A St. Albans nonprofit started raising funds for a proposed restaurant and fresh food market last week that it hopes will be a cornerstone in the revitalization of Farmers Boulevard.
The restaurant, which would be called Earth Tones and Side Dishes, would sit on the corner of Farmers Boulevard and Murdock Avenue and fill a much-needed void in the community, according to the Farmers Boulevard Community Development Corp.
“Sitting down and breaking bread with each other is not happening as much as it has in the past,” said Almita Gasper, community liaison for the corporation. “People aren’t getting a chance to gather for extended periods of time.”
Other than take-out joints, the restaurant would provide the only place to have a sitdown meal in the neighborhood, according to Gasper.
The corporation kicked off a funding drive Saturday and hopes to raise at least $25,000 from community donations before the end of the year. Also before the end of the year, the nonprofit hopes to net $75,000 from grants, money from elected officials and hopefully a few sponsors that will go toward the purchase of the property — a vacant lot that is going for about $100,000.
The lack of slow food dining forces families to travel out of the affluent neighborhood and spend their money elsewhere.
“Why not here?” Gasper asked. “I don’t want to move. I want to get that going right here.”
But the eatery would provide more than just a place to meet for family and friends over healthy food.
It would also draw on the neighborhood’s rich legacy of musicians — jazz great Weldon Irvine and hip-hop’s Q-Tip are only some of the big names to grow out of St. Albans — to offer a performance space and gallery for up-and-coming artists.
Good tunes, art and food is what the restaurant would ostensibly be serving up, but when the $2 million project is complete, it will bring some desirable side effects with it.
First, Gasper hopes it will act as an anchor business and convince other shops to open in the corridor.
As of now, the area does not enjoy much foot traffic, but Gasper sees a St. Albans of the future as a green and economically vibrant neighborhood, complete with bike lanes and community gardens.
The other side effect is improving the health of residents in the area, whose diet of takeout and fast food contributes to the area’s overburdened hospitals, according to Gasper. She envisions both the kitchen and the fresh fruit and produce market as a basic asset for Farmers Boulevard, which lacks a bona fide grocery store within walking distance.
But Gasper and the corporation are not expecting subsidies to operate the eatery once it is built. Gasper, who ran a small business herself for seven years, expects it to be an economic engine driving the rest of the revitalization.
That is especially true for St. Albans, according to Gasper, where there is plenty of money — so much so that it often does not qualify for federal grants for improvements to the neighborhood.
Gasper said southeast Queens in general needs to pull up its own bootstraps after being ravaged by the housing bubble and ensuing tsunami of foreclosures.
“We need to no longer feel like we are the victim of the economic crisis and say what can we do to change this ourselves,” she said.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.
©2011 Community News Group
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