Austin Street Is Up for Grabs

December 27, 2007 at 11:17 pm 3 comments

sign1.jpgThere’s a new cyber parlor game going on for Forest Hills, in which people speculate on what is going to replace whichever store has recently gone out of business—and there’s a lot of that happening lately. In general, what comes out of these online discussions is some degree of chain-store anxiety, a wistfulness for the days when mom-and-pop stores were the norm, and a hope that better restaurants will make their way here. There is also some comparing to a neighborhood like Park Slope, where originality and charm remain predominant commercial characteristics of 7th Ave. and environs.

Today I walked around Austin and the streets that run perpendicular to it while doing errands in the mist, and it became clear that Forest Hills’ character is not only in an enormous transition, but in a schizophrenic one at that. There are stores that open and stay in business for a year or less; there are longtime places like Baskin Robbins, Mandee, and UJs Luncheonette unable to stay in business because of skyrocketing rents. The high-speed turnover indicates that not even the retailers, who are plunking down investment money, quite understand where all of this is heading.

There’s the influx of Manhattan and Brooklyn could-have-beens. They come with certain standards and expectations, as well as kids and at least one car, and find out fast that it’s not Park Slope precisely because it’s not economically/politically homogeneous here. There are now sizable Russian and Bukharian communities that support the small ethnic specialty food markets on 108th Street but also like their lattes and cashmere sweaters, even if they don’t frequent Banana Republic or Nicks Pizza. Then, on weekends, restaurants are overrun by twenty-somethings who come here from all over Queens and trash the place. And, finally, there are the old timers, now middle aged and up but who truly love Forest Hills and still prefer to do their shopping and dining here for convenience’s sake and because that’s what they’ve always done. A store or restaurant that baffles one socioeconomic group makes perfect sense to another, which is reasonable given how hard this area is to pin down.

The real mystery is how this will all shake down over time. What this place looks in a few years will be not only a response to what Forest Hills wants and needs but also a reflection of who we are demographically. It’s all changing, as Queens becomes the next big thing, immigrant communities entrench via second and third generations, and America’s common culture (as pitiful as that is) brings about a convergence of thinking among younger generations. Stay tuned—an interesting bit of reality TV is playing out live before your eyes, if you choose to watch.

Photo shopforesthills.com.

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Entry filed under: Austin Street, Forest Hills, Queens, Rant.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rafael  |  December 29, 2007 at 10:26 am

    The biggest problem with Queens in gerneral is that there appears to be no sense of history or respect for it.

    There are no parts of Queens (with the exception of Jackson Heights )that has the beauty and historic preservation that Park Slop, Brooklyn Heights, Fort Greene, or Caroll Gardens have.

    Most people want Queens to finally become a respected borough of Manhattan but they still see a poorly planned infrastructure.

    Anyone can tare down a historic home and build a yellow brick monstrosity with shiney golden bars and plastic awnings.

    Kew Gardens has some of the most amazing history of any borough but as each day that goes by you can see less and less of it as builders and owners do what they want without approval from the building and zoning department.

    The building and zoning boards are obviously not interested or are receiving kick backs for letting rules and regulations slide.

    The reason Jackson Heights is attracting people from Manhattan and Brookly is that it delivers the historic old New York charm and sensibility that they are accustomed to.

    There is still a sense of community and respect for history in Jackson Heights. This gives residents pride which makes business owners want to deliver in meeting their needs.

    Reply
  • 2. karbeth  |  December 29, 2007 at 11:38 am

    Rafael, I’m not sure I agree with all you write about Jackson Heights (from firsthand experience; I’m there several times each week), but I have definitely noticed a more forward-thinking crowd there. The arts scene is pretty impressive, a few new stores (e.g., Espresso 77) are terrific, and there is less apathy overall. I also prefer the cafe con leche at Seba Seba and a few other places to anything I can get around here. But then I come back to Forest Hills and the sense of space and feeling of being in a village hits me pleasantly in the face.

    The building and zoning boards have done a horrendous job of managing new development in Forest Hills; the monstrosities you aptly note are symptomatic of short-term thinking, a quick buck for someone or something. Wish I knew who or what.

    Thanks for contributing your thoughts.

    Reply
  • 3. Anonymous  |  July 8, 2008 at 11:03 pm

    Too damned many asians!

    Reply

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