Annual arts festival to bring large crowds to Forest Hills

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Tens of thousands of people will soon descend on a quaint Queens neighborhood for one of the biggest street festivals in the borough.

Austin Street will exchange car traffic for foot traffic when the 11th-annual Forest Hills Festival of the Arts takes over the street on June 12.

“It’s a fun family event,” said Leslie Brown, president of the Austin Street Chamber of Commerce, who organized the event. “It’s a great way for the local merchants to meet and greet their customers and to let everybody know what they sell and who they are. It’s that personal touch.”

And there is no shortage of local merchants.

Austin Street is renown for its mix of intimate boutiques and mom-and-pop operations as well as larger retail stores, Brown said.

“We have a little bit of everything,” she said. “It’s like our slogan: small enough to know you, large enough to serve you.”

And many of the small business owners like Marla Cornejo, owner of 5 Burro Cafe on Austin Street, agree.

“I was a little concerned when we started getting away from mom-and-pop stores,” Cornejo said. “I think Forest Hills has a great blend.”

Cornejo and her husband have been slinging burritos and margaritas at the festival ever since it began.

“People look forward to our burritos throughout the year,” she said. “It’s a fun day.”

Other vendors will come from all over the tri-state area to sell quality leather goods, original art and photography, jewelry and pottery, Brown said.

But many people — who come from as far as Maryland for the event — want to see the entertainment as well.

A stage will be set up on 70th Road between Austin Street and Queens Boulevard, where several local businesses like All Star dance studios and Tiger Schulmann’s Martial Arts Academy will put their pint-sized pupils to the test in dance and martial arts demonstrations.

But in the afternoon, Mary Lamont, a country singer from Long Island, will take the stage, and then Bruce Wayne and the Soul Messengers, an R&B ensemble, will end the evening.

“He performs at B.B. King’s in the city,” Brown said. “He’s nicknamed the Voice of Soul.”

In addition, the festival will also test out a new feature this year: another closed-off street dedicated entirely to a daylong dance party.

“That’s going to be exciting,” Brown said.

Brown expects some 50,000 people at the event, since the shopping district is accessible by public transportation and extra parking will be available.

The influx of shoppers will be a boon to local businesses in what is largely a still shaky economy, Brown said.

That is why she was disappointed the learn that Mayor Michael Bloomberg cut down the length of parade hours citywide last year.

“The busiest time of the day is always towards the end, the mid-afternoon and evening,” she said. “The public really looks forward to these things and its disappointing for them.”

In addition, that is more money local merchants do not receive.

The free fair stretches from 69th to 72nd roads along Austin Street. It begins at noon and ends at 6 p.m.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Editor's note: Added date of festival

Updated 10:33 am, October 12, 2011
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