Stretch of Hudson Heights offers old-world elegance, despite influx of Upper West Siders

February 15, 2013 09:00AM

A three-block stretch of West 181st Street in Hudson Heights offers a hybrid of big city living and a casual European neighborhood vibe, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The area is peppered with green spaces, artsy stone stairways and numerous benches amidst prewar apartment buildings and small businesses. Longtime residents say despite its proximity to Washington Heights, it has managed to retain its old-world flavor.  “You are in the heart of Dominican culture in the city at West 181st and St. Nicholas, and when you come [past] Fort Washington, you have a more European style,” Ebenezer Smith, the district manager of the neighborhood’s Community Board 12, told the Journal.

Newcomers have likened it to a miniature Park Slope, circa 1989. “It is off the grid, even though it’s part of Manhattan,” Kal Narvilas, owner of Saggio, a popular Italian trattoria in the area, told the Journal.

But a growing influx of savvy Upper West Siders and Harlem residents is changing the landscape of the neighborhood, brokers say. “In the 1980s and 1990s most of what we saw were first-time buyers, but that’s not the case now,” Simone Song, a longtime broker in the Heights, told the Journal. “We have people who know the value, are selling what they have downtown and buying here.”

Indeed, many small businesses in the neighborhood have closed recently, as they struggle to compete with chains and bigger businesses looking to establish a presence. The move has concerned residents, who have lobbied to protect locally-owned businesses.

“There is a lot of activity happening west of Broadway and we want to make sure it happens in a way that provides input from all the stakeholders and assists with [business] issues,” Angelina Ramirez, executive director of the Washington Heights Business Improvement District, told the Journal. The district plans to expand its reach beyond Fort Washington Avenue to Cabrini Boulevard, she added.

There have been many major capital improvement projects in the area recently, among them the $180 million renovation of the Port Authority’s George Washington Bridge Bus Station on West 179th Street, which will see 100,000-square-feet of space added for retailers including Marshalls, Blink Gym and Fine Fare Supermarkets. [WSJ]  –Hiten Samtani