Winter is here, bringing with it cold temperatures, blustery winds and ice and snow; not exactly the best time to be outdoors. This could be no more apparent than on bustling Bell Boulevard, where many storefronts are empty, traffic is down and merchants wait for better weather to attract business.
From Northern Boulevard to 38th Avenue, the Queens Chronicle counted seven empty stores on Monday, plus one about to close and one about to open. Although the spate of closings is concerning to area business and community officials, they all agree that weather is a factor and that Bell Boulevard is and will remain a strong shopping site.
Lyle Sclair, executive director of the Bayside BID, said on Tuesday that there are several deals in the works and that some of the businesses moved elsewhere and one owner is retiring. “It’s a slow time, but there is interest and I think most stores will be rented soon,” Sclair said.
Empty stores are located at:
• 43-23 Bell, the former Paradise Furniture that moved to a spot on Northern Boulevard.
• 43-19 Bell, the former Cupcakes In Heels bakery that closed to focus on custom cakes and no longer needed a storefront, according to a message on the door.
• 42-29 Bell, La Bottega restaurant that specialized in paninis and Italian fare, has a marshal’s posting dated in December stating it has possession. That usually means the owners missed paying their rent.
• 42-07 Bell, the former Chelsea Coffee House that has been closed for some time.
• 39-12 Bell, a former Verizon Wireless store that closed last summer.
• 38-46 Bell, a large storefront previously leased by Tiger Schulmann’s. It moved at the end of last year to Northern Boulevard.
• 38-39 Bell, a large corner property that was a Chase bank.
About to close is Top Drawer, an accessories store in business for 35 years at 39-36 Bell. Its owners plan to retire and close by late February.
Expected to open soon is a hookah lounge at 40-19 Bell, and opened earlier this month is Sneakers and Sports at 38-35 Bell. It replaced a shoe store.
Sclair said the BID works with the Long Island Commercial Network and area real estate brokers “to identify potential tenants and provide them with what the shopping area has to offer.”
The Bayside BID runs from Northern Boulevard to 35th Avenue, and Sclair said his group will work with new tenants in helping them get city permits “so they don’t get lost in the maze of government.”
Jerry Iannece, chairman of Community Board 11, said a decline in rented stores is a cyclical thing. “Rents are high and it’s hard to make a go of it. It’s part of the economy and it comes and goes.”
Dominick Bruccoleri owns Papazzio restaurant at 39-38 Bell, is a board member of the Bayside Business Association and president of the Bayside BID. “I’m not concerned,” Bruccoleri said of the empty storefronts. “It’s just a matter of time to get the right tenants.”
He noted that two of the locations are quite large, which take time to lease, “but we’ve gone through this before. I’m only concerned when the tenants go out of business.”
Bruccoleri added that a spa, a drug store and an Indian restaurant had opened within the last six months and that the situation now is only temporary.
“Lyle is on top of things,” the restaurateur said of the business community, putting some of the onus of the empty stores on the unseasonable cold.
“The weather affects my business,” he said. “People don’t want to come out in the cold, but I’m hoping for a better year.”
He added that the empty stores do not really reflect the situation. “The stores will get filled,” Bruccoleri said.