The Staten Island Neighborhood Where Making It Means Three Dogs, Not One

Everything about Census Block 64 is modest. The topography rolls, but gently. The houses are small to medium-sized and, during Christmas season, they are draped with tasteful decorations: no talking Santas, no inflatable Frosties.

Economically speaking, Grasmere's plainness is part of its appeal. More than 60 percent of Grasmere residents have arrived since 2000. Many of the newcomers are immigrant families who either aspire to the middle class or have newly reached it. They don't need fancy. They need relatively cheap.

That's what attracted the family of 26-year old Andy Meli. A year ago, the Melis left their apartment in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, crossed the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, took the first exit and bought a four-bedroom house in Grasmere.

Meli says he misses Brooklyn, where his dad still runs a pizzeria. But he is adapting. "It's a change of pace," he said, looking around at his semi-suburban surroundings. "But it's actually nice here, quieter."

Meli says being middle class means spending nearly half the family income on the mortgage, putting a garden in the backyard instead of a pool, and debating the purchase of every electronic device. Asked what he would buy if he came into money, Meli answers, "Like, three dogs or something."

Not a sports car—three dogs instead of the one that his family has now. His dream is modest, like his neighborhood.

Robert Champi has owned rental properties in Grasmere for 15 years.
Robert Champi has owned rental properties in Grasmere for 15 years. ( Jim O'Grady )
The Staten Island Ferry Terminal.
The Staten Island Ferry Terminal. ( Amy Pearl )
A quiet street in Grasmere.
A quiet street in Grasmere. ( Amy Pearl )
Modest Christmas decorations.
Modest Christmas decorations. ( Amy Pearl )
Saint Mary's Cemetery in Grasmere, Staten Island.
Saint Mary's Cemetery in Grasmere, Staten Island. ( Amy Pearl )
Tattoo parlor on Grasmere's commercial strip.
Tattoo parlor on Grasmere's commercial strip. ( Amy Pearl )
Cafe Luna in Grasmere, Staten Island.
Cafe Luna in Grasmere, Staten Island. ( Amy Pearl )
The maitre d' at Cafe Luna greets a regular customer.
The maitre d' at Cafe Luna greets a regular customer. ( Amy Pearl )
A customer chats with the chef at Cafe Luna.
A customer chats with the chef at Cafe Luna. ( Amy Pearl )
Angela Ricca, 83, picks up her pizza.
Angela Ricca, 83, picks up her pizza. ( Jim O'Grady )
Saying, "che-e-e-e-ese," on the Staten Island Ferry.
Saying, "che-e-e-e-ese," on the Staten Island Ferry. ( Amy Pearl )
The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge as seen from the Staten Island Ferry.
The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge as seen from the Staten Island Ferry. ( Amy Pearl. )
On the way from Staten Island to Manhattan.
On the way from Staten Island to Manhattan. ( Amy Pearl )
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