Alexandra Maruri of Bronx Historical Tours in front of the historic former post office on the Grand Concourse. Photo by Eileen Street.

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Bronx Historical Tours founder Alexandra Maruri said when she offered her first Bronx bus tour of historic sites in the North and South Bronx in 2011, no one showed up. 

Today, Bronx Historical Tours is the number one Bronx tour on Tripadvisor, out of 17 listed, including the Yankee Stadium tour. This is her busiest year.

“There’s just more interest in the Bronx,” she said. 

Highlights drawing Bronx tourists south of the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden include The Bronx Museum of the Arts, various hip hop and salsa venues, Bronx Children’s Museum, art deco architecture, Yankee Stadium, the Grand Concourse, graffiti murals, and restaurants and bars on Bruckner Boulevard.

This year, the 50th anniversary of the birth of hip hop in the South Bronx has spawned dozens of events and is being promoted heavily by New York City’s Tourism and Conventions bureau. And at the end of last year, the Bronx Children’s Museum began to draw hordes when it opened its 13,650 square foot museum near Bronx Terminal Market.

And there’s more to come. The Hip Hop Museum is slated to open in the Lower Concourse in Spring 2025. The Bronx Museum of the Arts on Grand Concourse has plans to unveil a $26 million renovation in 2025.

The investments are paying off for the Bronx, creating new jobs and bringing new customers and dollars into the borough. It’s a reason The Bronx Tourism Council is part of the borough’s economic development agency.

“The Bronx needs an economic engine, and tourism is one of the most powerful engines in the world,” said Maruri.

According to a 2022 report on the economic impact of visitors to New York, tourism generates almost 11,000 Bronx jobs, $692 million in “employment opportunities,” and $138 million in state and local taxes.  In 2022, leisure and hospitality jobs made up of 7.9% of Bronx County’s employment, according to Rahul Jain, deputy state comptroller for New York City issues.

“From our small businesses to our cultural institutions, restaurants, and more, the Bronx is preparing to undergo a cultural renaissance,” Borough President Vanessa Gibson said in an emailed statement.  

Stops on Maururi’s South Bronx tours might include a walk down Grand Concourse, a look at art deco architecture, a history lesson about the former luxury hotel, The Concourse Plaza, and a visit to learn about the Depression-era murals in the main Bronx Post Office. But music is her favorite attraction to highlight in the Boogie Down.

“A lot of people don’t know that there was a lot of creativity here,” Maruri explained, highlighting singers Irene Cara, Héctor Lavoe, and Willie Colón as examples. And while hip hop isn’t her  favorite music, she does stop at 1520 Sedgwick Ave. in Morris Heights, the genre’s birthplace.

Sulma Arzu-Brown, executive director of The Bronx Tourism Council, said there is now a “huge push” to promote the South Bronx because of the hip hop anniversary, new housing developments, and more accessibility once the Metro North station in Hunts Point opens in 2027.

“Every aspect of the South Bronx has a beautiful legacy story. So it’s not about bringing tourists to the Bronx, it’s about bringing tourists to the story of the tenacity of the Bronx, and the Bronx people,” said Arzu-Brown, who grew up in Longwood and now lives in Hunts Point.

Indeed, Maruri’s historical tours are very much entwined with her own history. She said her childhood was spent in the South Bronx on East 167th Street, her youth in Kingsbridge, her adulthood in Woodlawn, and because her mom worked in Mott Haven, she also knows that neighborhood well. 

This year, the Bronx Tourism Council launched “Bronx 365” on its Instagram, showcasing local residents who are “making an impact in the Bronx.” Recent posts highlight Amaurys Grullon, owner of Bronx Native store in Mott Haven; Rosa Garcia, owner of Rosa’s at Park restaurant in Mott Haven; and Majora Carter, owner of the Boogie Down Grind Cafe and Bronxlandia event venue in Hunts Point.

The “Bronx Bestie” is another social media campaign launched this year on the tourism council’s Instagram.  Veronica Guity, the council’s social media manager, shows up as the “Bronx Bestie.” She visits places tourists can go, ranging from walking around Woodlawn Cemetery to eating at family-owned restaurant Xochimilco Restaurant in Melrose.

The most recent post features The Bronx Kreate Hub in Mott Haven, which rents studios and co-working spaces to artists and entrepreneurs pursuing their creative dreams. 

”So we are really using that human spirit to bring tourists here,” Arzu-Brown said. “I think this is an opportunity for us to own who we are as a beautiful people.” 

“We have dealt with the opposite, and we are saying ‘no’ to the opposite,” she continued. “The opposite is the negative stereotypes. We have this showcasing of the violence, but we don’t have enough showcasing of community members coming together.” 

Tourists, the majority from Spain in this photo, take a break during their city tour to try the empanadas made fresh daily at Cancun Deli Grocery in Longwood. Photo by Eileen Street.

One example Arzu-Brown gave is when a South Bronx resident passes away, sometimes neighbors put candles in front of that person’s residence to pay their respects.

“That’s the heart of the Bronx. You can feature all of this negativity, but we in the community, we are looking at the heart. So at this particular point, I want to be consistent with showcasing the heart, and the spirit of tenacity, and the love that we have.”

Bonifacio Salas Tavira from Córdoba, Spain, recently was on a small van tour of the Bronx with his wife and another family of four also from Spain.  What they had previously heard about the Bronx, Tavira said, is that it was dangerous and that one had to be careful. They came anyway.

“The first impression we have is very positive,” he reported half-way through the tour.  Tavira concluded the people he saw were similar to where he’s from: “hard-working people and good people.”

Maruri said she’s honest on her tours and doesn’t shy away from talking about gun violence in the South Bronx, especially since her family experienced it firsthand. On April 8, 2022, her 16-year-old step-niece, Angellyh Yambo, was fatally shot while walking home from her school in Melrose.

“You have to acknowledge it,” she said.  “I never exaggerate it or underplay it,” In her 12 years of giving walking and bus tours in the Bronx, though, she said no one had witnessed or experienced any violence, except for one fight, which she told her group to steer clear of.

Maruri is a proponent of sustainable tourism in the Bronx, capping her public tours at seven people and her private tours for organizations like colleges and nonprofits at 30.  Smaller groups, she said, help visitors absorb more information and don’t overwhelm a neighborhood.

Sustainable tourism is also about supporting the local economy, which is why Maruri said she started Bronx Historical Tours in the first place. After every tour, she recommends where visitors can go to stay longer in the Bronx, such as where to eat. 

During their South Bronx tour, led by a different tour company, Tavira and his wife, the visitors from Spain, tried the empanadas at Cancun Deli Grocery, a bodega in Longwood. While they were there, two large tour buses showed up and tourists poured into the deli.  Owners Nathalie Rodriguez and Christian Peña said it’s what keeps their doors open.

Maruri’s post-tour recommendations include Chocobar Cortés in Mott Haven, which serves chocolate-infused dishes and drinks, or Charlie’s Bar and Kitchen a block away. 

“I’m either going to get their brains or their stomachs,” she quipped.

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