When father and daughter Russ and Courtlyn Crosson opened their little red brick café seven years ago at Shrewsbury Avenue and Drs. James Parker Boulevard, some questi...ned their choice of location, on the opposite end of town from Red Bank’s bustling downtown.
Red Bank’s bustling downtown But the Crossons saw potential that others missed on Red Bank’s western half, historically a low-income neighborhood that in recent decades has seen an influx of Latino immigrants and entrepreneurs.
influx of Latino immigrants Today the Crossons are planning an ambitious expansion: a new, 3,600-square-foot building (six times the size of their existing space) that will house a much larger Coffee Corral and a new, jazz-themed delicatessen.
“The perception of the West Side has totally changed. It’s becoming a much more up-and-coming neighborhood,” observes Courtlyn Crosson, 28, of Fair Haven.
“I think five years from now it’s going to be a totally different West Side.”
Real estate:Neighbors wary of Red Bank apartment complex
Neighbors wary of Red Bank apartment complex If your usual point of reference is Broad Street, the Count Basie Theatre or the commuter rail line that bisects this 1.7-square-mile borough, you might not have noticed yet, but the West Side is having a moment. You can get a taste of what's happening on the West Side in the video below.
Count Basie Theatre In what local developer Christopher Coles calls “a game changer” for the West Side, Sickles Market, a Little Silver landmark, is close to opening its second gourmet food store, along with a bottle shop, on the ground floor of the newly refurbished former Anderson Moving & Storage building on Monmouth Street.
close to opening its second gourmet food store The old warehouse, just west of the tracks, sat vacant for decades before Coles’ company, Metrovation, gave it a new lease on life. It features outdoor balconies, spacious, open work areas with lots of natural light, and a sleek, wood-and-brick exterior Coles says was inspired by the contemporary architecture of the Pacific Northwest. The enlarged, four-story building will house a mix of retail and office tenants. Among them are Booskerdoo Coffee Co. and the Sawtooth Group, a Red Bank creative and brand consulting firm.
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5 NJ coffee roasters to get your caffeine fix this summer Metrovation helped jump-start residential development on the West Side four years ago when it opened the nearby West Side Lofts, a luxury apartment building at Bridge Avenue and West Front Street in the borough’s antique district. The Rail continues that trend. Still under construction just west of the train station, it encompasses 45 luxury apartments, a two-story parking garage, and the newly occupied headquarters of the project’s developer, Denholtz Properties.
Denholtz Properties Luxury living downtown:Red Bank lost its mojo to Asbury, Long Branch. Could downtown housing bring it back?
Red Bank lost its mojo to Asbury, Long Branch. Could downtown housing bring it back? Shrewsbury Avenue, the West Side's main commercial corridor, is getting $1 million in new lighting and other streetscape upgrades, courtesy of state and federal grants. Meanwhile, local entrepreneurs like Juan Torres, who owns Juanito’s Mexican restaurant and Juanito’s Bakery just east of the tracks, are renovating older buildings along the street for use as offices, apartments and new storefronts.
“A lot of people are moving in,” said Torres, 58, who owns a grocery store on Shrewsbury Avenue and plans to rehab another building for apartments and retail.
In another sign of renewed vitality, CBD for Life, a health and beauty shop selling products made with cannabis-derived compounds, plans to open in the old Katsin’s drugstore at 192 Shrewsbury Ave., which has sat vacant beneath its iconic neon sign for 15 years.
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download the app.com app today These are early days yet, to be clear. Many of the projects slated for the West Side haven't been started yet.
Drive along Shrewsbury Avenue and it's not readily apparent that much is changing.
Venture into the surrounding residential areas and you might come across the occasional new home rising from a cleared lot. But it's not as if "SOLD" signs are sprouting from front yards like dandelions.
If gentrification is underway on the West Side, it's just getting started, and it's too soon to know what the impact will be on current residents and property owners.
Middle class in NJ:Where you grow up determines if you will be rich or poor
Where you grow up determines if you will be rich or poor In a sense, the West Side hasn't fundamentally changed. It's always been the more diverse, lower income side of town, and still is today.
A little less than half of Red Bank's 12,000 residents live west of the train tracks. Most are minorities. Latinos account for 60 percent of the population, and blacks another 25 percent, according to U.S. Census data. The east side is 80 percent white.
Median household income on the West Side is about $53,000, compared with more than $80,000 on the east side, census data show.
Mayor Pasquale "Pat" Menna, who was born in Italy but immigrated to the West Side by way of Montreal when he was 11, said real estate brokers in the 1960s and '70s used to refer to his beloved neighborhood as "the wrong side of the tracks."
