History of Polish immigration to Williamsburg:
Polish people have inhabited the Greenpoint-Williamsburg area for a very long time. Polish people began arriving in the area in the mid to late 19th century. In the 19th century, most of the Polish residents worked in Greenpoint’s warehouses, factories, and refineries. The area became informally known as “Little Poland” due to the high Polish population. In recent years, some Poles have began moving to other neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn, such as Ridgewood, due to rising rents in the area. However, the area around Manhattan Avenue in northeast Williamsburg still has a large Polish population and many Polish small businesses. This area is still the center of Polish life, with Polish-language signs on doctors’ and lawyers’ offices, pharmacies, and restaurants.
Recently, new types of people have been arriving in the once predominantly Polish enclave. For example, hipsters and Latinos have made their way into the area, and many have opened up small businesses such as bars, wine stores, coffee shops, and clothing boutiques. In addition, the neighborhood has undergone gentrification in recent years, and many large chains have opened in the neighborhood.
Small Businesses in the Polish Enclave of Williamsburg:
There are a variety of small businesses in the Polish enclave of Williamsburg. Most of the small businesses in the area have Polish names. Although the Polish community has been decreasing in size, there are many Polish-owned businesses. These businesses are businesses that cater specifically to Polish residents, such as Polish shipping agencies that ship goods directly to Poland, Polish grocery stores that import foods and drinks from Poland, Polish cosmetics stores that import cosmetics from Poland, and book stores that sell books written in Polish. Other businesses owned by Poles cater to every resident in the neighborhood. These businesses include Polish restaurants, pharmacies, meat stores, and bakeries. Although these stores have Polish foods and products, they serve the entire community. Most of the businesses that are hiring in the neighborhood require workers that speak both English and Polish. Thus, they must be able to communicate with everyone in the community.
During our time in the Polish enclave, we spoke to many small business owners and employees. One of the people we spoke to was Marek, an employee of the Polski Meat Market. Marek said, in broken English: “We serve everyone in the community. Most of our customers are Polish, but we also serve Italians, Dominicans, and Germans, and people of other ethnicities.” He went on to say: “Selling meat is a very competitive business due to the vast number of Polish meat markets in the area.”
Another person we spoke to was Piotr, an employee at Happy End, a Polish-American Restaurant. Piotr was a second generation Polish-American. He said: “My typical customers are Polish. I have many loyal customers that have been coming here for years. However, many non-Polish residents also eat in the restaurant.” Piotr went on to say that gentrification has affected the area in a negative way. He said: “Many Polish businesses have been forced to close due to high rents. Also, the competition from places such as Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts has forced many long-time businesses to shut down.”
There are also many small businesses in the enclave that are not owned by Poles. These businesses are owned by Italians, as well as some gentrifiers. For example, there are pizzerias, Thai restaurants, and Japanese restaurants, among others, in the enclave. Some large chains have also made their way into the enclave, such as McDonald’s, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Duane Reade. These chains provide direct competition to the ethnic small businesses in the neighborhood. One interesting aspect of these chain stores is they have adapted to the residents of the community. Many of the signs on these stores, such as Duane Reade, are translated to Polish. Nevertheless, many of the ethnic small businesses in the enclave have been negatively affected by gentrification.