The declining economy and our disappearing neighborhood stores

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Living in the neighborhood since the late 1960s, I would occasionally see one or two local businesses leave. They would quickly be replaced by another.

Over the past decades, I have witnessed many other changes to our neighborhood. On Northern Boulevard, our old Bowling Alley, the original Scobee Dinner, the mini-Sears Roebuck on Great Neck Road, North Shore Bicycle, Little Neck Movie Theater, Bill’s Newsstand, Scobee Dinner on Little Neck Parkway, the old 5 & 10 Virginia Variety, Patrick’s Pub, Villa Bianca, Villa Bianca Bakery, Nelsons, Luke’s Bakery, several supermarkets along with other stores have come and gone. They would always be replaced by a new tenant.

Walking down Northern Boulevard in the evenings, my wife and I see fewer people dining out and shopping. Years ago, vacant storefronts never stayed that way for long. We recently took an evening walk from Glenwood Street at the City Line to 248th Street two blocks west of Marathon Parkway in Little Neck. It was disappointing to see eighteen vacant storefronts, many of which have stood empty for months to a year or more. Many Great Neck neighbors residing in the Terrace Circle apartments, the unincorporated community of Lakeville nearby Lakeville Elementary school, Lake Success and other neighborhoods adjacent to the city line patronize many of these commercial establishments on Northern Boulevard.

The unemployment rate is 8 percent. This does not count the 7 percent more who have given up looking and the millions more who are working part time. There is clearly less disposable income for people to spend. Many former two incomes households have to live on one pay check. Some face both wage earners out of work. Don’t forget those who have exhausted their unemployment insurance and savings. All of the above has resulted in far tighter family budgets. This translates to eating out less frequently or dining at less expensive restaurants. Repairing and making due with existing clothing, appliances, furniture, household items and automobiles rather than buying new has become a regular part of life. People are postponing major house renovations such as painting, siding, roof shingles, bathroom and other major upgrades. You also have people foregoing nonessential pampering. All of this translates to fewer customers and financial transactions for various local businesses. That is resulting in the decline of our local neighborhood economy.

After a fire last year, on the north side of Northern Boulevard the old liquor store at the city line is still undergoing renovations and has yet to reopen. Peter from Peter’s Hair Design has just retired and his store now sits empty and vacant. He was a neighborhood icon for years. One of our old favorite restaurants — Nelson’s was replaced several years ago by the Red Lotus Bakery and Cafe. The old Music Zoo stands vacant with a work permit posted outside for an orthodontist. There are already several dentists and orthodontists in the area. The corner bar on Morgan Street has gone through so many owners and names over past decades, we have lost count. They have recently been replaced by Rachel Hair Salon. The only problem is that there are seven other beauty salons open within blocks of each other. Sooner or later, some will close as there just may not be enough clients to go around. The old piano store which was vacant for months has recently been replaced with Collezione Wines & Spirits. There is already one liquor store open adjacent to Stop & Shop. I wonder if three liquor stores within blocks of each other are going to make ends meet. T & C Cooper Door is still empty and available. On the next block, both the Plumbing Electrical Hardware (they couldn’t make a go of it against North Shore Hardware down the block) and Little Neck Convenience stores stand vacant. Love Light Spa has replaced Plumbing Electrical Hardware after sitting vacant for months. Again, there are several other establishments offering similar services within blocks of each other.

My old friend Kevin tried but failed to make a go of it with Little Neck Convenience. That replaced Bill’s old newsstand by the bus stop and represented the last of the old time neighborhood newsstands. C&F Fish market came and went and continues to sit empty for months. There were not enough gamblers to go around resulting in the Off Track Betting (OTB) Parlor closing. Along with the travel agency upstairs, it has been vacant for over a year. The reliable neighborhood anchor Scobee Diner has been closed since November 2010. Rumors of a bank taking over the site have come and gone. Exit Realty adjacent to the laundromat next to Queens County Savings Bank is vacant. Nearby to the Little Neck Inn is another site now vacant formerly occupied by a restaurant — Cafe & Room. Won Hair Lite sits empty on top of Conti’s Resturant.

