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Few Northern Blvd. signs use only Korean: Report

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"When we met the first time, we said this was something we wanted to deal with in a rational and sober manner," Assemblyman Barry Grodenchik (D-Flushing) said at a press conference held by the signage task force at St. Andrew Avelino parish center, 35-60 158th St. in Flushing. "When you look at the results of this study, we've exploded a myth that has existed for a very long time."

The issue flared up in August of last year when the Happy Taxi Service cab company situated an oversized billboard on Northern Boulevard that was exclusively lettered in Korean. At the time, Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) hosted a press conference to decry the lack of English on signs in Flushing. That particular billboard has since been removed.

In response, the Flushing signage task force was formed by Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), other local politicians, civic leaders and representatives of the Korean community. Since October the group had met to devise a methodology to study the language on Northern Boulevard store signs between 162nd Street and Main Street.

They found that in addition to the 5 percent without English, another 12 percent of signs are written in English that is either unclear or not properly descriptive of the business.

"It seems to me that quite often in government we have a separation between perception and reality," state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Whitestone) said. "Because there is some English on the signs, to me it demonstrates that the store owners want to be good neighbors."

Stavisky and Grodenchik researched state laws that surround language on signs and found only an early 1900s state law on the books that required stores to post the name of the owner in English in the window of the business.

After determining that only 17 percent of businesses lack sufficient English, the group of politicians and civic leaders concluded that imposing new legislation in this realm would not be necessary.

"If the goal is to get English on all the signs, the most effective way to get English on those signs is to reach out to the businesses and offer assistance," Liu said. "It does not make sense to enact legislation."

The task force is approaching business owners who lack proper English on their signs and requesting they improve the clarity of their advertising.

This is not a new task for Liu. He initiated a study in 2000 of the use of Chinese vs. English languages on signage on Main Street in downtown Flushing. In that study it was concluded that only 10 percent of stores lacked proper English descriptions for their businesses. His office then offered the business owners assistance with re-lettering their signs.

"Flushing has changed rapidly and sometimes if you've spent a large portion of your life in a neighborhood and it changes rapidly, you always want to think of the 'good old days,'" Liu said.

"Out of the couple of hundred calls I've gotten from constituents, there are some who are genuinely concerned about where they're going to get meat and produce and some who are genuinely concerned about the change that's occurring in that neighborhood."

Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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