A souvenir shop opens in industrial Long Island City

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A Times Square-style souvenir shop has opened in industrial Long Island City. Just New York Souvenir, at 38-85 13th Street, half a block from the NYCHA Queensbridge Houses, sits within a 10 block Industrial Business Zone where low-rise warehouses and factories dominate but at least 13 hotel sites have cropped up.

“This looks like something on Canal Street,” said a man who stopped in mid-day to sell recycling services.

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The owner, Telisha Lee, an LIC native, is assistant to the CEO of Urban Upbound, a public housing community-support organization with a location across the street. “When I started seeing all the hotels popping up I said wow,” she said. “I said hey, maybe I could open up a souvenir shop.” She added she saw the shop as a way to help her jewelry business by eventually displaying her jewelry there.

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The Ravenwood IBZ, between 21st Street and the East River, was carved out more than a decade ago under a zoning regime intended to preserve manufacturing. The city succeeded in preventing residential development from taking over this stretch of the Queens waterfront but saw instead the rise of a hotel district. The de Blasio administration, with the support of the city council, announced in 2015 it would create special permit requirements for hotels and storage facilities in these carve-outs. But this has been slow to get underway. The permit requirement for storage facilities came about last year. And just this week, the Department of City Planning launched a public review processfor the hotel special permit proposal.

Ten years ago, after the IBZs were established, the late New York Daily News real estate reporter, Jason Sheftell, compared this carve-out in LIC to “Williamsburg 20 years ago or the Meatpacking District of the 1960s.”

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The area is part of the LIC IBZ, which is actually six zones, with this one in Ravenswood, where LIC meets Astoria along the waterfront. In 2008, Sheftell predicted: “(Ravenswood) is five to 10 years from being a completely different place. The IBZ can’t last forever. This area will have to become more residential than it is now. Nothing this close to Manhattan can remain factory land forever.”

Residential development has been underway in the Ravenswood area, at Alma Realty’s waterfront rental complex at 34-46 Vernon Boulevard and Excel’s Vernon Tower by Socrates Sculpture Park. And Blue Mountain Capital recently bought a warehouse property at 11-35 31st Drive, a site zoned to allow residential use.

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But the IBZ in Ravenswood is still gritty. Cats still crawl under iron fences and the streets are still desolate at night. Troma Entertainment, the indie-horror movie company is still based here, woodworkers still make custom boxes on 10th Street and newspapers are still printed on Vernon Boulevard before dawn.

“Even though it’s an industrial area I still believe that it’s going to keep turning into the new New York City,” Lee said.

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This is what it looks like now. Every day, tourists roll their suitcases from the 21st-Street Queensbridge F-train station past a mural of native rapper Nas and his serious gaze, to the large, beige, Best Western Plus. Or they pass the souvenir shop to get to the Sleep Inn, which sits next to a vacant warehouse. Further down the street is the Giorgio Hotel, between Stone Masters Inc. and Chris Auto Repair. The Howard Johnson on 12th Street looks out onto a vacant lot where another hotel is planned, next to the James Paretti building, an old political club house once known as a club called Exile and now home to an event space called Tammany House. The Mayflower Boutique Hotel a couple doors down opened a few weeks ago. A couple of the near-complete hotels are more original in appearance. The La Quinta Inn, with some tropical color, mostly matches the gray, industrial power plant right behind it. And Hotel Nirvana on 37th Avenue is all gray and bulky like a factory, lit up by blue lights at night.

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The oncoming hotels suggests more retail and even souvenir shops will come to the IBZ, says Shan, an employee at Just New York Souvenir. “A year, a year and a half, you’re going to find so many stores here,” he said, before specifying gift shops.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Rob MacKay, director for Queens Tourism Council. “I don’t think any of those tourists necessarily walk around down there. Most of the Long Island City tourists are there because they want to be one subway stop from Manhattan so they’re probably going to Manhattan.”

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Asked if Just New York Souvenir is the first gift shop of its kind in Queens, MacKay said some stores have some New York souvenirs, but he hadn’t heard of entire shops as such in the borough.

Participatory budgeting takes off in LIC & Astoria

Participatory budgeting, where council district constituents get to vote on how to spend a million bucks, starts today in districts 26 (Long Island City, Sunnyside and Woodside) and 22 (Astoria, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and Woodside too).

