New ‘StreetWise’ Blog:
Spending time at small Astoria shops

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Astoria is known for its small coffee shops and bakeries with outdoor seating.
THE QUEENS COURIER/Photos by David Gordon
Café Latte, a small Astoria coffee shop on Steinway Street is struggling.
Here’s something you don’t see everyday during these in these tough times – a place that’s actually hiring!
The N Train is one of a few different subway stations that Astoria residents use to take them to other parts of the city.

Talk to any Queens resident about where to go for fun, and you are bound to hear “Astoria.” They might mention the cheap rent, numerous restaurants, the fully working film studio or the famous Beer Garden, which has planted its roots close to Steinway Street’s business-lined sidewalks.

But, take a closer look at that corner coffee shop or chat with a local cabbie and you’ll find that the times they are a-changing.

There are more cabs on the corner this year. An empty café hosts a melancholy owner. But in these tough economic times, there is at least one glimmer of hope in Astoria…

Café Latte – a shop struggling to survive

Just outside of Steinway Street is a small coffee shop called Café Latte, located at 40-13 35th Avenue. It has been in business for a year and a half and is now one step away from serving its last cappuccino.

On may be surprised, given its location.

Café Latte is a block away from the R train, a block away from the United Artists movie theater, just across the street from the Q66 bus stop. It’s proprietor, Steve Nesimi, blames the economy for the troubles.

Nesimi lost his job as a construction worker and was tipped off as to this location by his landlord, who knew he had once been in the coffee business.

“We started out good, but the economy is…,” he said, as he shook his head “no.” It was as if he couldn’t bring himself to say the words.

“We knew it would be slow in the beginning,” Nesimi said, “If we were doing something wrong, it [customers] would drop gradually.” But, they haven’t. Nesimi gestured that the drop was steep – and sudden.

They don’t have business cards anymore and can’t afford menus; the less than $2 cups of coffee we bought were two of only four sold in a half hour time span.

In general, it’s a nice location, clean and cozy. The early morning coffee was very good, and the pastries looked delicious. In any other economy, it would probably have a decent, loyal following, but the current economy is far from normal.

A car dealership actually looking for more salespeople

Here’s something you don’t see everyday during these in these tough times – a place that’s actually hiring!

A sign that reads “Salesperson Needed” greets you as you approach the KG Suzuki dealership at 37-27 Northern Boulevard.

“We are looking for a few good men,” said manager Robert Savage.

Savage acquiesced that although it was the current economy was difficult for the dealership – they’re still thinking about growing. He mentioned that he thought there was at least a 60 percent decrease in business from last year to this.

“I think there is no lower we can get.”

He noted that this used to be a big time of year, with parents buying cars for their graduating children.

“This year, there is not enough people buying cars for kids going to college,” Savage said. “Maybe the money is just not there.”

The dealership has implemented a number of cost-cutting techniques, none of which included firing workers.

“We try to make sure we keep people employed,” Savage said. “That’s actually why we don’t cut our staff.”

The measures they’re using includes cutting advertising, allowing workers fewer personal phone calls and conserving energy. “We cut the areas we believe we are wasting some money…You got to cut them [costs] to be efficient.”

“We are just trying to make sure business stays solvent and try to keep our employees happy,” Savage said.

Getting around Astoria – by subway or livery cab

Danielle Bolas is an Astoria resident who arrived in Queens last year from “the Bay Area” of Oakland, CA.

How does she get around?

“Just the N and W…It’s pretty regular. There’s a few times when it’s been a little rough; other than that, it’s not bad.”

Transportation in Astoria is rather easy. As Bolas said, “you could walk all the way to Ditmars if you wanted.”

The W line takes you from Queens to Manhattan. The N line goes as far as Coney Island, Brooklyn. To arrive on Steinway Street, we took the No. 7 train from the Mets-Willets Point stop to 74th-Roosevelt and picked up the V.

Subway ridership has increased because of unlimited MetroCards, according to Arif Ansari, a subway booth worker at the 36th Avenue station. “With unlimited MetroCards, you can take the train every 18 minutes.”

While subway and bus fares are expected to go up later this month – although not at the sky-high levels they were originally talked about – some see it as a cheaper alternative than other forms of getting around town.

Livery and taxicabs, for example, have taken a big hit with people only willing to use their services “when necessary,” according to livery cab driver Mon She.

“There’s a 90 percent total decrease in business,” said She, whose car was stationed on a Tuesday morning right outside the 36th Avenue subway staircase. “We’re just surviving,” he said.

Another difficulty facing livery cabs and taxis – the new tax 8.375 percent tax passengers have to pay per ride.

“We’re fighting the Mayor on that,” She said.