Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Street Battle: Austin Vs. Metropolitan

It's become increasingly obvious in recent months that much of the creative energy here in Forest Hills—and let's face it, charm—has begun to shift markedly southward, from Austin St. to Metropolitan Ave. Some of the finest restaurants and interesting new shops have skipped over our nabe's main shopping drag—Austin Street—and chosen to open on Metropolitan instead. Some recent examples, Danny Brown (the only Michelin-starred restaurant in Queens); the arts & crafts shop Oliloli; celebrity chef Jason Zukas' decision to open his new Tazzina on Metropolitan Ave. and just the other week the news that Silk Cakes, the Manhattan-based premium cake and pastry shop will be opening on Metropolitan as well.

And, with the recent disheartening news that new construction along the eastern section of Austin St. will house a large medical clinic (in what used to be a prime shopping block), let's face it, suddenly Austin seems to be undergoing a bit of an identify crisis while its cousin to the south thrives with creative energy.

It all kind of reminds me of what happened when I was living in Park Slope (and in the years after I left there) when all kinds of great places started opening up on 5th Ave. and that street quickly began to rival 7th Ave. But, there's one big difference: Metropolitan Ave. is a fairly long walk from Austin St. taking anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes, or even longer, depending on how spry you are.

Given these developments, I'd like to throw out a couple of questions to the readers: 1. Why do you think Metropolitan Ave. suddenly has captured all of the innovative energy that Austin appears to be lacking? 2) If you live near Austin St., do you regularly head down to Metropolitan Ave. to shop and eat, either by car, bus or foot? 3) What do you think all this means for the future of our neighborhood? And finally, 4)  If you're a business owner who recently chose to open on Metropolitan Ave. instead of Austin St., what went into that decision and do you think you made the right choice?

50 comments:

  1. its simple, rent.

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    1. Rent is right. Parking is another.

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  2. I'll take a guess.

    I would say one major factor is rent. My long shot guess would be Metropolitan Avenue's connection to Williamsburg, where all these creative energy could possibly be coming from (veeeeeeery long shot guess).

    I am excited for the future of Metropolitan Ave. I am renting in the area right now. Still too young to own a home but when my time comes, I hope I can still afford to buy here.

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  3. I live right around the corner from Austin street and wish Metropolitian was a closer walk! Why is it so far!? I am not going to get my car across Queens Blvd. to get it and drive across to Metroplitian - it doesnt make sense. So I often never go over there. Boooo. Maybe they should start a shuttle? But I dont know how useful it would be.. On a Saturday night it might be for a small price!!

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  4. There is a shuttle already; it's called the Q23 bus.

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    1. HA a direct shuttle.. does it go right to there?

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    2. You want a shuttle into Manhattan? Take the QM12. Bypass the subway altogether.

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    3. The Q23 on goes to part way, you still have to walk 4 blocks & go left. If you drive, parking is fairly easy

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  5. Austin St area has a lot of single people, DINKS and renters living there which is why you see all the bars, craft beer and the chicken wings place.
    Metropolitan ave is mostly single family homes which is married people with kids which means higher quality restaurants that are quieter that you may go out to less often.

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  6. I agree - it is definitely due to rent. However, without direct subway access will metro actually ever thrive with the creative energy like other great blocks in the city? I would love Metro a lot more if it was more accessible and less suburban.

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  7. Only chain stores or doctors have enough money to keep a store open on Austin. The rent is ridiculously overpriced by greedy landlords who couldn't care less about ambience. Metropolitan is definitely more edgy but it's so far from the subway I only go there when I want to shop at Trader Joe's. A shuttle bus would be a great idea!

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    1. Why should a landlord care about anything other than their bottom line?

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  8. I agree that it's definitely because of the rent. "Mom and pop" stores no longer have a chance for survival on Austin St. when the greedy landlords jack up the rent 300%. As someone I know recently mentioned, there is no culture on Austin St. anymore except for yogurt.

