Robert Napolitano remembers when the goal was to move out of Brooklyn. “When I was a kid,” he recalled, “it was a sign of success to get out of this neighborhood.” So in 1956, having achieved sufficient earnings from their insurance and income tax businesses, Stella and Thomas Napolitano packed up their family and moved to Howard Beach, Queens. “My parents always reminded me though, that if it weren’t for Williamsburg, we wouldn’t have our big, beautiful home,” said Napolitano, the successful owner of Grand Street’s Capri Jet Realty.
Fast forward to 1987 and a 31 year old Robert Napolitano, after stints as a reservation agent with El Al and British Airways, took his first entrepreneurial step. With help from his parents, he bought out Capri Jet Travel on Grand Street, transforming it into the “one of the busiest travel agencies in the area,” he noted proudly.
To most, it would seem illogical to open a business in the same neighborhood you strove to move from, but for Napolitano, it was a no brainer. “My mother used to tell me to ‘kiss the ground in Brooklyn,’” he recollected about the borough in which his parents made their livings.
Nevertheless, Napolitano harbored negative feelings for North Brooklyn tracing back to childhood visits to his grandparents, who had moved to the neighborhood in the 1930s (Stella grew up on South 4th Street and Thomas on North 7th). “As a kid, 7 or 8 years old, we used to play on North 7th,” he remembered. “Even at that young age, we knew we had to watch ourselves.” To entice him to come along quietly, his parents would buy him a Manhattan Special as soon as they got to Williamsburg. “It was as sweet as could be,” said Napolitano, relating the story with a boyish grin belying his 56 years. Surprising even himself, after purchasing Capri Jet Travel, Napolitano moved back to Williamsburg, taking an apartment on Ainslie Street that he called home for the next decade.
By the beginning of the 21st century, the travel business had grown weak, a combination of the 9/11 attacks and the emergence of the Internet. Ever the entrepreneur, Napolitano saw the gentrification of the neighborhood as his opportunity to turn a hobby into a career. Building on more than 25 years of property investment, he turned his eye to the real estate brokerage industry.
Stella and Thomas encouraged Robert and his siblings, from an early age, to invest in real estate, and in 1984 the three Napolitano children purchased 333 Graham Avenue, which Robert refers to as their “signature building.”Over the years, the Napolitanos bought and sold a couple of properties each year with Robert getting an education in property valuations and management. By combining that knowledge with the nearly 3,000 client-relationships he had developed at Capri Jet Travel, he was able to quickly establish his brokerage, Capri Jet Realty, keeping the moniker that had become so familiar in the community.
Having had a bird’s eye view on the gentrification of North Brooklyn during the last decade, Napolitano believes the best is yet to come. “With the exception of a few lulls, I see nothing but up, up ,up when it comes to Williamsburg real estate,” he predicted. “That’s because people come from all over the world to be either in Manhattan or close to it. If you’re a stage actor, your dream is to make it to Broadway.”
Napolitano’s success in North Brooklyn is undoubtedly the result of his strong determination and work ethic, but even he had to admit that his mother’s influence was pivotal. “I didn’t come to Williamsburg by choice,” he said. “I guess I just got lucky. I was in the right place at the right time.”