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Empty stores plague Queens streets: Weiner

U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D−Forest Hills) said that the top shopping strips in the borough have taken a major hit under the ailing economy, as 12 percent of storefronts are currently sitting vacant.

Weiner, who recently conducted a study of 10 major Queens shopping strips, also called on traffic agents to be more lenient in handing out tickets in his district, especially during the current economic downturn. The congressman said a total 211 out of 1,730 businesses included in his survey were empty, representing a 12 percent vacancy in the borough.

“This is an indicator of how bad the stock market is and how small businesses in Queens are really struggling,” he said, pointing to an empty storefront at 72−34 Austin St. in Forest Hills during a news conference Friday. “Neighborhood shops are the lifeblood of the community. And it has ramifications for the entire block. Empty stores lead to the mood of business owners being down and less money in city coffers from taxes.”

Weiner listed 10 major shopping districts that had empty storefronts, including Jamaica Avenue between Lefferts and Woodhaven boulevards, which currently has a whopping 80 stores out of a total 335 storefronts that are vacant.

Astoria’s Steinway Street has 38 empty stores out of a total 302 storefronts, while Myrtle Avenue in Ridgewood has 27 vacancies out of 320 storefronts. Rockaway’s Beach 116th Street between Beach Channel Drive and Ocean Promenade has 17 empty sites, while Kissena Boulevard in Electchester has 14 vacancies and Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside has 12.

In addition, Austin Street in Forest Hills has 10 empty stores, Rego Park’s Woodhaven Boulevard has nine, Sutphin Boulevard in St. Albans has three and Bayside’s Bay Terrace Shopping Center has one.

Weiner’s office obtained information for the study through visiting shopping districts as well as receiving statistics from local business improvement districts and Borough President Helen Marshall’s office.

He said parking fines on several busy shopping strips were scaring away potential customers and damaging businesses that are already contending with a decline in sales.

“They need to be more tolerant toward shopkeepers in this environment,” he said.

Javier Valdes, owner of Forest Hills restaurant Latin Cabana, said shoppers often avoid Austin Street because of overzealous traffic agents.

“As soon as you get out of your car, they scan your vehicle,” he said. “It’s rough.”

But Marla Cornejo, owner of 5 Boros Restaurant on Austin Street, said some of the empty storefronts on the shopping strip are a result of landlords charging their tenants too much for rent under the current struggling economy.

“It looks humble, but it’s not indicative of the rest of the street,” she said, turning to an empty site on Austin Street near 72nd Avenue. “The street is not in great shape, but it’s not doing horribly either.”

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e−mail at nduke@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 156.

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