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  9. Now if only they could connect both ends of the M line... except then all the hipsters in Bushwick might migrate to Forest Hills and raise our rents even higher. Nevermind, nothing to see here. I'll just continue walking/taking the bus to Metropolitan Ave.

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  10. I moved near Metropolitan because I couldn't afford to buy near Austin, and it was the luckiest decision I've ever made. I love our hidden shopping strip. It's got enough going on to be fun, but is quiet enough to be peaceful. Another big advantage is we ahve direct access to Forest Park. Also, I was surprised you brought up the Williamsburg connection. I've thought this for awhile because of the Q54 bus, but people look at me like I'm crazy.

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  11. Austin St is a MAJOR transpiration hub. All commercial and residential rents are out of sight. Metro will do well enough with those who drive there and compete for limited parking.
    Shop owners will not have to worry about being able to pay the rent. Just hope that the greedy landlord mentality does not creep in.

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  12. Also, the Q23 is pretty useless unless the weather is terrible. It can't go through the Gardens so it takes this crazy circuitous route that takes 15-20 minutes, the same amount of time to just walk. It would be a lot more helpful if a shuttle or bus went up and down 71st/Continental between Austin and Metro. But that will never happen because some people in the Gardens are too short sighted. If I were a business owner on Metro, I'd push for it.

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    1. FHG residents pay a lot of money on top of their mortgages and taxes to keep the streets private. The city isn't even responsible for the maintenance. When the roads are damaged, its the FHG residents who pay for the repair. I lived there when I was a kid, and as an adult now, I really don't blame the homeowners who don't want that sort of traffic. If you have to pay a $20,000 assessment each year on top of your taxes, you would want to control the traffic too.

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  13. I'm 100% sure the insane price of rent and greedy landlords of Austin St. are creating a big obstacle for interesting businesses to open up in the area. It's pretty sad because there's so much potential in the area. Only restaurant and retail chains can afford it, which is killing the appeal and uniqueness of the area. Quality mom and pop shops are welcome in the area, but they won't be able to afford the rent.

    I don't go to Metropolitan Ave. much because it's too far to walk and the buses are too crowded. I only go to Metropolitan by car if I want to go to Trader Joe's or Home Depot. It sounds hypocritical of me to go to those places, but I don't know any other good grocery/home improvement places near Austin St.

    Hopefully the commercial rent will go down in the area. Otherwise, the future of the neighborhood will end up being quite boring. Thank goodness Banter and Station House are around.

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  14. I live on Metro and am very happy about the new additions. Also coming is a new restaurant opening up where Villa Isabella currently is - from the same owner as Dirty Pierre's which I love and is a fantastic idea. One thing though - as someone whose bedroom faces the avenue, I expect the noise level to be a problem. But nothing is perfect!

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  15. Happy to see no mention of the vast unknown that is the last strip of business in FoHi to be touched by recent commercialism - 108th St.

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  16. Rent. Rent. Rent. There is no other reason. Pretty soon Austin will be solely chain stores/restaurants, clinics and the few remaining money laundering fronts.

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  17. Attention Community Board 6 and Austin Street BID members: how is it that a non retail / non restaurant facility, the new pro health urgent care center which is under construction (next to Bare Burger), is being allowed in the middle of what is essentially a vibrant walking retail strip? Seems like a bad move and a waste of foot traffic, even for the owners. Urgent care belongs on a side street or Queens Boulevard not on a strip that no matter how mainstream in it's offerings deserves more retail and restaurants. Maybe the BID and CB6 pros need to visit other neighborhoods and speak with landlords and members in other communities? comments and responses welcome. The only exception would be if there is retail at street level and urgent care one flight up.

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    1. How it is is that it is probably not a use against zoning regulations. And just maybe, if no variances were required, neither the CB nor the BID was required to be informed before construction started.

