The fortunes of two major commercial stretches in Forest Hills appear to be going in decidedly different directions.
What’s happening to Austin St. in the north and Metropolitan Ave. in the south offers a glimpse of how once-dominant business areas can become a victim of their own success – and how lesser-known locales can take advantage of that.
Locals maintain the advantage will always rest with Austin St., which has long benefited from its desirable location near the 71st-Continental Aves. subway station.
But soaring rents and vacant storefronts are now plaguing Austin, while Metropolitan – with lower rents, easier parking and many new shops and restaurants – seems on the rise.
It was once lined with family-owned shops that offered everything from clothing and jewelry to records and gourmet foods.
“It was almost like walking down Fifth Avenue,” said Karen Koslowitz, the former City Councilwoman who has lived in Forest Hills for 47 years and may run for her old seat next year.
But Austin has changed dramatically in recent years. Many specialty shops have been replaced by chains. Scores of banks dot the area. And empty storefronts are commonplace.
One reason may be soaring rents.
Tony Rincon said he was lucky to find an affordable rent when he wanted to move his Renegade hair salon to a larger spot on Austin St.
“The chain stores are able to pay high rents,” Rincon said. “What really keeps this neighborhood going is the little stores.”
One reason there may be more vacancies is that landlords are willing to wait to get the tenants and rents they want, said Leslie Brown, president of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce.
A large space at Austin St. and 69th Road that once housed Annie Sez and Mandees sits vacant. And a shop on a prime stretch of 71st Ave. has turned into a boarded-up eyesore.
Brown admitted some property owners “may have a different vision” than people who live in the neighborhood.
“It would be nice to get a deli and a coffee shop and a local hardware store – even if it was high end,” Brown said.
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