Ever since he could remember having Sunday dinners at his grandmother’s apartment on Ocean Parkway, Matt Schwartzberg has carried a lasting impression of the sights and smells of Brooklyn life. It also helps that his uncle owns Mill Basin Deli, famous for its art collection and its corned beef and pastrami—ranking right up there with Katz’s as one of NYC’s top five Jewish delicatessens. From his other uncle, who was in real estate and boxed in the Golden Gloves, he’s learned street smarts.
His childhood experience has proved invaluable as he navigates the many neighborhoods of this burgeoning borough that has undergone so many changes in recent years. As president of A-1 First Class Moving & Storage, he’s been literally on the move since he started there when he was 22. He’s gone from making the sales to driving the vans, to relocating 500-person offices and taking the New York Mets’ sports equipment to and from spring training.
His company, which is an agent for Atlas Van Lines, has an office in East New York with warehouses in Sunset Park and elsewhere in the city. The moving business has also taken him all over town, from Borough Park to Park Slope, from Bensonhurst to Bay Ridge. He likes to say he’s completed 50,000 moves in his career, but what he counts on most is the experience of meeting such a diverse range of Brooklyn residents.
“I would get a look inside people’s homes—that gave me an education in itself,” said Schwartzberg, now 46 and married with three sons.
In a typical day, he’d be looking out an apartment window in Brooklyn Heights with spectacular views of Manhattan and feel like he was in a Woody Allen movie, and then go to Bensonhurst, where a mother and daughter shared a two-family home, so he could discuss a pending move, and wind up being invited to sit down and have dinner and wine.
He’s especially proud that his company also reflects Brooklyn’s diversity in its workforce, with long-time employees who are Hispanic, African-American, Caribbean and Eastern European. Some have been with the company for decades.
“Two people have become American citizens while here, three have completed college degrees at night, and two people we have helped in their effort to beat cancer,” Schwartzberg said.
Over the years he’s seen many parts of Brooklyn rebound.
“Streets that we thought were not going to become part of a community have now become communities,” he said with amazement. “I believe all areas go through life cycles. Bushwick burned down during the blackout in the 1970s. The idea that Bushwick was ever going to be vibrant seemed like a pipe dream.”
Now, it too is blooming. He thinks East New York will be next on the list for renewal.
In fact, to his eyes, the borough has turned into a melting pot, with an influx of people from all over the country wanting to be in Brooklyn.
“People may be dissuaded by the gentrification,” he conceded, “but I think time will tell that it has made neighborhoods more walkable, more livable, and more enjoyable. Is having too many Brooklyn coffee shops a bad thing? They’re now the pubs of 40 years ago where people congregate. Parks have been refurbished. New ones have opened. Neighborhoods are starting to look refreshed. From what I’m seeing, it seems that the suburbs are going back to Brooklyn.”
But as a professional mover, he admits that the challenge of doing business in bustling Brooklyn can be daunting.
“To go seven miles could take 45 minutes,” he said, with a hint of exasperation. “The borough is going up—it’s not going wide. When you go to Flatbush Avenue, down Third Avenue, you continue to see high rises and new apartments.”
He noted that Williamsburg and Greenpoint, places that that didn’t have much residential or commercial stock, are now growing fast. Offices are springing up in the former Brooklyn Navy Yards that are “world-class,” Schwartzberg says. Industry City on 35 acres along the Brooklyn waterfront near the Belt Parkway in Sunset Park used to be “old cut-up warehouses and the schmatta factories and the export-import firms,” he said, but now it’s home to We Work, IC, and the New York City College of Technology, and the Brooklyn Nets have a practice facility there.
Sometimes what he likes to do in Brooklyn with his sons is drive down Atlantic Avenue under the El and go to the Smoke Joint in Fort Greene for their ribs and wings. Or walk across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan to have Grimaldi’s Pizza in Brooklyn Heights.
“The day I feel that I’m not excited by where I work and the places where I’m around is the day that I leave,” Schwartzberg declared. “As someone who gets energized by people, the vibrancy of Brooklyn is intoxicating.”
For an in-depth look at Brooklyn’s heartbeat through the people that live there, check out the A-1 First Class Guide To All Things Brooklyn.
A-1 First Class Moving & Storage, one of New York’s most trusted and reliable moving and storage companies since 1948, specializes in residential and commercial moves throughout New York City (Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Bronx, Staten Island) and Long Island. Learn more at www.a1firstclass.com. [Disclaimer: A-1 First Class Moving & Storage is a client of Morey Publishing, parent company of Long Island Press.]