Change is the natural state of New York City. Although the tide of change often leaves little untouched, the fact that it affects people in such varying ways and to varying degrees makes it hard to draw a complete picture of the changes a neighborhood has undergone. One neighborhood which has undergone a great deal of change in recent years is Kensington, in the heart of Brooklyn. Buzz Perri of Buzz-A-Rama, who was born in Kensington in 1925, has born witness to many of these changes. In his role at the helm of a business which has operated in the neighborhood since 1965, he has developed a unique perspective on the changes that Kensington has undergone. In spite of these changes, Buzz-A-Rama has managed to remain practically unchanged over its more than 50-year history.

Buzz-A-Rama in 1980 vs. 2013:


Buzz-a-Rama in 1980

NYC Dept. of Records


Buzz-a-Rama in 2013

It was a gray day when I visited Buzz-A-Rama in Kensington, Brooklyn, and the gray face of the building seemed to melt into its surroundings. The 20-minute walk from the Q train to the east in Flatbush took me from the busy commercial street my partner Olivia and I had grown familiar with, to residential areas with massive houses, and eventually back to a more commercial locale. Along the way, West Indian and Hispanic shops were replaced by a synagogue and Jewish school, which in turn was replaced by Russian insurance agencies and employment services. As I neared Buzz’s, the Russian shops gave way to Indian and South Asian stores.


Buzz in 1993.

Courtesy of Buzz Perri.


Buzz in 2016.

Sean Crisp

Buzz-A-Rama sticks out like a sore thumb, not only because of its surroundings in Kensington, but also because it is the last slot car racing speedway in New York City. Slot car racing, which was commercialized in the 1960s, enjoyed wild popularity until it died out a decade later. The owner, Buzz Perri, told me that in its heyday, Buzz-A-Rama was open 90 hours, seven days a week. These days Buzz’s is only open on the weekend, and it was quite busy when I walked in. Buzz and his wife were very friendly and more than willing to share their story, as well as their opinions on the neighborhood.

As you would probably expect, Kensington in the 1920s and 30s was vastly different from Kensington today. Buzz told me that when he was born, Kensington was extremely diverse: “Germans, Irish, Italians— we had everybody back then”. Buzz told me that the ethnic makeup started to change around 10 or 15 years ago, when the neighborhood’s South Asian population began to arrive in large numbers. It seemed to Buzz that the neighborhood is much less diverse now than it was when he was born. He described the current ethnic makeup of the neighborhood as “90% Bangladeshi and Pakistani”. Buzz and his wife Dolores assured me that they had no issues with their neighbors, and are sure that they are nice people. The couple’s concerns are that the new population does not seem to be assimilating, as the immigrant populations of the past had. “I can’t even read most of the signs anymore” Dolores told me. Buzz believes that the change of the ethnic makeup of the area has affected his business. He explained, “They don’t spend their money here. Most of them send it back home to the old country.”


The 'international circuit'.

Sean Crisp


Every car races in its own slot.

Sean Crisp

Buzz opened Buzz-A-Rama in 1965, after slot car racing had become a commercial fad. Before then, he had raced with friends on amateur tracks, and when the hobby became mainstream, he knew he had to get a piece of the action. Buzz told me that before he opened, seven supermarkets occupied the building. Buzz allowed me to take a shot at slot car racing myself, which I found immensely frustrating, since I was unable to manage my speed at the turns. He showed me one of the more professional cars on the international circuit, which was able to reach dizzying speeds. Buzz also showed me the collection of arcade games he had collected over the years, most of which were completely unrecognizable to me. He told me that during birthday parties, he allows the children to play with the ones that still work for free, because he wants them to be able to experience the games that have become very rare.

Buzz went on to tell me that in the old days his customers, like himself, lived in or were from the neighborhood. These days, most of his customers come from New Jersey, Connecticut, and other parts of New York State. Buzz and Dolores had other concerns about the neighborhood, namely with what they perceived as a rising crime rate. Dolores showed me a flyer they had recently received from the NYPD, which warned about the risks posed by thieves and suggested tips to minimize danger. Dolores was particularly concerned about a new homeless shelter which had opened in the neighborhood. She told me, “They snuck it in, without asking the neighborhood association or the residents. They didn’t ask anybody”. Buzz tells me that he has not seen any of the signs of gentrification that I noticed further to the east in Flatbush/Ditmas Park. Despite this, Buzz-A-Rama has been hit with increasingly high property taxes in recent years. In fact, Buzz told me that his property tax jumped more than 50% last year alone, which means he has to pay $10,000 more than last year.