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    2. There are no BIDs in Forest Hills and no regulation as to what type if businesses are allowed on Austin Street. Unfortunately it has come to a point where now the only business that are profitable are very good restaurants, CVS- type stores, and professional offices.
      Clothing, shoe, jewelry shops are all dying breeds in local shopping enclaves. It's a trend that marks many neighborhoods today. It's sad but true.

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  18. It's not a battle, we have the best of both worlds: bustling Austin Street, relaxing Metro where you can actually find parking.

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  19. How is the urgent care center any different than the already established dental office, blood work lab, women's clinic, north shore medical offices, and autism services on Austin St? None of these are retail or restaurants, so why the anger about the upcoming urgent care center? If the care center will be open 24/7 than it will be a great asset to the area. Other than the ER, where else can you locally go to if you are in need of urgent care that is not life threatening?

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    1. There's an urgent care center on 75th and 112th.

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    2. I, too, thought the outrage re: this new facility is odd. When a Buffalo Wild Wings opens around the corner, we're supposed to look gleefully at pictures of this new unhealthy chain restaurant. But when a respectable clinic for local families is opening we complain because... why, exactly? It's not another restaurant or bar? Sometimes it seems like the only definition of "good news" for Austin St. (on this site and others like it) is if there is a new restaurant or bar, even if it's a completely mediocre chain. I'm not sure I agree with the ProHealth people that Austin St. makes sense from a parking/convenience perspective, but I simply don't understand why news of this facility is "disheartening"... while the appearance of a Buffalo Wild Wings (or a new yogurt shop) is worth posting pictures and celebrating. And, just to be clear, I don't like what's happening on Austin re: high rents and the closing of independent businesses... I'm just not sure that the opening of this particular facility is any more of a problem than the BWW, Chipotle, or other similar establishments.

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    3. Urgert care is all the rage. You see more and more TV ads all the time. That's what Heskel is looking to turn the Brandon theatre into.

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    4. Never have I personally ever "celebrated" as you put it a mediocre restaurant. In fact, that is exactly why I find the opening of this medical clinic on Austin St. to be so "disheartening." Because Austin Street is dominated by mediocre restaurants and this new construction was a chance for us to possibly get another good new place, like Station House, Banter, Bonfire Grill (yes, I like it now, it improved a lot! :) ) La Boulangerie, or The Flying Pig. There are all too few spaces on Austin that are open these days for new businesses, so when we get one smack in the middle of Forest Hills—and at a time when the neighborhood is finally changing for the better with all these great new places having recently opened—and instead of a decent new restaurant we get a medical clinic? Right on the strip where all these other great new restaurants have recently opened? Really? That's the best we can do. A BIG one step forward, two steps back to that!

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    5. If it's not a previous restaurant space, it won't turn into one - especially when there are open vacancies where previous restaurants existed (Network Cafe). The only one of the new places that did a non-restaurant to restaurant conversion was La Boulangerie (previous space was a law office). All the other recent openings were canned solutions requiring significantly less infrastructure work to be done for accommodating a restaurant.

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    6. It's not any previous space at all now - the entire building has been gutted from top to bottom, or as J.R. Ewing would say, from tip to tail

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    7. Too few places that are open for new business? Really? The old Aimee Salon has been empty for over two years. Brownies and Cream has been empty for over a year. Laytner's has had a "for rent" sign up for months. Garcia's is gone. Austin Jeans is going as well. And the location that is to become ProHealth was empty for a couple of years before even the H & M rumors started.

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  20. Its neither a step forward or back. It was never going to be a restaurant; it was going to be a H&M. Not every new biz is going to be a food joint. There are other needs. There's a burger place opening where Diva was soon so you have your new restaurant anyway.

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  21. Who ever said "every new biz is going to be a food joint"? It would be nice, since as so many readers of this blog continuously point out there are so many types of restaurants we are lacking here! And why do you suggest it is my new restaurant, when many readers and residents are looking for better new places to open here, or is this your first time reading this blog?

    And yes, I consider this a huge a step back. A medical clinic can open anywhere, as another reader pointed out. It does not have to go onto a strip where people come to do their shopping, eating and drinking.