In Astoria, items up for a vote include a hydroponic science lab at LIC High School, lighting upgrades at Astoria Houses Community Center, a tool shed at Two Coves Community Garden and road surfacing.

In LIC, items include bus countdown clocks, trees, a gym at Queensbridge Park, a soil science lab at Ravenswood Houses, tech upgrades at P.S. 112 in Dutch Kills and other schools and playground renovations at P.S. 111 in Ravenswood.

A few notes:

  • That Ravenswood survey reported about here in Corner, will be online from April 4 through 30, Times Ledger reports.
  • State Senator Aravella Simotas’ legislation on preserving rape kits made it into the 2019 state budget.
  • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is running against Rep. Joe Crowley in the Midterm primary, wants to end ICE.
  • Nas’ chicken and waffles joint will open in Hunters Point Monday with a private back room for parties.
  • A $33.3 million deal was made to put up a seven story, 200-unit, mixed-use building in Dutch Kills at 37-11 30th Street, Real Estate Weekly reports.

    “Dutch Kills, which sits just south of Astoria, has not seen the same level of investments as other sections of Long Island City, such as Hunters Point, Court Square and the area around Queensborough Plaza. Before Avenue and Slate bought the 37-11 30th Street, the only high-end housing project in the area was the Lightstone Group’s ARC complex, which is located two blocks to the south.”

  • Rep. Carolyn Maloney spoke about the U.S. Census citizenship question, militarizing the border and gun legislation on Thirteen. Maloney_Thirteen_screengrab
  • Queensbridge is getting new roofs.
  • LIC Reading Series will host its 3rd year anniversary event on April 10.
  • Thrillist lists Petey’s Burger in the top 31 burger joints in America.
  • A bunch of storefronts up by the Ditmars Boulevard station will be demolished to make way for a Target, Astoria Post reports.

2017’s art has left Socrates Sculpture Park

Today I watched that head in Socrates park, an installation by Tanda Francis, called “Take Me With You,” get taken away. 

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And not just the head, but the whole body of work that graced the park since October 1 is out of the park, from what I could see. The next installation will be Virginia Overton’s solo-set called “Built.” According to the website, “The show’s largest piece is a crystal-shaped sculpture made of industrial architectural truss systems and angle iron spanning 40 feet.”

Politics and news below…

Continue reading “2017’s art has left Socrates Sculpture Park”

Women’s Ride sets off from Queensbridge

Women gathered on bikes at Queensbridge today ahead of a seven-mile ride to Borough Hall to highlight the gender gap in the cycling community and to call for more bike lanes in Queens.

A few notes:

More notes after the jump

Continue reading “Women’s Ride sets off from Queensbridge”

Politics and free food

 

I stalked Councilman Jimmy van Bramer today. Well, for five minutes I swung by the annual black history month celebration at the Jacob Riis Settlement at Queensbridge. I stood quietly in the back and noticed there was lots of free food. JVB honored a whole bunch of people. Here’s a whole list of them. What I heard sounded like a tribute to people making their community a great place by doing things such as anti-violence work.

A year ago, QB was recognized for going one year with no shootings. The streak was marked over in May. Early this year a woman caught a stray bullet by the F train station. I’m not sure what else has gone on over there other than last summer’s mural wars. Nothing like the Roxanne Wars. The film about the QB rapper Roxanne Shante will be on Netflix soon BTW. But anyway I think the event highlighted all the good stuff people are doing there.

So here’s what I think is also important: JVB said a few days ago he will run for borough president.

Here’s Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s statement on Black History Month that just came in my inbox. Why is it war themed?

A few notes:

  • Sam Roberts wrote an obituary that includes the name Samuel Robert. Read it for a history on the Kaufman Astoria Studios.

“In 1982, Mr. Kaufman, the scion of a century-old New York real estate family, led a group of investors in rescuing the Queens complex…”

  • Good news for Gibney’s girls.
  • Old news: A few days ago Councilman Costa Constantinides announced he’s officially going through with making over Steinway Street: he wants there to be mid-block crosswalks and a plaza. But I’m… not sure when and how? And he doesn’t seem to be sure where this plaza will be. Too bad no one reads this yet. I’d say, post your opinion on where the plaza should go.