Polish Migrations: From Brooklyn to Queens, and back to Europe
For the past eight years, Jacek Widuchowski and Beata Chrostowska spent a lot of time together at a Polish bakery in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. She worked the cash register. He fell in love with the cashier.
In April, they opened “Beata Bakery” in Ridgewood, Queens. The couple planned to open in Greenpoint, New York City’s Polish mecca. But the market for challah bread, cheese babki, and pazki was just too saturated.
In Ridgewood, rent was cheaper. Business turned out to be not so bad either, the result of an ever-growing Polish presence outside of Greenpoint.
“We did one ad in the Polish newspaper and people started talking,” Widuchowski, 27, said.
In recent years, the city’s Polish community has branched out more than ever before from Brooklyn to neighborhoods in Queens. Some are even moving back to Europe as Poland’s entry into the European Union has made the homeland a much more attractive option. Like many immigration stories, changing economics is the common thread that runs through these stories of Polish migrations.
From 2005 to 2006, the Polish population in Queens grew by 18 percent to 26,580 while the Polish population in Brooklyn declined by nearly 16 percent, according to a Census survey. Many have settled not only in Ridgewood, but also in Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale.
Part of Community District five, these neighborhoods are also home to a sizable population of Ecuadorians, Italians, Dominicans, Chinese and people from the former Yugoslavia.
But along the M-line in Queens, Polish businesses have sprung up in the last two years to support the new migration.
Nowhere is this more visible than on Fresh Pond Road in Ridgewood. Besides Beata Bakery, the street now boasts two Polish-language video stores and a bountiful supply of Kielbasa sausages at Polish delis.
“Ridgewood has become the Greenpoint for Polish people,” said Jacek Kunikowski, 41, founder of Bazarynka.com, the Polish Craigslist.
His site helps young Poles and new immigrants find cheaper apartments in Ridgewood and other areas. In Greenpoint, older Polish homeowners now advertise on Craigslist to reach wealthier newcomers from California, Texas and Massachusetts, Kunikowski said.
Magda Palasinska, 22, a clerk at the Pulaski deli on Fresh Pond Road moved from Poland to Ridgewood two years ago after graduating from high school. Priced out of Greenpoint, she said it did not bother her much.
“You walk on the street and say hi,” she said. “People don’t do that in my country. If you don’t know somebody, you don’t talk to them.”
She said another plus to the neighborhood was that she was more likely to practice English than if she lived in Greenpoint.
Four years ago, Poland joined the European Union. As the U.S. economy slows down, countries like England, Spain and Germany have became more appealing.
EU countries no longer require Poles to renew a visa, still an irksome requirement in America.
Moving overseas is also less costly than in the past.
The U.S. dollar has weakened against European currencies like the pound, euro and even the Polish zloty. One dollar now trades at two zlotys, down from about four zlotys four years ago. That has made it is cheaper to ship cars and appliances back to Europe.
“It doesn’t pay to be here anymore,” said Mike Oniszcuk, a Ridgewood real estate broker and travel agent. He said more Polish people are coming to New York as tourists, not as immigrants.
Peter Pachacz, president of the Society of Polish American Travel Agents, said at his store he has seen a 20 to 25 percent spike in sales of one-way tickets back to Poland, or other places in Europe, just in the last six months.
Two of those with one-way tickets to Europe are Paula Braczyk, 28, and Dominik Polanski, 27. Both are waiters from Rockaway Beach, and are moving to London in the Fall. Last week, they drove to Ridgewood to stock up on Polish food, and for Polanski’s dentist appointment.
While they liked New York, they said Europe appealed to them for three reasons: a two hour flight to visits relatives in Poland, no visa hassles in EU countries, and the expectation of higher salaries.
“Three years ago, there was a line to come here,” Polanski said of the American embassy in Warsaw. “Not anymore.”
Doroda Sadje, 33, a Polish dressmaker for a high-end Manhattan clothing company, said for now she will remain in Ridgewood. She does not rule out a later move back to Europe.
“Yesterday my friend left with her entire family,” she said recently after a Polish language yoga class at a dance studio on Onderdonk Avenue. “You hear about new people going back every day.”
Sadje said she and her boyfriend moved from Greenpoint to a Ridgewood studio four years ago. She now saves a thousand dollars in rent, but admits she sometimes regrets the move.
“I would prefer Greenpoint,” she said. “It was easy transportation to Manhattan. I had a lot of friends there.”
For bakery owners Jacek Widuchowski and Beata Chrostowska, though, their investment in Ridgewood’s Polish community still seems like a good move. Widuchowski said he thinks he will break even this year.
Each morning he rolls out of bed at 3 a.m. in Long Island to smoke a cigarette before arriving at work. He said it is worth it.
“It’s all about money and working for yourself,” he said. “So you have no bosses.”