“If you’d come here five, ten years ago,” said the old waitress, “you would have seen twice as many boats, three times as many restaurants and none of these great big places. Back then the tallest building was three stories high.”
She leaned on the counter, wiped her hands on her apron, and talked about the neighborhood’s many vanished businesses. In recent years, dozens of mom and pop stores have disappeared as real estate developers bought up blocks, demolished the existing structures and replaced them with luxury condominiums.
Similar stories can be heard in nearly every corner of the city but the denizens of this neighborhood are a stubborn lot, and most are determined to stay put here in Brooklyn’s only fishing village, Sheepshead Bay.
The Bay, named after the sheepshead (a large saltwater fish), is renowned for its abundant waters. Fishing once played a vital role in the neighborhood’s economy and the area around the concrete piers on Emmons Avenue still includes several bait and tackle shops, seafood restaurants and clam bars.
While the sheepshead disappeared from these waters long ago, the piers remain crowded with dozens of ducks, gulls, swans and fishing boats. The fleet usually goes out after dawn and returns before dark. The boats are met by shoppers who eagerly swap cooking tips and snatch up the catch of the day, often including flounder, tuna, bluefish and crabs.
A bit further down the road, tucked between the yacht clubs and construction sites, are a few rusted gates. These lead to narrow alleyways crowded with tiny bungalows. Most of the alleys and cottages are what remains of Sheepshead Bay’s first housing development, built around 1920 by a developer named Robert Densely.
A bit farther down the street, past the few retirement homes and “no-tell” motels, Emmons Avenue turns into an entrance to the Belt Parkway. The sand dunes begin where the sidewalk ends. The trails in the sand lead down to a quiet beach, where amateur fishermen patiently throw their nets into the water and haul their evening’s meals from the Bay.
WPA Guide: Sheepshead Bay
Wikipedia: Sheepshead Bay
Forgotten NY: Sheepshead Bay
Forgotten NY: Alleys of Sheepshead Bay
Sheepshead Bay Party Boats
NY Fisherman: Sheepshead Bay
Sheepshead Bay Yacht Club
The Belt Parkway