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How I Drove Up Rents In My Neighborhood By Painting Wings On A Wall

Sure, I’d love to have inherited a luxury building on Central Park South or a Tribeca loft instead of a mixed-use building with a storefront and six apartments in Jersey City. So I made do with the “rough around the edges” charm.

The place needed a bit of a makeover to make it hospitable. The biggest problem was the exterior wall. At some point, someone painted an unauthorized mural of someone named Medgar Evers, but it looked like an airbrushed shirt from the Wildwood boardwalk.

I tried asking myself what Jesus would do, but that got me nowhere because that dude sucked at making money. Then it hit me—if I wanted to take the building to the next level and be uplifting, what better than wings! I found some wonderful resources on Pinterest and got to painting. I signed it with my artist name, Sakura Otomo, in honor of my Japanese influences.

I decided the building needed to be its own character. I called it, “Bhavana,” the Hindi word for building. A little basic, but it just sounded beautiful. I found a wonderful brushed metal artist on Fiverr to make the sign above the door.

Unfortunately, the laundromat on the first floor kept getting broken into and they missed a few month’s rent. It was a blessing in disguise, I converted it into a gallery space for art showings and burlesque shows. I was able to purchase some washers and dryers for the basement, so with the purchase of a laundry card, my tenants can use these bonus amenities. I was able to use this additional income to fund my collage of pages ripped from library books.

Without having a commute, I’m able to explore everything in the area. I’ve found so many amazing places and learned about so many cultural celebrations that I’ve been sharing on TikTok. Each post gets bigger and bigger. I found the most authentic Chinese takeout, Panda Garden IV. They have a keyboard set up, where they make their kids practice piano. I shot myself dancing to them, and it blew up! People loved the sari I started wearing, so I pointed them to Heritage Indian Fashions. Then I shot myself tasting a “chopped cheese” at the local “bodega,” and doing a little dance. I’ve been checking out Rootsman Kitchen for authentic live classic reggae, but avoid it on the weekends, it’s just a typical club. My most viral post was when I got a true stick-and-poke tattoo of an infinity symbol on my ankle.

Sadly, people in my building have started to leave. They no longer can afford things in the neighborhood, and I’ve had to charge more to keep up with the other buildings. But there always is a bright side, I’ve been able to buy a vintage black and white camera and convert the backroom of the gallery into a darkroom for my photo essay on the transition of a neighborhood.