Small biz owners facing big challenges
by Dawn Lim
Aug 17, 2010 | 5127 views | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Congressman Anthony Weiner hosted a town hall meeting to hear from small business owners.
Congressman Anthony Weiner hosted a town hall meeting to hear from small business owners.
When she got tired of hearing people complain that they were cutting their shopping time because they were afraid of being slapped with parking tickets, Maria Thomson, the executive director of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District, decided to make a point.

She rounded up 10 volunteers to stand by meters on Jamaica Avenue between Dexter Court and 100th Street. They handed people that pulled in a quarter and a flyer that read, “Thanks for shopping on Jamaica Avenue.”

Businesses on Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven and Richmond Hill area have been hit hard. More than one in five shops on Jamaica Avenue between 119th Street and Woodhaven Boulevard were closed and showed a 20 percent vacancy rate.

It’s technically illegal to feed other people’s meters, so Thompson’s volunteers handed out quarters directly to people instead.

“It’s difficult to shop when you have to worry about a meter,” she said. Her group will be launching the same campaign during the holidays to encourage people to spend money at local businesses.

Thomson spoke at a recent summit for small businesses held by Congressman Anthony Weiner in Kew Gardens. Weiner hosted the event just a month after he unveiled a study of vacancy rates on Queens business strips.

The event offered a chance for Weiner to address the grievances of the small business community that are mounting in the economic climate. About 10 people showed up for the event on a night when Weiner challenger Bob Turner hosted a fundraiser of his own.

Alberta Gray, who owns a bicycle shop on Lefferts Boulevard in Kew Gardens, said that she suspected landlords were deliberately keeping stores vacant to write them off as losses and claim tax credits. This was keeping rents exorbitant in a sluggish economy.

“[Landlords] basically make a calculation when you talk to them,” agreed Weiner, “Four lean years are better than committing to a rent right now that I’m going to be regretting in five years.”

But this is a self-defeating, he said. As the economy knocks local businesses off their feet, this is driving out neighboring businesses and depressing the commercial value of the entire area.

“When someone wants to shop on a given street, they’re going out to do not one thing but two or three things,” said Weiner, “When one of those or two of those links in that chain are not present, they might be inclined to go somewhere else.

The shopping strip economy in Queens is both a boon and bane. “It’s so much part of the DNA of New York and what we love about it that we can walk to little shops, and there’s nothing you can’t find within walking distance of your house. That’s a huge virtue,” he said. The city just needs to do a better job of marketing local businesses, he added.

“You would like milk and honey to be flowing through the streets,” Weiner joked, “I’m working it out.”

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