Jackson Heights Public Plaza, Thursday Afternoon

Courtesy of Clarence Eckerson, Jr., here are some more scenes from the Jackson Heights pedestrian plaza that don’t fit the New York Times’ preferred narrative. Clarence says he passed through the plaza three times yesterday and it was bustling each time. On a Thursday.

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  • Mike

    Wow, it must be killing the local businesses.

  • Driver

    LOL at what looks like a drunken stagger at 0:06

  • Driver

    I don’t have a problem with the new pedestrian plaza, and I agree that the media portrayal of an unused space riddled with tumbleweeds is silly, but much of what we see seems to be people “hanging out”.  This might be good for some businesses like a bodega or fast food establishment but probably doesn’t do much to help a store like Brown’s army-navy, or New Menka salon. 

  • KillMoto

    @Driver yeah I never buy stuff when I’m near stores. 

  • Miles Bader

    @SB_Driver:disqus Huh?  Having crowds of people around, and the sense that that’s “the place to be”, is probably good for the vast majority of those businesses…

    [… cue owner of “Patsy’s Pizza” moaning about how they’ll ALL BE DESTROYED …]

  • Driver

    The point I am trying to make is it will be great for some types of businesses, but not very helpful for others. Let me give an example.  There was a very busy neighborhood park I used to hang out as a kid with a row of stores across the street.  Lots of people using the park went to the deli and the pizzeria. The park was great for these businesses. I don’t remember anyone from the park ever going to the fish market next door.  The fish market was always busy, always with people driving there from all over the neighborhood and beyond, and sure some walked also, but it was not the kind of business that benefited from all the traffic the park generated, and would have been negatively affected by a loss of available parking. 

  • Clarence Eckerson jr.

    Driver – don’t know what insinuation you are making with the comment of the drunken stagger at :06.  When I walked up that guy was on the phone, then I saw him tie his shoes, he wasn’t drunk or anything, just seemed to be looking and waiting for someone.  Strange comment to make.

  • Nicole Gelinas

    I took the train out to the plaza three weeks ago to see for myself. It was a cold and rainy day, so the plaza was not as bustling as it has been on warm and sunny days since then. But it was nowhere near as empty as it was in that NYT photo. 
    I spoke to two businessmen on opposite sides of this issue (and on opposite sides of 74th Street, adjacent to the plaza) who were kind enough to make some time for me. Shiv Dass, who sells (very nice) clothing and jewelry from a retail store, said that he originally supported the plaza but has changed his mind, in large part because his customers who come by car have complained about confusion and the lack of parking spaces. “Customers” who come from as far away as Virginia “will not come next time,” he said.Dass also notes, though, that he has seen a decrease in foot traffic from the MTA’s re-routing of two busy bus lines. Dass told me that having the buses “was a big help,” as people would get off and shop after work. This change was one that the MTA was making anyway (pedestrian plaza or no pedestrian plaza), to save time — as much as seven minutes —  for commuters going to or from the train. Dass also said, though, that two other factors are in play: “the economy, as it is bad,” plus the fact that it is (was) wintertime.

    Across the street, V.M. Gandhi, who sells gold bullion (also very nice), says that “sure, there is grumbling,” but that it is “human nature” for “people to grumble about any changes.” 

    Gandhi further says that 90 percent of his customers come by foot (either directly or via mass transit (including airplane). For these customers, the fact that the plaza has made walking around easier and safer is a big plus. Before, he says, because too many large vehicles, including buses and commercial trucks, were trying to turn into too narrow a space, “there were many incidents.” 

    Gandhi says, too, that the people who do drive to come to his business and his neighbors’ businesses will keep doing so, despite a marginal inconvenience. 

    Why? 

    Some context: driving and parking in the area was certainly not easy before the city put the plaza in. Gandhi says that driving to Jackson Heights is similar to driving to Times Square: “you’ve got to mentally prepare yourself” for difficulty driving and parking. 

    The reason that drivers will put up with this hassle is because the problem is also a symptom of the success that brought the drivers to Jackson Heights in the first place: density. 

    Gandhi notes that, like Mr. Dass, he gets customers from up and down the East Coast. Jackson Heights is perhaps the only place within hundreds of miles where a family can drive from, say, suburban Connecticut, and purchase ethnic Indian groceries, Indian clothing, Indian jewelry, Indian videos, Indian newspapers, &c, all within a couple of blocks’ of walking (the same thing goes for products and service serving other markets for South Asian immigrants and visitors). 

    People will often make a day or a weekend of it, going out for meals, as well. 

    Gandhi also points out the same thing as Dass did: the economy, plus other factors, are wild cards here. Some stores in the area closed down months before the plaza opened, he says. Further, the 2009 closure of the Eagle Theater marginally harmed foot traffic, as people would go to the movies, eat, and shop. 

    Long-term, the only way to know whether the plaza is succeeding or failing is commercial rents (which are a factor in the city’s property valuations, public information every year) as well as sales-tax revenues (not sure how easy it is to try to pull block-by-bock sales-tax figures). 

    In the meantime, much of the skepticism seems misplaced, especially in light of recent visual evidence of heavy foot traffic. As Gandhi says, “the area … was never ‘a 24-hour bazaar’ as claimed by some” and “it is also not a ‘ghost town’ now.”

  • Miles Bader

    @SB_Driver:disqus  There are certainly cases where that’s true (car repair shops, …), but I think for the vast majority, you’re wrong.  A fish shop in a well-patronized location will probably not benefit as much as say a newstand—but it will very likely do better than a fish shop on an empty street.  Popular pedestrian areas are attractive, to people who want to pop out for some shopping as well as those who want to hang out.

    The downside for businesses of course, is that popular areas tend to see rent increases, and those increases may not be offset by increased income.  But it’s pretty churlish to complain about changes because they make a location too popular (“nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded”); the result will be positive for businesses and residents, even if some reshuffling has to happen along the way.

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