The city is focusing a lot of attention these days on the dropping crime statistics in New York, and sure, we all feel safer and feel good about the improved quality of life.
But there’s those New Yorkers, you know who you are, who for at least a decade have been bemoaning the “Disnifying” of New York City that began with Rudy Giuliani’s crackdown on the sex industry here. Under his watch, gone were the hookers and peep shows that made Times Square the seedy mecca of America, replaced by, well, the Disney Store.
In the process of becoming a safe, tourist-and-family friendly playland, New York City has not totally gotten rid of its x-rated, seedier side that is as intertwined with its history as the Empire State Building. Instead, the city has simply shipped its dark, little secrets to the industrial neighborhoods in Brooklyn in Queens.
For the legal, scandalous night on the town, western Queens has become quite the haven for strip clubs. With a lineup that includes Citiscape (27-00 Queens Plaza South, Long Island City), Scandals (24-03 Queens Plaza North, Long Island City), Gallagher’s 2000 (43-19 37th Street, Long Island City) and Honey’s Topless (49-14 Queens Boulevard, Woodside) among others, this area has your mammary ogling needs covered.
For the sake of neighborhood diversity, we would be remiss not to mention GoldFingers (92-77 Queens Boulevard) and Wiggles (96-24 Queens Boulevard), both in Rego Park. Also Vixen (60-07 Metropolitan Avenue, Ridgewood), which bills itself as the “jewel of Queens.”
And though we’re not one to argue with Vixen’s bold claim of being the gem of this borough, we’d like to nominate Long Island City’s Queens Plaza as the crown jewel of sleaze. Before local civic leaders begin seeing red with this unofficial crowning of the plaza, let us offer up the statistics that back up our winner as the new home of New York City’s X-rated underbelly.
When Kenny Carter, of Sutphin Boulevard in Jamaica, was sentenced last December to three to six years for promoting prostitution, he was just the latest in a growing list of men to come under the long arm of the law for pimping in Queens Plaza. Carter, who was busted for promoting prostitution using three females ages 16 to 20, was arrested as part of an NYPD crack down in the area called “Operation Plaza Boys.”.
After Carter’s sentencing, Queens District Attorney Brown said that in the 108th Precinct there were 320 arrests for prostitution-related offenses between January 1st and September 1, 2001—before the crackdown— and 175 arrests between January 1, 2002 and September 1, 2003. This represented a decrease of 145 arrests, or 63 percent.
After the arrest in February 2003 of two Brooklyn men, Richard Edwards, 19, and Robert Kearse, 33, both charged with promoting prostitution in the third degree, Brown set the record straight about prostitution’s harm.
“Prostitution is not a victimless crime,” he said. “Its purveyors are jackals who exploit vulnerable young women without hope and take them into the streets where they degrade them by using them as sex-for-cash robots.”
If Queens Plaza lacks the name recognition, the lights and the wide array of entertainment options to call it the “new old Times Square,” the similarities are hard to deny. When the city began its quality of life offensive two years ago, officials said that Queens Plaza was put at the top of the list because of the area’s rampant “panhandling, prostitution, public urination, public consumption of alcohol, marijuana use and peddling,” descriptions that make New York City sound scary again.
The city’s quality of life initiative was actually started in Queens Plaza to target the return of squeegeemen, but locals knew where the real problems stemmed from.
“There are more hookers than squeegeemen in Queens Plaza, to tell you the truth,” Kris Igelski, a worker at Queens Plaza Auto Parts on Jackson Avenue, said at the time. In fact, the prostitution problem in Queens Plaza was so bad just two years ago that it was actually causing traffic blockages.
But just like Times Square, Queens Plaza wants to shake its bad reputation. Or more specifically, the city wants Queens Plaza to shake its bad reputation.
Dubbed by officials as the “gateway to Queens” for people driving in from Manhattan, the cleanup of the area has not stopped with the police crackdown. A business improvement district proposal for the neighborhood is being considered by the city, and word is that it will likely be approved in the near future.
Efforts are being made at a clean up, but the redemption of Queens Plaza is not complete. Gayle Baron, president of the Queens Plaza/Court Square BID, understands that a bad reputation is hard to lose.
“We want to see the place get cleaner. Even though it’s a very safe place, some of the grit and grime makes it look unsafe,” she said in June. “And perception is reality.”
And, in the spirit of full disclosure, the Queens Chronicle is not the first publication to crown Queens Plaza as the new king of sleaze. In its “Best of Manhattan” issue this year the alternative newsweekly, the “New York Press,” recognized Queens Plaza as the city’s “best red-light district.”
In a clear sign that Queens Plaza has some work to do in rehabilitating its image, the Press described the vibe of the neighborhood as “one part Grand Theft Auto III (a violent video game-ed.), one part outer-borough shabby and one part the Times Square of old, though not so much the garish porn-carnival atmosphere as the unmistakeable seediness of sex for sale.”
In one last damning condemnation, the Press added, “We’re not promoting the sex industry but, a lot like other kinds of drug dealers, it is nice to know where it’s located—should we ever need