Brighton Beach has become well known as the Russian Capital of the United States. Recently, however, the Russian population in Brighton Beach has been declining. The traditional Russian restaurants and stores that fill the main avenue are now changing to accommodate the new, non-Russian clientele.
Brighton Beach experienced a one percent decline in overall population between 2000 and 2007. According to the American Community Survey, the Russian population in Brooklyn has declined from 4.2% in 2000 to 3.8% in 2008, which is the equivalent of 7,683 individuals.
“The community has changed big time in the past four to five years” says Yelena Makhnin, 50, the Executive Director of the Brighton Beach Business Improvement District. “There are a lot more American people in Brighton Beach now, and so there has been a major change in the stores.”
Max Arron, the owner of Kebeer Bar & Grill, has had to change his traditional Russian restaurant to attract the new clientele in Brighton Beach. Two weeks ago, Arron opened a take-out burger shop adjacent to Kebeer.
“I need to cater to the American clientele that live here,” says Arron, 42. “For 20 to 30 years there have only been ethnic Russian restaurants in Brighton Beach, but now I have to bring something new into the neighborhood.”
Kebeer was opened in 1999 and offered primarily Russian food. In 2008, when the Russian population was on the decline in Brighton Beach, Arron began incorporating more American food on the menu. Now, a separate entrance at Kebeer leads customers to an all-American menu.
“I’ve had to diversify the menu,” says Arron. “And so far, so good.”
Just two blocks away, the local toy store is also altering their business to accommodate the new wave of customers in the area.
The sign on the storefront of 605 Brighton Beach Avenue hints at what is inside. Side by side, the sign reads “Kid’s World” and “Detsky Mir,” the Russian translation.
“There has been a lot of change,” says Irina Dizik, 36, an employee at Kid’s World. “We see a lot more non-Russian people coming into the store now.”
Kid’s World is divided right down the center. The American side of the store is aimed at these new customers, featuring Hasbro games and Mattel stuffed animals. The store maintains its Russian roots on the other side of the wall, with Chekov books and traditional Russian games.
“There are people in Brighton Beach that want to keep the language alive in their families,” says Dizik. “They come into the store for our Russian books and games for their children.”
While maintaining their Russian clientele, Kid’s World, like other businesses in the area, has expanded to serve the growing non-Russian population in Brighton Beach.
Fifty years ago, Brighton Beach was a neighborhood of empty storefronts. When Russian immigrants began settling and opening shops in the 1970s, the neighborhood prospered. “Back then, the community was 90 percent Russian, but the storefronts were old and small,” says Makhnin. “Everything is just completely different now.”