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Brighton Beach: A Growing Neighborhood That Hasn’t Lost Its Character

The Brighton Beach boardwalk, with the Oceana Condominium & Club on the right

Walk along Brighton Beach Avenue in its eponymous Brooklyn neighborhood, and its nickname, Little Odessa, becomes clear. Residents speaking Russian move in and out of mom-and-pop stores offering a wide variety of Eastern European products. A few blocks south, residents enjoy the neighborhood’s namesake beach.

Brighton Beach’s distinctly Eastern European culture has remained largely untouched since a major wave of immigration in the 1970s, even as high-rise apartments crop up alongside fading bungalows. Its real estate has also remained impervious to financial downturns.

During the Great Recession, when property values plummeted, the neighborhood’s multifamily values didn’t drop. Even in a softening New York City multifamily rental market, prices in the area have remained stable, with median rent at $1,850 and median sales price at $562K. 

It is a phenomenon Marcus & Millichap broker Evmorfea Barbatsis-Savidis is still discovering eight years after launching her commercial real estate career in the neighborhood. 

“The first property I ever sold was in Brighton Beach, and that was in 2012,” Barbatsis-Savidis said. “I was shocked because, at a time when no one was buying or selling real estate, I had more than 30 offers going above the asking price. That was not happening anywhere else in Brooklyn.”

Barbatsis-Savidis, alongside her brother Bobby Barbatsis, focuses on commercial real estate transactions in South Brooklyn. The duo has seen consistent multifamily development since entering the market. Development is fueled by favorable R6 zoning, which allows developers to replace one- and two-family homes with higher-density apartment buildings and residential towers.

This year alone, over 700 multifamily units will come online in the Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay areas, Barbatsis-Savidis said. Seabreeze Tower, one of the more high-profile multifamily developments in the works, will bring 70 luxury apartments and a 23K SF community facility to the neighborhood. 

A storefront in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, selling Russian cuisine

The preservation of mom-and-pop retail has played a large role in maintaining Brighton Beach’s character. A majority of storefronts, even pharmacy chains like Duane Reade, are written in Cyrillic, the Slavic language alphabet. Unlike the rest of Brooklyn, big-box chains have yet to establish a foothold in the area, despite retail landlords commanding rents between $75/SF and $100/SF, Barbatsis-Savidis said.

“When you see these Williamsburg buildings for sale, you see retail rents that are comparable to Brighton Beach, but then the apartment rents are very high,” Barbatsis-Savidis said. “In Brighton Beach, it is the opposite. And it’s all mom-and-pop shops paying this type of money.”

In 2016, the most common birthplace for foreign-born Brighton Beach residents was Ukraine, with Russia in close second. While the neighborhood’s Eastern European population remains high, other groups have flocked to the area, drawn to more affordable apartment rents and availability of space. China now ranks as the third-most-common country of origin for residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Other Brooklyn residents from high-rent neighborhoods have also sought out the South Brooklyn community, drawn to accessible luxury apartments that would be less affordable in popular areas like Williamsburg or DUMBO. 

Despite the influx of new residents to Brighton Beach, Barbatsis-Savidis doesn't see the neighborhood’s character changing anytime soon. 

“I compare this neighborhood a lot to Astoria,” Barbatsis-Savidis said. “I am a first-generation Greek-American, and I remember going to Astoria for cultural events. You still have that Greek feel in Astoria and all of those stores, even though there is a lot more construction and different people who live there. It’s the same with Brighton Beach. You are no longer hearing exclusively Russian, but it has kept that local feel.”

This feature was produced in collaboration between Bisnow Branded Content and Marcus & Millichap. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.