By Cassidy Knowlton
The signs are the result of the efforts of Amelia Kent and Rose Olsen, both on the board of directors of the Queens Village Civic Association. They are tangible signs of the economic revitalization that is slowly taking place in Queens Village, due in large part to the efforts of the civic association, Clark and others.
Olsen, a trustee of the civic association and a resident of Queens Village for more than 50 years, remembers when the neighborhood was a thriving community and retail center for the surrounding area. She said that fashionable women from all over Queens used to come to Queens Village to go shopping on Jamaica Avenue - "The Avenue," as it was called then - and sit with baby carriages and their purchases in the plaza, gossiping with friends.
Olsen pointed out a building across the street from the park that used to house Woolworth's, a great draw for the people of the area. The building is now home to a Baskin Robbins, a laundromat, a 99-cent store and some other shops.
But the prosperity did not last, she said. Woolworth's closed, people moved away. The schools became overcrowded, businesses failed and the neighborhood declined, she said. Recently, though, things have begun to look up.
Nassagar Ramgarib, president of the civic association, said that when he moved to Queens Village more than 25 years ago, there were lights strung up around the plaza and Christmas music playing 24 hours a day during the holiday season.
"Seven years ago," he said, "Christmas came and went, and you couldn't tell it was Christmas."
The civic association decided to do something. It bought two Christmas banners to hang over Jamaica Avenue and went to Clark to request funds for more. Clark was happy to help. She gave $1,000 for the purchase of four more banners, bringing the total up to six. Businesses on Jamaica Avenue took a cue from the publicly funded banners and bought holiday banners of their own.
"When you walk down the street now during the holiday season, you see banners on every pole" from the Cross Island Parkway to Francis Lewis Boulevard, Ramgarib said.
Since that time, area businesses have taken a more active role in the community. Clark said that Lewis Bank and other local businesses were working with her to arrange a meeting in late August to re-establish a chamber of commerce and sound out the possibility of establishing a business improvement district. Ramgarib said that there used to be a very active chamber of commerce in the neighborhood, but it had been "on hiatus" of late.
The signs are part of the effort to promote economic growth and increase business investment in Queens Village. Kent and Olsen had seen similar signs in other neighborhoods and decided that Queens Village needed plywood-and-paint manifestations of the welcome signs of revitalization. "These signs give you a feeling of welcome and belonging," Clark said.
And at least one man demonstrated that sense of belonging in his community: While Clark was talking, a grizzled man with a cane, recognizing the assemblywoman, approached.
"Two years ago, I received a letter from you that we should all chip in," John Kaiser said. "Since I got that letter I've sent 18 kids to camp from my building. That letter inspired me."
Kaiser said he has a friend who runs a camp in New Jersey for underprivileged kids. He acquired passes for the camp and gave them to children in his building on 210th Street.
Clark has done a lot to clean up the community, he said. Just 10 years ago, one couldn't walk down the street without seeing drugs and prostitutes, he said.
"Barbara Clark got elected, and all of a sudden she got the cops to clean up the streets. It inspired me to do something decent for the kids."
In the 30 years he has lived in Queens Village, "Barbara Clark is the best thing that happened here."
Barbara Clark smiled and thanked Kaiser. "That's what makes it all worthwhile," she said. Although the neighborhood is not back to where it used to be, "You always keep working on it."
Ramgarib nodded. "You have to."
Reach editorial intern Cassidy Knowlton by e-mail at news@times
©2004 Community News Group
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