All over the country, gentrification takes many forms, like rising rents, $4 coffee shops overrun with hipsters, flipped homes with reclaimed wood fences designed to keep neighbors out. Where we live in Jersey City, less than 30 minutes outside New York, we see it in the empty storefronts that line our once-thriving business district.
As teenagers in Jersey City, we hang out a lot on Monticello Avenue, and it seems like the street has become a graveyard for small businesses. Former banks, restaurants, and bodegas with empty windows gather dust and graffiti as they wait to be filled by rich outsiders. The few mom-and-pop shops left on Monticello are dilapidated.
While the community is changing for better in many ways, such as cutting gang violence and drugs, we risk losing the small, locally-run business culture that made Monticello so great in the first place.
What if the people growing up here got to pick what goes into all these empty shops? Rather than sit around and dream, a bunch of us decided to get together and draw what our community would look like, if we were in charge. We even imagined the back-stories behind the new businesses we want to see. Slide right for the before-and-after.
Jitaku and Kibaku- 90 Monticello Avenue
We need diversity in food and other healthy dietary choices in an area where the only options are fried chicken restaurants and fast-food spots. New, affordable restaurants could expose us to new cultures and customs. One business we imagine is an affordable, artistic Japanese spot.
“Move over Panda Express! Jitaku and Kibaku is the next big Asian food restaurant. Jitaku and Kibaku Imari are twins who came to America in 2007. The brothers always dreamed of founding their own restaurant and sharing Japanese culture with the world. Jitaku incorporates Japanese street food recipes into his dishes while maintaining their nutrition, while his artist-brother Kibaku hand-picked the unique Japanese decor, showcasing the work of obscure Japanese artists. For $5.99, enjoy a sushi platter of California, spicy tuna, and salmon rolls!”
My Island-109 Monticello Avenue
We’d love to see this spot turn into an immigrant-run business, reflecting the people who came to this country escaping persecution and hardship. In addition to the shops run by Hispanic and Chinese immigrants along Monticello, we’d also like to see entrepreneurs of other ethnicities get time to shine.
“Jamal was a chef at storm shelters in the Caribbean during the 2010 magnitude-7 earthquake in Haiti. It was during this catastrophe that he met his current wife Jasmine, a Haitian caterer who lost her home. Jasmine came back with Jamal, and the two dreamed of opening their own restaurants in the inner city. My Island combines age-old Caribbean recipes to ensure the best Caribbean experience in the entire planet! The restaurant’s signature dish is the Caribbean Combo, a meal that includes a meat dish, a side, and a home-brewed exotic fruit juice; all for five dollars! Meals include papaya juice, conch fritters, potatoes and plantains, jerk chicken, roti, and curry chicken.”
Sweet Cravings-142 Monticello Avenue.
It’s hot here in Jersey City, and unless you happen to be near a roving ice cream truck, there’s nowhere to get a sweet-tooth fix. We like the idea of having a place to cool off and grab an affordable cone without turning to fast food or a chain. Plus it’s an easy hop from the local high schools.
“This mom-and-pop shop satisfies your sweet tooth with a by-the-pound candy bar featuring the most iconic sweets and nostalgic flavors. Over the summer, look out for our fresh ice cream and self-serve frozen yogurt. For $3.99, you can get a large cone of Mary’s Mix, the owner’s special. Pick a selection of toppings to be blended into your favorite ice cream, creating endless flavor and fun!”
MonticelloActive! - 108 Monticello Avenue
Next up: an affordable gym for people in the community who want to maintain fitness and stay active all year around.
“Are you tired of gyms that lock you into a contract and offer nothing but dull machines? MonticelloActive makes exercise fun. We engage our members with a top-of-the-line rock climbing cardio workout and an Olympic-grade obstacle course inspired by the likes of America Ninja Warrior and Wipeout. You never have to worry about our courses being repetitive, as we change the layouts monthly.
A one-hour pass to MonticelloActive is $2, and $1 for students with a valid ID. With a $25-per-month membership for adults and $10 for teens, you can record your best course completion times and compete with other athletes for the top spot on our leaderboard! Inclusion in our HighFive leaderboard gives athletes major discounts on our products. And there's even a juice bar!"
LazerRaver-92 Monticello Avenue
There are no arcades, laser-tag businesses or karaoke spaces in the area. Basically, the only options for teens are sitting around the house, watching Netflix, sleeping, and gaming. We imagine a business that would get teens out of the house in a supervised, healthy environment, where we could socialize in a healthy way with other teens. We'd also like to see a business that caters to all ages -- kids and parents alike.
“Experience the high-skill, high-thrill intensity of LazerRaver tag. Live through a half-hour adrenaline rush of action and excitement as you play the most diverse laser tag experience in the Tri-state area! You can choose the standard free-for-all game type or our Capture-the-Flag mode to take your team to victory! In our Deathmatch mode, you have 50 Life Points as opposed to the standard 20. Lose all of them and you're out for the rest of the game! Pick among eight different classes, all with different weapon types and strategies that will keep you coming back again and again! In addition to our regularly updated arena, characters, and game types, we host birthday parties for upwards to 20 competitors, plus discounts on birthday cakes and pizza. Afterward, enjoy our retro gaming arcade and late-night karaoke festivals. LazerRaver is an unforgettable experience for all ages!”
Plants & Paws - 91 Monticello Avenue
Instead of seeing stray animals on the streets, we’d like to see a business that helps animals find homes. We also need more places for middle schoolers and teens to earn community service hours for our resumes, jobs, and colleges.
“Tyler is an animal rights activist. He opened his first gardening store, Tyler’s Terrace, but was wanted to interact more with the young demographic. His daughter was an animal enthusiast who aspired to open an animal shelter in the inner city. The two joined forces to create Plants & Paws, a community garden and animal shelter whose number one goal is to serve the community. Plants & Paws donates all its crops and foods to homeless shelters and soup kitchens. The community garden is staffed by volunteers, giving the youth of the neighborhood a fruitful hobby. At the animal shelter, kids can care for the animals and advertise the adoption program. Plants & Paws takes pride in hiring teens to better the community.”
YR partnered with Jersey Art Exchange (JAX) on this project. JAX is a neighborhood-based nonprofit established to fulfill arts, cultural and educational needs in Jersey City.
Illustrators: Carissa Wu, Tiffany Gresseau, Tatiana Cruz
Writers & Photographers: Ricardo Perez, Imani Jones, Myles Smith