Buzz’s recollection of a Kensington dominated by Irish, Italian, German, and Jewish groups among others is reflected in primary sources from the period. According to 1940s New York, just under one-third of Kensington’s population in 1943 was made up of foreign born immigrants, of whom roughly one-half were Russian Jews and Italians. Including these groups, over 99% of the population then was white; in fact, just .05% of the population was categorized as neither white nor of African origin.

My dying breath will be on one of these tracks. Buzz Perri

It seemed to Buzz that Kensington is less diverse now than it had ever been in his nine decades there. He told me that at some point, perhaps in the 90s or early 2000s, an influx of Bangladeshi and Pakistani immigrants began to arrive, and that these groups have now come to dominate the neighborhood. Census data show a vast increase in the Asian population of Kensington in recent decades. According to the census, before 1980 less than 3% of Kensington’s population was of Asian origin. The 1990 census showed a big jump, when a quarter of the population of some parts of Kensington was made up of people of Asian origin, although the average for the neighborhood hovered around 10%. By 2014, the highest concentration of Asians in Kensington census tracts was around 50%, although the average for the neighborhood as a whole was closer to 20%.

Kensington’s Asian population in 2014 (left) vs. in 1980 (right):


Photo by: Social Explorer

Although the Asian population in Kensington has increased since the 1990s, Kensington retains a white majority. Furthermore, Buzz’s perception that the new Asian population is mostly made up of Bangladeshi and Pakistani people is only partially accurate. Although people of Bangladeshi and Pakistani origin do make up the majority of the Asian population in some parts of Kensington, as a whole they only actually represent pluralities. There are also concentrations of Indian, Chinese, and other Asian groups in the neighborhood, which calls into question Buzz’s perception that the neighborhood’s diversity is at an all-time low.

The concentration of Pakistani (left) and Bangladeshi (right) people in Kensington:


Photo by: Social Explorer

I asked Buzz how the changes to the population of Kensington have affected his business. He noted that these days, the vast majority of his customers come to Buzz-A-Rama from outside Kensington, and in many cases from outside Brooklyn altogether. He believes this is because the local inhabitants are more interested in the businesses which cater specifically to the Bangladeshi and Pakistani population, whose signs are often in a language that neither Buzz nor his wife can identify. Furthermore, Buzz suspected that many of the immigrants’ families remain in their country of origin, so a lot of the money they earn is leaving the country rather than being spent at local businesses such as his own. Buzz assured me that he has never had any problems with the Asian population; on the contrary, his relationship with his new neighbors has been characterized by a peaceable indifference and a general lack of communication.Hopefully Kensington will remain an example of interethnic harmony, even if interaction between some of the different ethnic groups is limited. But given its niche appeal, it is easy to understand why Buzz-A-Rama might not be appealing for the Asian residents of Kensington, compared to the other newer businesses which surround it.


To the left of Buzz-a-Rama...


To the right....

Although Buzz had nothing negative to say about the demographic changes in his community, he and his wife were alarmed by what they saw as a rising crime rate in the area within the past few months. Unfortunately, the most recent crime statistics released by the NYPD date back to May 2014, at which time Kensington was one of the safest neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

Kensington has undergone tremendous change since Buzz-A-Rama was opened in 1965, and the business is no longer able to cater to the needs or desires of the majority of Kensington’s residents. Despite this, Buzz assured me that his business, which has survived so many challenges up to now, will continue to to remain a fixture in Kensington into the near future.

Despite the challenge of increasingly high property taxes, Buzz told me he is not worried about the future of the business. Buzz, who is approaching his 91st birthday in November, told me that his wife, who is a nutritionist, has kept him alive over the years. “My dying breath will be on one of these tracks” he declared. As long as Buzz remains at the helm, Buzz-A-Rama, which has survived the tides of a changing neighborhood in the past, looks set to remain right where it has been for more than 50 years.


NYC Department of Records Photo Gallery. Web. 3 May 2016.

“Total Population: Asian Alone, 2014” and “Total Population: Asian and Pacific Islander, 1980.” Map. Social Explorer. Social Explorer, n.d. Web. May 3 2016. (based on data from U.S. Census Bureau)

“Total Population: Pakistani, 2014” and “Total Population: Bangladeshi, 2014.” Map. Social Explorer. Social Explorer, n.d. Web. May 3 2016. (based on data from U.S. Census Bureau)

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