On the south side of Northern Boulevard, we have three vacant storefronts at the site formerly occupied many years ago by the International House of Pancakes which was subsequently replaced by an independent operator. The building was torn down several years ago and replaced by a mini shopping center. The old Korean Countryside Cuisine Restaurant is for sale near Brownvale Lane. Walking further east toward the city line we have a site formerly occupied by Joeun Appliances & Electronics store for rent. This is part of another mini shopping center which was built on the site of the old Patrick’s Pub. On the next block Il Bacco’s original site sits idle, Executive Kitchen has a work permit (no clue what will be), LaPlaza Refrigeration’s space and a vacant Pet Store are still looking for new tenants.

There are a number of other establishments whose owners continue to change hands. Sal’s Pizza is on its second reincarnation since he retired two years ago. Ditto, for our local bagel shop. It is under new management for the fifth time since opening two decades ago. Another old friend Joe spent a great deal of time, sweat and money attempting to build DiMaria’s Pizza and Kitchen. With four other Italian restaurants to select from he apparently just couldn’t make a go of it and was recently replaced by Napoli Joe Pizzeria. The same problem may exist with the ten health spas, nine Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Sushi restaurants, eight real estate offices, five Korean nail salons, four massage/health style parlors, four martial arts, four barbershops, three kitchen & baths, three delicatessens and three pet/and or grooming stores. Every few months, one seems to come and go. They reopen months later reincarnated under another name. Perhaps there is sufficient business to support many of the eight real estate offices based upon the volume of both residential and commercial turnover in the neighborhood.

In these difficult economic times, it is especially important to patronize our remaining local neighborhood businesses. My wife and I along with many Great Neck neighbors are regular patrons of the local community stores in neighboring Little Neck on Northern Boulevard from Glenwood Street at the city line to 248th Street. Why drive and waste time? There are so many great local businesses. Leave your car in the driveway, save some gas, say hello to neighbors and take a walk around the neighborhood to get some exercise. We continue to try and periodically frequent many of the following stores who over the years have struggled to remain open and successfully survived. They all developed a product or service niche along with a loyal local following supplemented by customers who come from outside the neighborhood to frequent their respective establishments. This list of success stories includes but is not limited to North Shore Hardware, Little Neck Pharmacy, Staples, Queens County Savings Bank, Capital One Bank, Stop and Shop, the Greek Isles, Il Bacco, La Grotto, Aunt Bella’s Italian Restaurant, McDonalds, King Wok Chinese Food and others.

We don’t mind occasionally paying a little more to help our local businesses survive. Don’t forget your cook and server at your favorite local neighborhood restaurant. We try to tip 20 percent against the total bill including taxes. If it is an odd amount, round up to the next dollar. If you can afford to eat out, you can afford an extra dollar tip. When ordering take out, don’t forget to leave a dollar or two for the waiter or cook. Trust us, it is appreciated.

Remember these people are our neighbors. They work long hours, pay taxes and provide local employment. If we don’t patronize our local community stores and restaurants to shop and eat, they don’t eat either. This helps keep our neighbors employed and the local economy growing.

People need to hold both President Barack Obama and Congress accountable for the current economic decline, which has reached down to our own neighborhoods. The statute of limitations has long since passed blaming former President George Bush for all our current woes. Four years have gone since he served. Obama had a Democratic majority in both the House and Senate for his first two years in office. Despite spending several trillion dollars in various economic stimulus programs and bail outs, there has been no significant improvement to our economy. In the meantime, the national debt has increased over $5 trillion dollars under his administration with nothing to show for it. Are you better off today than four years ago? If not, it is time for a change in leadership. Washington needs to fire the current team and hire a new management team this November.