The Douglaston business community is reeling from the recent closing of Giftalicious, a snappy cafe-bakery that planners hoped would encourage more shops to open on the north side of the Long Island Rail Road tracks.
“There is no quick fix,” said David Pentlow, head of the Douglaston Local Development Corp. “We are trying to find a way to breathe life in the area. It will take time.”
Giftalicious opened at 40-39 235 St., in March 2012, having outgrown its original location on the south side of the tracks at 42-34 235 St. Owner Demetra Sirica expanded her bakery and gift store to include pizza, as well as breakfast and lunch selections.
The double store had previously been the Douglaston Market, which was open for 12 years and a popular gathering spot for commuters and parents of students at nearby PS 98. But the Department of Health issued several violations in 2011 and the store closed that June.
On the front door of Giftalicious is a personal note from Sirica to her customers thanking them for their support. She could not be reached for this story as she is traveling out of the country.
Jane Stewart, another LDC member, said she was very upset when Giftalicious closed. “I got my coffee there every morning before getting on the train,” Stewart added.
She would like to see a gourmet-type deli that sells cooked chicken to move in that would cater to people getting off the train at the end of the day.
Pentlow called Sirica “a savvy businesswoman” and that it is frustrating the store closed. “The area offers a difficult combination,” he added. “The rents are high, there is low traffic and little parking.”
Stewart said it’s a shame the business didn’t survive. “It looks so desolate over there,” she added.
Aside from the bakery-gift shop, the block has two other empty stores, a martial arts studio, cleaners, a custom sound store, a shoe repair and a dance center. On Tuesday morning there was not a pedestrian in sight. Although the weather was hot, not even a car drove through the area.
Pentlow said a wine bar will be opening next to the former Giftalicious as soon as a liquor license is obtained.
He is encouraged by that development, but noted that the Sunday farmers market that did not reopen this year was a blow. The city’s Greenmarket program, which ran the venture near the station, said there weren’t enough farmers willing to return to make it worthwhile. But Pentlow said many of the vendors did well, although not compared to Greenmarkets elsewhere in the city.
“We would like to have some kind of farmers market near the station, but it’s a lot of work to organize,” he said.
The LDC is now talking about utilizing part of the LIRR station, which is empty a good portion of the day, as a beverage concession, adding WiFi and exhibit space. LDC members, who are all volunteers, are trying to work on the plan with the MTA, which operates the LIRR.
He added that his group is also seeking a special nonprofit status from the state, which would entitle it to apply for grants, but that too, Pentlow said, will take time.
On the other side of the tracks, the LDC members are cheering a new barbecue restaurant that opened in June, Smokin’ Ace’s. It replaces Strawberry’s Sports Grill, which was hosted by former Mets great Darryl Strawberry.
Strawberry’s closed last October, allegedly due to poor management.
Pentlow believes the new eatery will do well. “It has a more focused menu and lower labor costs,” he said. “And there should be plenty of walk-through business with the nearby homes and apartments.”