For decades, Broadway – often referred to as the heart of Elmhurst – has been lined with one-story immigrant-owned businesses. Today, its streets are in transition aesthetically and economically, and businesses and residents are finding it difficult to secure their places on the new Broadway that Pi Capital Partners is developing.
As you walk up Broadway toward Queens Boulevard, both sides of the street are lined with one-story brick storefronts: Mid-Wood Deli, Gino’s Pizza, Wireless Communications Center and Lucky You 123. On the east side of Broadway, these brick storefronts give way to glassfront franchises: Starbucks, Subway, Carvel, Coco Bubble Tea, and the shells of where Iris Bakery and Sweet Spot Pharmacy used to be. While across the street, bright blue construction boards have replaced the brick storefronts where Wendy’s used to be, and where The Elm West – the East’s sister development – will soon rise.
Pointing to the construction neighboring his establishment, Kuldeep Adhi, 10-year owner of Wireless Communications Center said, “They’re going to open 10 more stores, and that’ll be 20 new stores on this street paying above-market rent. My landlord may increase ours to match that.” This is a scenario he cannot afford, he says.
Elmhurst managed to stay under the radar of gentrifying developers for decades. But in the last few years, Elmhurst’s housing market met two new condo developments – the Miramar and C Condo – and in 2012, it met its third residential development – The East Elm, this one courtesy of Pi Capital Partners. This six-story, mixed-use residential and commercial development is home to 83 luxury rental apartments, with stores for rent on the street level.
“This is a brand new building, new businesses – a Starbucks,” said Jim Chew, 27, who moved to Elm East from New Jersey in 2012. “People like new,” he said. His building is seducing newcomers.
According to Adhi, these newcomers overcrowd neighborhood parking. But across the street, Kevin Colin, an employee at Coco Bubble Tea housed under The Elm East, sees the increased population as a positive product of increased job, housing and business opportunities.
Some longtime storeowners also welcome neighborhood growth.
“The Elm brings us more traffic,” said Oscar Caicedo, 40-year owner of Gino’s Pizzeria. That’s fine with him, he says, “as long as another pizzeria doesn’t come.”
The prospect of competitors opening in The Elm West is also a concern for the new stores that have moved into Elm East.
“I hope they don’t open any restaurants because our business will be slow,” said Mahi Tal, a Subway employee in The Elm East.
And increased business opportunities introduce the possibility of big businesses moving onto Broadway.
“We can’t compete with franchises,” said the owner of the brickfront Mid-Wood Deli Grocery, who requested anonymity because he is a neighbor of The Elm. “If tomorrow, Whole Foods comes in, I’m out. If the Donald Trumps come here and want to build, what can you do?”
The Pis purchased The Elm East property in 2002 and The Elm West property in 2004 with the goal of developing the intersection of Broadway and Queens Boulevard into one of the most visited hubs in Queens. In 2012, The Elm East opened to renters. The lure of the luxury developments is its quick subway ride into and out of Manhattan.
“This is not about the neighborhood,” said the Mid-Wood Deli owner. “People who can afford luxury will come from other places. Those who can’t move out.”
Iris Bakery opened in July 2013 on the ground level of The Elm East. Today, a sign taped to its door reads: “This location will be closed on 5/1/2014. Please go to the Flushing store.” Next to it, sits an empty glass storefront yet to be rented. Further down the block, at the corner, Sweet Spot Pharmacy’s glassfront has sat dark and vacant since March 2014. Sustainability on Broadway and Queens Boulevard is taking on a new, more expensive, and more competitive meaning.
Speaking of Iris Bakery’s closing, a Starbucks barista housed in The Elm East said, “It wasn’t smart to move next to a Starbucks. We sell pastries and we’re known for it.”
As for older Elmhurst residents securing space on this new Broadway:
“I can’t afford to live here,” said Debbie Fitz, 57, of Elmhurst. “From what I can see, Asians can though,” noting the changing demographics of the block.
Others shrug off The Elm’s unaffordability as NYC living.
“I’m struggling to pay my rent, but this is what living in NYC is about,” said Khyati Joshi, a resident of the next apartment complex over. “Adapt or go.”
Standing beside The Elm East and staring at the Elm West’s construction across the street, Francisco Dani, an Elmhurst resident and retired volunteer at Interfaith Chapel said, “I’m looking at the future.”