by Emily Ackerman
I moved to NYC in 2003, and lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn for the first few years with a roommate. After our landlord raised our rent $800 one year (obviously, NOT a stabilized apartment, and obviously, a SUPER CHARMING landlord), we moved out. I had friends who lived in Inwood at 204th Street at Seaman Avenue, who swore that I should look for an apartment in their neighborhood. I thought it was way too far uptown, and I was suspicious of any neighborhood where you could get a giant apartment with a freakin’ dining room for $1600 (don’t get too excited, this was in 2006). Like, what’s the catch? Right?
Finally, they convinced me. After trying to find a no-fee apartment on my own and getting more and more discouraged and more and more convinced that I was going to catch a disease from some of the buildings I saw, I used a delightful broker who showed me several places in Inwood, each one better than the last. When I walked into my apartment, I was stunned. It was bright, big, had an eat-in kitchen, and was $1050 (again, 2006). I didn’t take it on the spot because I thought, again, there must be some sort of catch. Infested with roaches? No hot water? Built on a swamp?
But there wasn’t a catch. It was just a beautiful, great big apartment that I could afford. My friend took me to The Garden Café on Broadway between 207th and Isham to talk it over. I walked into that adorable restaurant, sat down, and burst into tears. My friend told me that the words I kept repeating were “I really don’t have to live in a sh*t-hole?”
And, I loved the neighborhood. There are new businesses moving in all the time. You can picnic in Inwood Hill Park, and even BBQ on the peninsula where the Hudson and the East River meet. There are enough restaurants to have some variety in a community where most of the servers will remember who you are. Many Inwood restaurants have outdoor space during the summertime, so you can eat and drink on their patio or backyard space. There are some really cool bars too, and there is the most hilarious karaoke at the Pipers Kilt on Sundays – which is really just a huge neighborhood sing-a-long. I mean, where else can you see old couples serenade each other, a group of young dudes work up a killer Boys-To-Men rendition, a professional opera singer belt out a song that makes everyone cry, and a 70 year old man sing “Greased Lightning” . . . . and then take off his shirt and run around the bar while everyone cheers? All while eating the best hamburger ever?
But the thing that made me decide to eventually buy in Inwood is this:
At the beginning of this year, a big commercial building on the corner of 207th and Broadway burned down. It was a 3-alarm blaze that took several hours and hundreds of fire fighters to put out. It was awful. No one was seriously hurt, but many small businesses lost everything. Most of them were owner-operated, and while a few were brand new, some had been in the neighborhood for decades. I was walking my dog and saw the whole thing. All the business owners and their families were there, and it was heart-breaking to watch them see their work, their dreams, and their life-savings go up in smoke.
The very next day, someone started a Facebook page in response to the fire: The Inwood Community Group. By the end of the day, hundreds of people had joined it. Everyone expressed their concern for their neighbors and wondered how we could help. Within three days, we had a huge community meeting that 400 people attended, including several local politicians. We formed a Fire Relief Committee to oversee donations, and tons of fundraising events took place. A large group of people started a Flea Market, there were concerts and benefits, and many of the churches and local businesses got involved in an effort to get the people affected by the fire back on their feet as quickly as possible.
All told, we raised $17K to donate directly to the people who lost their livelihoods, and within a few short months several of the businesses reopened in the neighborhood to great fan-fare. It was awesome. I have always wanted to live in a close knit community, and I experienced it up here like I never had before. And to think…we are still in NYC. It’s a great neighborhood. I heart Inwood.
On the sidewalk in Inwood
Just a typical day in Inwood Hill Park…