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    1. If you live on Austin Street, which i'm sure you don't, and have a kid who gets sick in the middle of the night, or you break your arm falling down stairs, you may appreciate having a clinic there instead of going to the ER. A restaurant can open anywhere as well.

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  22. I've read this blog many times and find your anger hilarious. Go DeBlassio!

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  23. Would you prefer an empty store front in the hopes it will someday be an independent Cafe or salad bar or an urgent care center? Because that's the real choice.

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    1. It must be a daily challenge living as you do in a mini-universe consisting solely of empty stores, independent Cafes, salad bars and urgent care centers.

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    2. If something else could have opened up here, it would have. How long was Alexandra's closed again?

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  24. Drake, I applaud you for luring all these commentators out of the woodwork to make this a lively discussion. It looks like the concensus is that most people feel it's the high rents that are discouraging creativity and innovation on Austin street. It's just that much harder to take risks when you're worried about meeting a higher rent each month. We're at the mercy of market forces right now until customers vote with their dollars and choose to support businesses that provide differentiated products. However, do you have any idea what % of the customers are "local" vs those who come from more than say 1 mile away? That could be the driver.

    Someone mentioned this before but it's a real blessing that Metro is not close to any major transportation hub thus keeping rents relatively more affordable, and they would like to keep it that way. I also get the sense that due to this, the customer demographics are distinctly different. What does everyone think?

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  25. If the storefront next the ties store (Dmitri?) actually makes it as an e-cigarette retailer -- I saw the sign this weekend, and Susan mentioned it on another post -- then I'm going to start questioning the "rent is too high" theory.

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    1. Interesting point. Also, you just reminded me of what I think must get the "2013 Saddest Forest Hills Business Award" - that little shuk-like convenience store that opened like a year ago in that space, or right next to it, and closed about three weeks later. WTF was that?!

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    2. I vaguely remember it as having a collection of tiny toy cars for sale in a display case.

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  26. The rent's too damn high, drake! LOLZZZZ

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  27. In reply to your query regarding Austin vs. Metropolitan; I would only dispute your view that this was a recent shift. We moved into Forest Hills 11 years ago and it was evident at that time that Metropolitan Ave had greater diversity in its offerings without the clutter of chain "Casual Dining" establishments. Yes their are some establishments on Metro of dubious quality; but there are many options. Obviously places like Alberto & Chalet Alpina have been around for ages. Some people may forget how it used to be impossible to get into Dee's when they were located in the space Danny Brown now occupies. Another thing you will notice about Metro are the handful of establishments with either no liquor license or a limited license. For some people this is an attractive alternative; they prefer not to be around alcohol. But it is also a great way for an entrepreneur to open a restaurant with lower start up costs and operating costs.

    As to proximity, sorry if you live in Golan Heights (North of QB), just crossing the Blvd. is a hassle, so you are excused. But if you are South of Queens Boulevard you are lazy if you think walking to Metro is too far to walk. I live a few blocks from the train station and love the walk to Metro. I often will drive to a garage on/off Austin Street, but I do that to avoid contact with the riff-raff you get on Austin Street.

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  28. Thanks Kevin. I think that's exactly the point of the poster who questioned the different demographics between Austin and Metro. They just attract different crowds in general.

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  29. The rent is definitely cheaper on Metro. Because it's not near the subway, you don't have the same clientele on Metropolitan as on Austin ST. Austin st. is for the 20 something's. I'm glad that Metropolitan is for the older something's. Parking (depending upon the day of week) is better on Metropolitan than on Austin St. As far as the Michelin award goes, sometimes things aren't always as they seem.

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  30. Rent is the only reason. Your telling me a restaurant would prefer being on Metro because its more artsy? I dont think so, restaurants want to be busy, busy pays the rent and overhead. Foot traffic is key. Regarding the 24hr Emergency Care facility. This should be in FH but on a side street. We need more clothing and shoe boutiques for men and women.

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