Community Close Up: Skip in Sunset Park

 

Neighborhood Overview

Sunset Park lies on the south western waterfront of Brooklyn, bordered by Bay Ridge to the south and Gowanus to the north. Thanks to its slight elevation, the neighborhood enjoys one of the finest views of the Manhattan skyline and Statue of Liberty the borough has to offer. A 24 acre park, and now the neighborhood as whole, serve as the namesakes of the exceptional views of the harbor at sundown.

Sunset Park began gaining popularity when an influx of Polish, Finnish and Norwegian immigrants settled there in the late 1800s. The burgeoning population was largely catholic, leading to the establishment to the area’s many historic Roman Catholic churches, including the exquisitely massive Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

With nearly half of its 125,000 residents foreign born, the neighborhood remains an enclave of immigrants. The Latino and Chinese community compose the majority of Sunset Park, giving way to a diverse culinary scene as well as the city’s largest Chinatown. While Brooklyn has become the most densely populated borough, the neighborhood has managed to maintain the quaint atmosphere its title suggests. Notable as Sunset Park is for all it has to offer, it’s also worth noting what it does not; a Starbucks.

Skip Karol Q&A

In a city of 8.5 million people from all corners of the world, it would be hard to imagine someone who embodies the quintessential New Yorker more than Skip Karol. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he’s one of the mighty few who can claim the coveted title of Big Apple Native.

Both of Skip’s parents were born to Polish immigrants and raised in Brooklyn, where they eventually settled on a picturesque block of Sunset Park in 1960. Their home was frequently a point of gathering for their children’s friends and other members of the community.

Growing up, Skip could be found performing in Drum and Bugle Chorus, a neighborhood ensemble, or hanging out at his mother’s beauty salon on 5th Avenue. Though he studied music in college, Skip chose to work in finance as  commodities trader at the World Trade Center during the 80s and 90s.

Skip has since taken over the family home, and carried on the tradition of offering a place for friends and family to convene. He decided to open up his spare bedrooms and a basement apartment to travelers through Airbnb in 2013 as a way to help offset the rising cost of living in his neighborhood, and allow guests to enjoy the city and neighborhood he has always called home.

Why did you start hosting with Airbnb?

Some friends of mine used Airbnb while traveling in Spain and suggested I give it a try. Over the years I’ve had many friends and acquaintances stay with me and I’ve found it really enriches my life. It was natural to open up the spare bedrooms to hosting and it has helped me continue to expand that wide circle of friends.

What surprised you about hosting?

I was amazed at how many people want to come to Brooklyn and to stay here in Sunset Park. I wish I’d found homesharing years ago! I grew up with three siblings, and there were always a lot of people from the neighborhood here, so it’s noticeable when the place is empty.

I was also surprised by how easy it felt for me. It’s not for everyone but it is for me, and I definitely benefit from it aside from the money. The chance to meet new people is really what it’s about.

How has Airbnb been helpful for you?

I’ve had some medical issues over the last several years that made it difficult to make ends meet. I came really close to having to sell the house on a few occasions. Now, with Airbnb, I can make those bills and it’s made a huge difference.

Hosting has changed my life because it has allowed me to stay in my home, allowed me to make friends throughout the world and helped me keep the positive attitude I’ve tried to have all my life. There’s good in every situation, you just have to find it.  

What’s special about your home?

I’ve lived here since I was 14 months old, so it’s really everything I grew up with. I remember sitting on this living room floor as a kid, playing stoop ball outside and skinning my knees right on this street.

I’m like the rock for a lot of my family since I’ve remained constant in being here. People will refer to moving and say “You know how bad moving is,” and I can laugh and say “Actually, I don’t! I’ve never moved in my life!”

Have you learned anything from your guests?

A few years ago some guests from Argentina were staying with me and left me a cup for mate. Recently a mother and daughter from Argentina stayed and recognized it, so they sat me down and taught me how to brew mate and we enjoyed a lot of it during their visit.

What’s something you’re looking forward to with hosting?

My Grandfather gained citizenship through serving in World War I, so when I had journalists from France staying with me through Airbnb I sent names of some places he served. They did some research on it and when they return this summer they’re going to fill me in on what they found.

Do you keep in touch with other past guests?

I’ve been invited all over the world by past guests, and this summer I’m going to Mexico City to visit one of my first guests ever which I’m very excited about! People are always sending sending gifts of leaving notes, and I have a few hundred postcards from past guests at this point!

What’s something special you’ve done for a guest?

I hosted a family here from Paris who said they’d never seen snow, so I made a bunch of snowballs for the kids to enjoy once they arrived. I also had a family from Mexico City celebrate Thanksgiving with me, which was like the American Dream for them. I actually sent back a gift for a past guest who was also from their area, and they were able to locate her and deliver it once they got home.

What do you enjoy most about hosting?

I really enjoy going out and showing people around. I used to volunteer as a Big Apple Greeter, which is a volunteer program for amateur tour guides. Tourists can call in and request a neighborhood they’d like to be shown by a local. I stopped following a bad foot surgery and would love to go back eventually, but I get to use some of that knowledge with Airbnb.

Skip and Kelly, from the Airbnb team, look over the atlas he uses to track the different countries he has welcomed guests from.
Recent guests left Skip a note when they had to catch an early morning flight
Skip's collection of magnets that he has purchased from trips visiting friends around the world