From Greenpoint to Ridgewood, Polish Adapt

Zofia Rybilas in her cosmetics store in Greenpoint. (Photo by Anna Arciszewska via Nowy Dziennik)

Zofia Rybilas in her cosmetics store in Greenpoint. (Photo by Anna Arciszewska via Nowy Dziennik)

[Editor’s note: The July 3-5 issue of Nowy Dziennik published a lengthy story about Polish businesses in Greenpoint and Ridgewood and changes that have occurred in the two neighborhoods in recent years. The complete report in Polish can be read here. What follows is a translation by Aleksandra Slabisz of the introduction to the report.]

“As long as Greenpoint will be home to Polish institutions like banks, the Polish National Home, the Polish-Slavic Center, schools and churches, it will remain Polish. Some Polish business owners will fare better and some worse, but we will be here,” say Polish business owners in Greenpoint.

The need to adjust has, however, become the motto for successful business owners in Greenpoint. “The street is changing, there is no doubt. Each month we lose a neighbor and we get a new one. You have to move with the times, otherwise you become extinct. We don’t stop researching the market and adding new products,” says Zofia Rybilas, owner of the cosmetics store Stokrotka on Manhattan Avenue.

It is difficult to calculate how many Polish immigrants have moved out from Greenpoint. Some estimate that the Polish population here has shrunk by some 30 percent [over the past few decades]. Many people who came to the U.S. and settled in Greenpoint in the 1980s or 1990s have already gone back to Poland. Young Americans who are flocking to this neighborhood have taken their place.

“Change is constant. It is a natural thing. I remember the Polish businesses in Greenpoint 20 years ago. They looked embarrassing. If we want to do as well as we did a few years ago we need to adjust and change. Insisting that the old is good does not make sense anymore. The old is simply gone,” says Mariola Zaremba, owner of the modern Awakening NY Wellness Center.

Those business owners who know how to adapt to the new “Manhattan-like” reality that no longer consists of Polish clientele alone, thrive. Those who can’t adapt may have to close, or can try to get another chance in Ridgewood, a cheaper and increasingly Polish neighborhood in Queens.

According to some estimates this is where one can find the largest concentration of Polish immigrants in New York City.

It is no wonder that it is in Ridgewood that Polish immigrants are opening up the biggest number of new businesses. The neighborhood already has 15 delis and over 70 other businesses not counting, for instance, construction companies headquartered in Ridgewood but doing most of the work elsewhere.

Fresh Pond Road, one of the main commercial arteries of the Queens neighborhood, is lined with Polish delis, restaurants, bakeries, medical offices, hair salons, law firms, bookstores, and a branch of the Polish & Slavic Federal Credit Union, as well as a shoe store, art gallery and an antique store. In addition, Poles run a couple of daycare centers and kindergartens here, and a dance and a martial arts school. What’s more, two large parishes are administered by Polish pastors with a heavy presence of Polish parishioners.

“We used to be in Greenpoint, now we have moved to Ridgewood. The Polish community here is growing each day and it is becoming a vibrant Polish neighborhood,” says Renata Wiacek, owner of Ja-Wa Agency. In Ridgewood her agency is picking up interest and has more and more clients. “We offer not only airline tickets but also shipping and money transfers to Poland. We have added services. That’s how we can reach and cater to a wider range of clients,” the Ja-Wa Agency owner says.

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