of the city. With Costco and Walmart jockeying for position to open Manhattan locations, West Williamsburg remains fiercely independent of that type of corporatization.

“We moved here from L.A. and found our first apartment on Craigslist here,” said Robin King, a fashion designer who moved to the neighborhood three years ago. He fears increasing gentrification in West Williamsburg. “[The gentrification] is kind of bad. I feel like it’s going to make it more difficult for small business to stay alive. And that’s what gives it the neighborhood feel.”

In fact, aside from the bustling Bedford Avenue, where The Observer first came upon the neighborhood, most of West Williamsburg’s avenues are lined with brownstones and other housing and the streets with small, independently owned shops along with the occasional art gallery or graffiti mural. Not to mention the plethora of bike parking. And, for now anyway, the only shop that seems out of place is the Subway on Bedford. Ms. King pointed out the CVS and the Duane Reade that opened up in the retail space at the Edge, a newer high-rise luxury condo with views of the midtown skyline. She’s even heard a Starbucks is on the way.

The southern end of West Williamsburg sees more development, with modern glass-heavy designs going up next to duplexes or smaller apartment buildings.

“We moved here because we really liked the slightly artistic, slightly independent lifestyle,” said Peter Kos, a five-year resident. “Since then you get a lot of people with Range Rovers moving in. The parents in the nursery school have changed from locals to investment bankers.”

When The Observer spoke to Mr. Kos he was pushing his son in a stroller down North 6th Street, in full view of the Edge. “I’m not enjoying [the changes],” he added, unenthusiastically.

Much of the rest of West Williamsburg shares Mr. Kos and Ms. King’s sentiment. Written in black sharpie on the window of one of the Edge’s offices is “Fuck Off” juxtaposed next to a sign proclaiming the condo has “the largest amenities package in NYC.”

The housing prices reflect this trend. In 2009, the average price per square foot was $409. In 2010, the price jumped over $100 to $528. The average selling price in 2010 was $626,362 (stats taken from appraisal firm Miller Samuel). It appears hipsters are recession-proof.

“It went from hipsterville to collegeville in the last year,” said Jason Branson, who was shooting photos for his blog, The Available Answer. “I started out paying $1,600 nine years ago. I only pay $1,800 for the same one. I live in an awesome apartment, but to get an apartment in [the Edge], it’s going to cost me about $3,000 more.”

Mr. Branson admits it isn’t all bad, though. He cites more restaurants coming in, but he doesn’t understand the infatuation with the neighborhood he’s called home for a decade. “To be honest with you there really isn’t very much here, but you don’t really have very much shopping. Everything’s independent here. There isn’t anything here that you couldn’t get 10-fold in the city,” he said. “You’ll see a lot of the artists and musicians that are now having to go further out on the L train because rents are still cheap and you get better space.”

For now though, West Williamsburg and its independent, artistic spirit seems to stay intact, even with the specter of luxury condos, rising rents, investment banking and Range Rovers looming to further transform the neighborhood.

mcoyne@observer.com West Williamsburg: 'From Hipsterville to Collegeville in the Last Year'