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Forest Hills retail chains still growing

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But that line is increasingly fading in Forest Hills. Over the past 10 years, the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce has brought the likes of Disney and Barnes and Noble to the strip of Austin Street just west of Continental Avenue. And last month, the newest commercial kid on the block, Eddie Bauer, launched its first Queens' store on the strip, after six months of construction.

The store, situated between 69th Road and Yellowstone Boulevard, is a stone's throw from the somewhat grittier H.B. Chevrolet Used Cars and Trucks. With its elaborate, stone-engraved insignia underfoot, the clothing store is one of the most recent signs of the block's gentrification. Directly across the road is another. The Gap is planning a superstore opening in the spring.

Chris Collett, the executive director of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, said that while 10 years' worth of effort had gone into transforming a block of service stations and non-retail businesses into a strip of retail stores, the most recent changes - Eddie Bauer's replacing Creativity, an art supply store, and the closing of New World Coffee - have had little effect on the street's character.

"Those guys are what I call musical chairs," he said, referring to the turnover in businesses on the street.

But so far sales at Eddie Bauer have been less than musical. According to the store's manager, Enrique Guerra, business has been fairly quiet.

"A lot of customers don't know we're open yet. And everybody is used to going down the other way, where Gap and Banana are," he said. "They don't come this way."

But he and other shopkeepers hope that with the Gap's expected opening, consumers will be lured to the increasingly developed side of Continental Avenue.

Before Eddie Bauer moved in, the space was occupied by Creativity, an art supply store that went bankrupt two years ago. According to neighboring proprietors, the Creativity store owners, who also had a store on Long Island, left suppliers and creditors in the lurch when they closed their doors and vanished.

Collett said it appeared Creativity's downfall was due to over-expansion.

"When you're paying $50 per square foot and you're selling dry flower arrangements, you're not generating enough money," he said.

New business blood is also arriving on the opposite side of Austin Street. East of Continental Avenue, among longtime retailers and restaurants, T.D. Waterhouse will open a walk-in investment center near 72nd Road. T.D. Waterhouse, the result of a merged Waterhouse Securities and Toronto Dominion Bank, has yet to announce an official opening, but upon completion it will move its old Forest Hills location from Queens Boulevard to the new store-front location.

"Retailers, financial services, they're all welcome. And they're not inconsistent," said Councilman Morton Povman (D-Forest Hills). "While people are shopping, they can stop in and have their broker tell them how much they made that day."

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