As Astoria, the “backyard” for Manhattan, becomes home to more and more younger residents longtime local businesses are getting caught in between hiking rents and blooming new shops.
“Everybody would say it’s becoming an issue because we can’t raise the prices according to how the rent is going up,” said Charlie Georgiou, the owner of City Cleaners, a 20-year-old store on Broadway. “Too much competition because everybody is trying to pay the rent.”
Some longtime business had to relocate within the neighborhood in search for more affordable rents.
“We just recently moved around February. The store itself has been on that location for 50 years with different ownership,” said Gary Zepp, the owner of D & F Italian Deli. “We moved because of better rates, better rent, longer leases and stability.” Zepp said his rent has been going up 5 or 6 percent a year before he moved.
Astoria’s rising popularity with younger people has caused landlords to raise rents. According to the last census, 40.7 percent of Astoria’s population is between 25 and 44 years old. As a result, the owners of older shops saw more and more shops like themselves closing down. The restaurant next to Michael’s Restaurant on Broadway was recently closed as well as the store next to Broadway Silk Store, which has been closed for 2 years.
“They just leave it vacant,” said Sarah White, the owner of the 82-year-old silk store of the owners of the store next door. “Some of the old buildings are knocking down, it takes some of the character away and that they are building fancy apartments.”
White described Astoria as a convenient 10-minute travel for younger people, especially those who are single or just had a family from Manhattan. It is also a neighborhood of 24 hours.
According to the NYC Department of Planing, 1-2 person households are predominant among tenants in Astoria (See chart 1 below). These two types of households were the only two that saw increases from 2000 to 2010 (See chart 2 below).
“Because there’s so much youth in the neighborhood that you see more new shops opening up,” said Zepp. “If you don’t want to pay the rent, maybe somebody else will come here and open up a trendy café or a restaurant that the youth like and they will pay the high rents.”
Metropolis Realty Agent Steven Sokolof agreed with the trend of seeing more young people, restaurants, trendy food stores, and less retails in recent years.
Amidst the competition, local businesses had their own strategies to keep the regular customers and attract new residents besides just being themselves.
Georgiou tried to provide family-oriented service to customers and distinguished himself from the chain stores. Zepp put more emphasis on the Italian specialty products, even some Italy imported goods, and more pre-prepared sandwiches and salads for the grab-and-go. And White recently started to branch out by adding jewelry to the shop’s shelves.
Yet other longtime business owners and managers embraced the new crowd. Monte Pucci, manager of Michael’s Restaurant, was one of them. During his 10-year career at the restaurant, he saw a trend of improvement in the neighborhood.
“It’s better for local businesses because you are bringing more people,” said Pucci. “You have more young and educated people moved here. Astoria has become like Manhattan number two.”