BY BENJAMIN FANG
With the rise of e-commerce giants like Amazon, the traditional retail industry is feeling the pressure.
To address the future of retail and real estate, the Queens Chamber of Commerce’s Real Estate Committee is planning a panel discussion event in the coming months. Martin Cottingham and Michael Wang, who co-chair the committee, are inviting experts representing all facets of retail.
Cottingham, a principal at the commercial real estate services firm Avison Young, said the focus on retail is timely and important because the industry “impacts everybody.” Retailers face a rising real estate market and rent costs, which puts pressure on tenants. They’re balancing rules and regulations set by the city, such as paid sick leave.
“When you introduce e-commerce to the equation, how they have to compete now with the likes of Amazon and companies that have the infrastructure built in place where people can easily sit at home or work and purchase goods, that’s having a real impact on retailers,” Cottingham said.
Long Island City is one of several neighborhoods within New York City that is competing for Amazon’s second headquarters. Cottingham said the high interest is driven by the fact that a lot of highly-skilled, high-salaried employees will enter the market.
“They’re an agent of change, and they are changing the industry,” he said. “You either have to change and keep up or you could be out of business.”
Wang, CEO of G8 Real Estate, said the chamber can actually have a mutually beneficial relationship with an innovative company like Amazon, not an adversarial one.
“We may invite Amazon to become a member of the chamber, of the Real Estate Committee,” Wang said. “Let them be aware of the issues here, and allow them to make us aware of what they’re doing, to see if something makes sense.”
Cottingham added that the chamber may even see if local retailers can become vendors or supplies for Amazon.
Those are all questions that will be discussed at the Real Estate Committee’s panel event. Cottingham and Wang, who both have roots in Queens, also focus on the trends of the real estate industry in the borough.
Wang, whose focus is primarily on Flushing, said rents are going “through the roof” in that hot market, making it tough for many industries to survive.
Even restaurants, the second most popular retail industry in Flushing, are operating at lower margins, he said. Financial institutions like banks, as well as beauty shops and pharmacies, round out the other top retailers in the neighborhood.
What some owners do now, Wang said, is break up their storefronts into cubicles for different businesses. Rents are lower, even if companies are paying more per square foot.
“People are more willing to pay that out of pocket, to be on a main street to sell whatever goods and services they may have,” he said. “You see these different models coming up that are working. But the meat of the old industry, which is regular mom-and-pop stores, a lot of those models are not thriving.”
Cottingham, who grew up in Brooklyn and the Rockaways, said what has amazed him is seeing how neighborhoods like Long Island City have emerged in the last few years. Now that the residential population has exploded, he said infrastructure and other needs like schools, libraries, post offices and even retail need to keep up.
“While there has been great strides made in a neighborhood like Long Island City, it’s still under-retailed,” Cottingham said, “considering the amount of folks who live there, and the amount of folks who will live there once all those developments are done.
“That alone amazes me, That’s a blank canvas,” he added. “Real estate folks like us need to be part of the solution.”
Cottingham attributed the retail need to the state of construction and development in the neighborhood, which he said IS in a “period of flux.” As those projects near completion and come on line, retailers will flock to the neighborhood.