Austin Street retail district at risk
by Michael Perlman
Mar 05, 2014 | 15422 views | 14 14 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
This construction site at 71-53 Austin Street recently received a stop work order.
This construction site at 71-53 Austin Street recently received a stop work order.
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Austin Street, long known for its independently owned boutiques, novelty shops and culturally inspired restaurants, may soon be on the verge of becoming “medical center row,” as several businesses are slated to expand from the thoroughfare’s west section eastward.

Over the past decade, the retail district has been marked by the closure of many small businesses, including Daniella Boutique, Santa Fe Steakhouse, Stoa Jewelry, Buster Brown Shoes, Homestead Gourmet Shop, and Art World. Pasta Del Giorno at 70-49 Austin Street, which opened in 1989 and offered fine Italian dining, closed in mid-February.

The closed shops made way for large corporations, including banks, chain pharmacies, clothing shops, and cell phone stores, to move in after landlords imposed hefty rent increases upon some longtime tenants.

“I am very upset so many boutiques have closed, such as Lulu’s, Austin Jeans, and Piccolo Mondo,” said Elias Kalogiros, who co-owns Austin Street's Exo Café. “There used to be a nice combination of middle to high-end shops, but the neighborhood is changing based on what landlords are asking. Some rents on Austin Street are even higher than Manhattan, so we can expect more medical facilities, banks, and office buildings.”

Rumor has it that UA Brandon Cinemas at 70-20 Austin Street will close shortly for a medical business. A February job filing with the Department of Buildings states an existing legal use for a theater and a proposed use for an “ambulatory diagnostic” establishment.

Likewise, nearby shop Second Time Around also closed recently, and a permit issued last month calls for “construction of a new urgent care office including limited demolition.”

“This is supposed to be a shopping area and should stay like this,” said Sal Wahd, manager of Leather Boutique.

In summer 2013, the community learned that a new glass building was proposed for 71-53 Austin Street, and would be home to an H&M clothing store. But banners posted last October instead read “Coming Soon – ProHealth Urgent Care.”

“It is sad enough that so many stores are closing due to harsh economic times, but having more medical facilities won’t do anything for Forest Hills,” said Lisa Jaume of Lady Love Boutique at 71-63 Austin Street. “A glass building will take away from the charm of Austin Street, and a vacant lot attracting vandalism is unwelcome in such a prestigious neighborhood.”

Her concerns have become a reality, as the property is now covered in graffiti and trash collects behind the construction fence.

“This is not a medical street,” said Natasha Nirmal, owner of Urban Creations Fashion Boutique at 71-54 Austin Street. “More shops and restaurants would be beneficial for the entire street, and may help businesses that are suffering. I hope the medical facilities won’t affect our retail parking.”

Commenters on Edge of The City: A Forest Hills Blog have suggested a make-your-own salad take-out place, an independent coffee house, an upscale diner, and a good, reasonably priced Chinese restaurant.

“Before a medical center opens on our main shopping strip, how about we first get some of the restaurant options that so many other thriving neighborhoods in New York City already have for years?” asked Drake Michell, webmaster for the site.

“It concerns me that we will have an abundance of urgent care facilities in a four-block radius,” added Leslie Brown, president of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce. “I will be delving into some concerns of small businesses and possibly scheduling a meeting.”

Forest Hills co-op owner Ron Daniel, who is also a licensed real estate salesperson with Sotheby's International Realty NYC, offered his take on the situation.

“Unfortunately, there is no Austin Street BID to work with business owners, landlords, the community, and Community Board 6 to incentivize and spur growth of new retail and restaurant operators,” he said. “These groups must devise a comprehensive plan to create a cohesive atmosphere for this high foot traffic street. Business operators need to begin by banding together because the landlords certainly are not.”

Comments
(14)
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A. Miller
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April 04, 2014
The charm of Austin Street is long gone sadly. Sad to read the list of shops that have closed.

I think a BID would be a very good idea.
Forest Hills is gone
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March 11, 2014
I lived in FH 49 years I have seen the changes for years.Now big business is coming in and taking over like they do all over this country.Just like our government they do what they want not what the people want.Until we stand together and say no this is what happens.FH will become med hills.
LovetheHills
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March 09, 2014
How many medical facilities can one block hold? And if you don't want to go to a human medical facility, there are an abundance of animal care centers that are available.

I would love to see a really cool place to sit and chill on Austin Street. Like a spacious coffee house, or a classy beer garden. Bring life to forest hills!
Matt Cummings
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March 07, 2014
Didn't complete what I really meant to say. As Ron Daniel the co-op owner and realtor above says, FH desperately needs a BID. Small business owners in this neighborhood must band together to get some kind of zoning regs enacted here or Austin St. is doomed. Anyone reading this, if you are or know any small business owners in FH, get busy!

Matt Cummings
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March 07, 2014
I was wondering if Stoa was closed, really sad to see that go. Have to agree with Jeffrey Lipson, I can't fathom that there ISN'T a good kosher deli in this neighborhood. Why should I have to schlepp to Rego? Remember Sandy's?
Kevin1958
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March 07, 2014
Actually, things are getting worse on Austin Street. There is now a Dollar Store on the West End by the Police Station.
Craig Schinkel
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March 07, 2014
Drake Michell? What an obvious fake name. If you're gonna write a blog trashing businesses, commenters and political figures at least have the guts to put your real name behind it. I bet this creep has been sitting next to us FH residents in restaurants and bars sneaking cell pics to post on his crappy blog for years.
Trudie Loesche
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March 06, 2014
This will be a disaster for the current residents. My childhood here is done, and the memories will never fade. How about succeeding generations? How about giving business to your neighbors? How about retaining the unique flavor of Austin Street This belongs to everyone. Don't let it be destroyed?

FHHS '70

QC-CUNY - '74
Anonymous11375
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March 06, 2014
Austin Street soon to be renamed Jamaica Ave 2.0
NSO1
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March 06, 2014
Stoa Jewelry is a FoHi and Austin Street institution.

Let's do everything we can to hold onto the retail boutiques and restaurants/diners with unique value and presence for this neighborhood.
Jeffrey Lipson
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March 06, 2014
A good kosher deli would be nice in the area.
Commenter2
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March 06, 2014
There's a good kosher deli down Queens Blvd in Rego Park.
A. Miller
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March 06, 2014
this is the last thing Austin Street needs!
Judi Gebhardt-Webste
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March 06, 2014
I remember the Austin St of old - left FH 22 yrs ago :)

"The Village" was an institution. It expanded the charm of the Gardens with it's unique boutiques, fabulous "delis"....the smell when you walked in the door of the Homestead.....the 2 flower shops - John's, across from the Inn & Anderson......& then we had Karl Ehmer the butcher on 71 St/Rd.......A&J Pizza ~ the best........the jewelers - all independants - knew everyone by name.......ohhhh, the list goes on & on.......PLEASE DO NOT ruin Forest Hills!!! It is iconic & utopian. I was blessed to grow up there. ♥FH