Don’t Call It “Little Moscow”: A Brief History of Sunny Isle Beach’s Nickname

The term “Little Moscow” has found new popularity in recent weeks as Russia has continued its attack on Ukraine.

Around three days after Russia officially invaded its neighboring country, the moniker has seen an unprecedented spike in interest according to google trends. Journalists used this phrase in recent coverage of Russian enclaves around the world. And some residents of Sunny Isles Beach, the “Little Moscow” of Miami, recently shared their objections to the moniker.

Some people use the phrase as an insult; others find him endearing. But where does it come from? And when did the people of Sunny Isles Beach start using it? new times began to trace its origins.

After the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991, residents of post-Soviet states began to flock to Miami and settle along the beach in Sunny Isles, a neighborhood in northern Miami County- Dad. In 1997, the year Sunny Isles Beach was incorporated as a city, an article in the Sentinel of the sun described how Russian-language signs and shops began to appear as Russians bought up property and invested in businesses.

“This newly incorporated city that borders the northern end of Miami Beach is home to what some emigrants call Little Moscow,” the March 1997 article, “Russian emigrants find opportunity in Sunny Isles“, we read.

Aerial view of Sunny Isles Beach, circa 2006


Miami historian Paul George remembers first hearing Sunny Isles Beach’s nickname “Little Moscow” about a decade ago from students at Miami Dade College’s Wolfson campus who were working or lived in the city.

Rather than being coined by one particular person, it appears the name has gained popularity over time from residents, much in the way Miami’s “Little Havana” neighborhood gained its name. said George. This can be attributed to the constant presence of Russians in Sunny Isles Beach over the years — even dating back to the 1950s and 1960s, when the neighborhood was a strip of 30 beachfront motels dubbed “Motel Row.”

The municipality saw a 180-degree transformation decades later when motels were replaced by condominiums and high-rise hotels where Russians would later work or live. (Or invest a lot of money in.)

“They dug a niche,” George said. “They are, in many ways, the hospitality industry. But also, some of the socialites have invested in some of these apartments.”

While Sunny Isles Beach seems to have earned the nickname Moscow during the 1990s, the phrase “Little Moscow” seems to date back to the 1920s.

First used in Britain in the 1920s and 1930s in reference to communist strongholds in Scotland, England and Wales, “Little Moscow” was initially pejorative. Localities in Europe believed to have ties to communism, including the village of Morfelden in Germanywere also slapped with the nickname.

And just as immigrants settled in New York’s “China Town” and “Little Italy”, a number of Russian enclaves around the world have earned the nickname “Little Moscow” for their significant Russian populations. In Sunny Isles Beach, where just over 7% of residents were Russian-speaking at the 2010 census, data has consistently supported residents’ use of the term. In 2019, a survey of the American community estimated that about 1,097 Russian-born residents made Sunny Isles Beach their home. (The city total populationfor comparison, is about 22,000).

Yet despite the data and history, some current residents of Sunny Isles Beach aren’t happy with the label.

“The proportion of Russians in relation to the total population of the SIB [Sunny Isles Beach] isn’t big enough to call it Little Moscow”, Jennifer Levina former Sunny Isles Beach commissioner, wrote on Facebook on March 1. “Just.Stop.It.”

“Agree with you 100%, as a local resident for over 20 years,” replied another resident.

Levin, who served as commissioner of Sunny Isles Beach from 2012 to 2016, says his distaste for the moniker isn’t new and hasn’t changed in light of the tragedy in Ukraine. She always felt that way, she says.

“What am I going to do, run around hating all the Russians in Sunny Isles Beach because Putin decided to invade Ukraine?” she poses.

She notes that she dislikes the labeling and feels that calling Sunny Isles Beach “Little Moscow” is different from, say, “Little Italy”, because Sunny Isles Beach is much smaller than New York.

“I don’t believe ‘Little Moscow’ is a representation of what Sunny Isles Beach is,” Levin says. “And that’s not what it was always supposed to be known for, and that’s not how it’s marketed.”

While discussing the origins of the nickname and Sunny Isles Beach with new timeshistorian Paul George remembers when, ten years ago, he dined at Versailles with the late authorTom Wolfe, who shared his amazement at the large number of Russians in Sunny Isles Beach. At the time, octogenarian Wolfe was working in Miami on Back to Blooda 2012 novel centering on a Cuban-American police officer in Miami.

Wolfe then spent several days in Miami trying to capture the Sunny Isles Beach Russian phenom, George says.

“He came over one night, he’s shaking his head. I was like, ‘Hey, what’s going on today?'” George recalled. “He said, ‘I just can’t forget the Russians in Sunny Isles. “”

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