My neighborhood –
Local businesses reflect the neighborhood’s makeup. But significant changes are afoot, as the economic downturn creeps through Jackson Heights. I see evidence everyday in my comings and goings – to the gym, the subway,
A quick stroll around my block – 83rd St. to Roosevelt Ave. to 82nd St. to 37th Ave. and back – revealed 14 failing stores or empty storefronts. They include four clothing shops, two banks, two restaurants and various other businesses useless to me. In five years of living here, I spent maybe $40 at all of them combined. That tidy sum bought me some so-so Colombian food, passport photos, a toy train for my nephew and an umbrella that broke right outside the store two minutes after its purchase.
While I’d prefer these stores to be something else (batting cage… burger stand… anyone), I understand that I’m a minority around here. Proprietors of the dying and dead stores weren’t thinking of me when they put out a shingle. But uninteresting stores beat the pants off of empty stores. And there are way more empty stores now than at any point since I’ve lived here.
Some store closings are normal. Businesses that are profitable carry on (generally), those that aren’t don’t. When a store closes, a new one takes its place. That’s how the system works, in good times and in bad, here and everywhere. But the system seems to be broken. People aren’t buying things. Banks aren’t lending money. And entrepreneurs are scared to take risks. Stores can’t borrow to tide themselves over until sales pick up. And when they close, no new store can or wants to move in.
Empty storefronts dot the neighborhood, and more will follow soon. This leaves room for enterprising street vendors to set up shop. Some stretches of sidewalk present a sort of pedestrian slalom of tables and carts, even in good economic times. It’s worse now. The empty bank on my corner is now a de facto flower stand. Competing sellers will sometimes set up next to each other. The corner under the 7 train subway station is essentially a big cafeteria in the morning, with any number of people selling breakfast food and drinks out of shopping carts. Some street vendors are licensed and some not. The breakdown isn’t the issue so much as the sheer numbers. Many of these people would be making money some other way if they could.
Struggling stores rent out floor space to stave off closing. The Yofiore yogurt shop brought in a cell phone vendor before closing. A shoe store now has someone offering health insurance in a small space up front; the clothing boutique that once occupied the spot has since moved inside, I believe. Closed stores open up temporarily as something else to make a quick buck. What was once a passport photo place sold flowers this past Valentine’s Day.
Competition for buyers has also picked up. Until recently, I could expect to be offered a few flyers during the block and a half walk to the train. That number has doubled or tripled, and the people passing them out are more aggressive in trying to get them into my hands. I now have to actually walk through people’s outstretched arms sometimes to get by.
I can’t say if there are additional homeless or people who dig through recyclables these days, though I tend to notice them more. Nor do I know what’s happening at the local Salvation Army or Jewish Community Center thrift store. But if pressed, I’d guess numbers are up. My situation hasn’t deteriorated that much since losing my job a few months ago. But day-to-day life in Jackson Heights has to some extent. I expect the decline to continue, at least until this country gets itself turned around.