The look and feel of the holidays always seems to come to Southeast Queens right on cue at the start of December.
Decades ago the Christmas rush meant places like Mays and Gertz department stores with floor after floor of holiday bargains.
Nowadays the trend has switched from giant retail to smaller merchants, with “Urban Fashion” stores and vendors leading the charge.
But shoppers already laden with bags and boxes still stop to do window shopping at Jamaica Avenue storefronts adorned with tinsel, garland, lights and the ever-present “Holiday Sale” signs.
What throughout the region in November were simply nondescript stretches of sidewalk or small empty lots still seem to blossom overnight with fragrant Scotch pines and Douglas fir Christmas trees that soon will be decorated as festively as the windows in the region’s major shopping corridors.
At a major national appliance retailer in Queens Village, large red ribbons and bows adorned washers, dryers and dishwashers for big spenders looking to spruce up their kitchens.
And seemingly every shoe or leather goods store from Rosedale to Richmond Hill appears to be running sales on women’s boots.
Along Jamaica Avenue, rain is the only thing that can keep bargain hunters from pouring over the bins and racks out on the sidewalks with clothes, toys or just about anything else that will fit in a stocking or under a tree.
But in Southeast Queens, an entrepreneur doesn’t have to be a major chain to invite long time customers to share the Yuletide spirit.
Variety Drugs opened up in the Rochdale Center shopping mall in 1988, and its window, too, is decorated as well as stocked with Christmas fare available inside.
“We have everything — toys, gifts, candy, stocking stuffers, wrapping paper and decorations,” store manager Itram Ramchand said.
Half of one aisle of the pharmacy owner has been set aside for holiday shoppers. Owner Sam Schwartz said the care put into their holiday inventory and displays are as much a labor of love as good business.
Spending the holidays with family, if you will, is something Schwartz said has taken many forms over the years.
“We serve the community,” he said. “For 25 years we’ve given an award to the valedictorian at PS 80. We donate to churches that ask us for help. And we hire the children of the community.”
He recalled one young woman who made a large impression when she was just a little girl.
“I met her when she was 9 years old and she was in one of the aisles straightening the items on display,” he recalled with a smile. “When she was 14, she got a job here. Now she’s a veterinarian.”
Other former workers have gone on to careers in law and other professions.
And in the event Santa places a pet under the tree in some homes, Schwartz’s store sells medications for animals as well as people.
“That’s rare for a pharmacy these days,” he said.
“We’ve always tried to be part of the neighborhood — the community drug store you had in the 1950s,” Schwartz said. “Our customers are family.”
In a related matter, the Jamaica Center Business Improvement District is attempting to let drivers keep more money in their pockets for shopping, with a sale of its own on holiday parking rates in the downtown area.
According to the BID website, the fee for parking will be $2 from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., and will be $5 for up to five hours on Sundays until Jan. 2.
The five lots included are located at 90-15 Parsons Blvd. between Jamaica and 90th avenues; 89-35 162 Street between Jamaica and 89th avenues; 90-32 165 Street between Jamaica and Archer avenues; 90-01 168 Street between 90th and 91st avenues; and 90-02 168 Street between Jamaica and 90th avenues.
The website also is promoting a Holidays on the Avenues program at 6 p.m. sharp on Saturday, Dec. 14, complete with a community tree lighting at Rufus King Park.
The event is sponsored by Centro Hispanic Cuzcatlan and Cultural Collaborative Jamaica.
Rufus King Park is located behind the King Manor Museum on the north side of Jamaica Avenue between 150th and 153rd streets.
Grace Episcopal Church at 155-24 90 Ave. also will join in the festivities, hosting an event with games, prizes and Christmas carols.
Children must be present to receive a gift, and organizers are asking that children ages 1 through 10 be registered by calling either Centro Hispanico Cuzcatlan at (718) 298-5083 or Cultural Collaborative Jamaica at (718) 526-8700.