"I think it was very much a low-income thing" more than racial or ethnic prejudice, Menna explained.
In the '60s and '70s, black and Italian American families predominated on the West Side. Many had steady jobs in factories and the building trades in and around Red Bank, or in mom-and-pop stores that catered to locals. Menna's father had a manufacturing job out of town; his mother was a seamstress for a wedding apparel business.
Menna says there were five meat markets between Shrewsbury and Bridge avenues. One of them was his uncle's.
“Everybody looked out for everybody, and when the street lights came on, it was time to go home,” recalled Benny Roundtree, 65, a longtime West Side resident.
“Even the police officers were from Red Bank at that time,” Roundtree added. “It made things easy because if you got into some kind of jam, they knew you and they would bring you home.”
One afternoon in August, Roundtree and his longtime friend Ostein Vaughn reminisced about those days as they sat in Gus's Barber Shop. The shop's owner, Gus Carter, 77, of Neptune, is a West Side institution.
“Gus has been cutting my hair since 1967,” said Vaughn, 72, a retired postal worker who now lives in Tinton Falls.
The African American men described the '60s as the height of black entrepreneurism on the West Side.
“When I came to Red Bank in 1967 there were 35 black-owned businesses on the West Side," noted Vaughn, reciting the names of barbershops, funeral parlors, grocery stores, taxi companies and many others.
The disappearance of manufacturing jobs in the 1970s and '80s resulted in an exodus of longtime black and white residents from the West Side. Immigrants from Mexico gradually filled the void they left behind.
By the time Tricia and Keith Nelson arrived on the West Side in the late 1980s, its old-fashioned charm had largely disappeared.
She and her husband Keith own British Cottage, a furniture store offering an eclectic mix of new handcrafted pieces from the United States and Europe and centuries-old antiques. The business got its start on West Front Street, but a forced relocation led the Nelsons to their current location on Shrewsbury Avenue.
British Cottage “At that stage this was not a particularly good part of town, so it was considered a bold move,” Tricia Nelson said, “but it was the only thing we could afford.”
More than 30 years later, the Nelsons still live in a spacious apartment above the store, and loyal customers continue to beat a path to their door. “We’re still here, which is the point of the whole story,” Tricia Nelson said.
The demographics have changed on the West Side, but neighborliness is still one of its distinctive traits, Mayor Menna says.
“The houses are so close to each other, so you really have no choice, you have to get to know your neighbor,” he said. “If your neighbor is living 15 feet from you, basically if that guy sneezes, you catch a cold.”
Menna says he's happy to see second-generation Latino Americans among the young families who are setting down roots on the West Side, buying and fixing up homes their parents' generation once rented.
Joseph Durso says that sense of community is what attracted him to the West Side.
Four years ago, he opened Kitch Organic, a 100 percent organic, gluten- and dairy-free restaurant, in what had been a dilapidated former liquor store. With a colorful mural adorning an outside wall and a pretty kitchen garden out back, the upbeat eatery sits in the heart of a residential neighborhood at the corner of Leighton Avenue and Catherine Street, west of Shrewsbury Avenue.
Kitch Organic At lunch time you're bound to see fashionably dressed healthy eaters from Rumson and other surrounding towns conversing happily over Instagram-friendly kale salads, zoodle bowls and chicken satay tacos — and eyeing whatever apple cider donuts might still remain from the breakfast rush.
Durso, 33, was so taken with the neighborhood that he bought a home on Locust Avenue not far from his restaurant.
“It wasn't a matter of price. It wasn't a matter of being on this side of town. It was just (that) we liked the community. We love the neighborhood. We love the people. We love the enthusiasm,” he said.
Glen Goldbaum doesn’t disagree. It's just that the whole "wrong side of the tracks" thing so perfectly synced with the edgy vibe he was after when he opened his avant-garde hair salon, Lambs & Wolves, just west of the tracks on Bridge Avenue 11 years ago.
Lambs & Wolves Goldbaum, 61, a borough resident, spent 25 years working in New York City salons, including a decade cutting hair at Sassoon. From the start he wanted his own salon to be about more than hair. Now encompassing three adjacent storefronts totaling 4,000 square feet, it's as much of an art space and community center as a hair salon — "a den of beauty," he calls it.
"Now that I have a powerful brand, how do I stay raw and interesting and keep growing with the community?" he said.
“I do well on the wrong side,” he observed. “Now, it’s becoming the right side.”
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