New Park a Nightmare for Jackson Heights businesses

Posted on November 10, 2011

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Local Business owner

Local business owner Ruhul Sharka is struggling to attract customers to his once profitable business since the road was turned into a park Photo credit: Dervedia Thomas

A new park on what was a busy 37 th road in Jackson Heights, Queens, is putting local stores along the route out of business.

Since the road was closed on September 20, businesses say customers are no longer coming,resulting in a 60 to 70 percent reduction in sales. Some of the 300 stores on the street have even been forced to close because they are unable to pay rent which ranges from $16,000 to $7000 per month.

“We are all helpless,” says Ruhul Sharka who runs a boutique selling traditional Asian wear.

Since cars and buses can no longer run on this street, his customers who are mainly Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi immigrants, must park far away. This makes competitors that are close to parking or bus routes more attractive, he says.

The new park is also forcing the business owners to incur additional expenses. Instead of encouraging recreation, the concrete strip has attracted junkies, homeless people and others who eat, sleep and leave their left over food, cigarette buts and other trash in the park at night. The next day, businesses are left to deal with sanitation inspectors who blame them for the mess and have even issued tickets.

Trash left in the park

Residents say the trash left in the park attracts pests and as a result they have been fined by health inspectors who blame them for the rubbish

“Nobody is taking responsibility for what the people eat and don’t throw in the trash,” says Shaziea Kausar a mother of two who owns a restaurant selling South Asian and Tibetan food. “I said [to health inspectors]’sir this is not my problem, how can I solve it.’”

Despite her protests, she has been given two tickets since September 20, one for $1600 and another for $750 because inspectors have found that flies and mice have entered her business.

She was even told by inspectors to buy a screen door to keep the flies out, but with less money coming in, she says she can’t afford it.

“I have to pay so many things,” she says. “I don’t even have money to pay the rent, Monday if I cannot pay my bills, I have to close my store.”

Many restaurants have even seen their health inspection grade reduced from an A to a C, because the trash has encouraged rodents, cockroaches and flies.

Business coalition

Businesses have formed a coalition and placed this sign in front of a store that has closed down. It urges people to support the restoration of traffic on 37th Rd.

Activists working with the business men have estimated that a total of 1.5 million dollars has been lost in that area since September, due to the reduction in sales. They are have met with the community board as well as the local assemblymen and other politicians to resolve the issue but no help has come yet.

For Iranian jewelery store owner Nooruddi Dashti, it is already too late. On the day he was interviewed, he says he only made $125 for the day; a far cry from when his exclusive jewelery brought daily sales of up to $25,000. Now, unable the pay the rent, he will be closing.

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