ABOVE: John Choe of the Greater Flushing chamber of Commerce.
BY BENJAMIN FANG
Retail is hurting, and it’s not hard to see why.
Small businesses are facing stiff competition from not only big-box stores, but also e-commerce giants like Amazon.
Commercial rents are skyrocketing and wages are going up. Many older businesses, struggling to keep up with the changing landscape, are having a hard time staying afloat. As a result, longtime businesses are closing up shop for good.
This trend is happening in many Queens neighborhoods, even in areas that appear to be booming. Flushing, for example, has seen a recent explosion of housing and commerce.
But John Choe, executive director of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce, said this “outward-looking prosperity” has masked many of the underlying obstacles that small businesses face.
“There’s a sense that the challenges have grown so much that a lot of the small businesses, the mom-and-pop stores and retail that have been here for a long time, feel that the pressure may be too much to stay in business,” he said.
Choe explained that Flushing’s business landscape grew organically over decades from an influx of immigrant entrepreneurs. The neighborhood created a niche regional economy, offering products and services that people can’t find anywhere else.
That economic activity, combined with a robust transportation network, allowed Flushing to flourish as a cultural and commercial destination.
As the real estate value shot up, Choe said larger firms took advantage of it to build large-scale developments like Skyview Center and Flushing Commons. He said those hubs are beginning to price out longtime small businesses.
“If the only businesses that can rent on Main Street are national banks, Main Street is going to become less and less of a local economy and more part of the national economy,” Choe said. “I think that’s a danger for neighborhoods like Flushing.
“Those businesses where people can find things you can’t find anywhere else, they can’t really afford to be here anymore,” he added. “I think there’s a danger that we’re losing our unique neighborhood character.”
Many of the restaurants along the Prince Street commercial strip, for instance, have been displaced. Choe attributed part of that to the Fulton Square complex, which has attracted newer restaurants to the area.
“You’ll see vacant storefronts, which didn’t really exist a few years ago,” he said. “Those storefronts historically would’ve been quickly taken over by another business.”