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Mott Avenue in Far Rockaway (Photo: Janae Hunter)

Along Mott Avenue in Far Rockaway, Queens, the sidewalk is cluttered with bodegas, liquor stores, and various beauty shops.  Across the street, a different scene exists.  A mostly abandoned shopping mall boasts three stores, the rest shuttered closed.

This lack of some retail goods and too many of others has led to local consumers spending less and less money in the neighborhood.

In a 2014 study by the Rockaway Development and Revitalization Corporation, data revealed that as consumers traveled further out of Far Rockaway, the more money they spent on certain goods and services.  Traveling just half a mile out of the area, the neighborhood suffered about $96 million total in “leakage” for total retail trade and food, meaning the demand for those services exceeded what the neighborhood could actually supply.

“There’s a $90 million retail opportunity in Far Rockaway,” said Kevin Alexander, the president and CEO of the Rockaway Development and Revitalization Corporation.

Adding more retail and attracting more customers is part of the overall scheme to revitalize the Downtown Far Rockaway area.  In Mayor de Blasio’s “State of the City” address earlier this year, he promised to provide the neighborhood $91 million for revitalization and restoration projects for damage done during Hurricane Sandy.

According to Alexander, the neighborhood mostly consists of bodegas, hair care stores, and fast food restaurants.  The report reflects this claim.  Grocery stores, health and personal care, and limited dining restaurants were some of the only types of businesses that experienced a surplus within a quarter mile radius, meaning there was more supply of these services than there was demand.  Stores like these also provide the basic necessities for people, which is why they’re some of the few places residents spend at in the neighborhood, rather than out.

“Here’s this poor inner city that doesn’t have the right kind of shops,” said Lynn McCormick, an associate professor of Urban Affairs & Planning at Hunter College.  “People would like to shop locally.”

Instead, for needs like clothing and jewelry, home furnishings, and specialty food, people tend to spend more money in neighboring Bay Harbor and Green Acres malls.  According to a study by the NYCEDC, these two retail spaces, plus others throughout Queens, Brooklyn, and Long Island, are in close proximity and offer about five million square feet of “high retail spending” potential.  This affects businesses in Far Rockaway ability to attract shoppers, they said at a recent information session.

“Residents have asked for more diverse retail offerings, including sit-down restaurants, healthy food options, and entertainment through our series of community engagement sessions.” said a spokesperson for the New York City Economic Development Corporation in an email.

In regards to these types of businesses, Alexander said people’s perception of the neighborhood is why they don’t exist.

“There’s a negative perception of the area, and it’s pushed by the community.” he said.

Far Rockaway is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Queens, with 83 percent of people between 18 and 64 living at or below the poverty level, according to the census.  It’s also one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the borough.

However, Alexander said that there’s growing interest in the neighborhood for business.  The famous Thriftway Shopping Center, which opened its first new store—a Dunkin Donut/Baskin Robbins—in 2015 after 30 years, is one of the opportunities for new businesses, he said.  And with the neighborhoods’ close proximity to the A train, LIRR, and several bus lines, Alexander said within five years “people will be moving toward the neighborhood”.

Types of Businesses Wanted in Downtown Far Rockaway

  1. Sit-down restaurants
  2. Healthy food
  3. Entertainment
  4. Gathering Spaces
  5. Youth Activities