For more than a decade, young residents and families have helped transform Astoria from a solid middle-class community to a buzzworthy city neighborhood.
It has all the right ingredients: proximity to the city, affordable housing and a diverse community with a dizzying variety of food options.
But one Astoria mainstay is still figuring out how to keep up with the changing times — the Steinway Street shopping corridor.
A shopper’s destination for generations, Steinway Street offers a mix of fast food, reliable chain retail and discount stores.
While still a busy strip, it is often pockmarked with vacant storefronts as property owners struggle with falling rents, rising taxes and the tastes of a changing community.
“Steinway Street has always been seen as a long term thriving area. But at one point a few months ago, we saw 17 storefronts vacant or up for a lease between 30th and 31st avenues,” said Scott Plasky, vice-president at Marcus & Millichap and a retail specialist. “It’s one of those things that makes you take a step back.”
He said while many of the young professionals live in Astoria, they are still spending a good portion of their disposable income in Manhattan.
“Steinway Street still has a great reputation,” Plasky said. “The retail has to sort of figure itself out.”
Tony Barsamian, chairman of the Steinway Astoria Partnership, said the group is beautifying the area with trees and benches and looking for a community gathering spot to host events.
“Steinway Street has always been an anchor for western Queens,” he said. “The biggest problem is we believe the property taxes are higher here and we have addressed this with elected officials.”
Barsamian said the group is also open to the idea of a retailer using a Steinway Street location as a test market.
Several new independently owned shops have found success in Astoria by offering one-of-a-kind gifts, clothing and accessories.
Mackenzi Farquer’s popular Lockwood Store on 33rd Street off Broadway has been such a success she now has three locations in the neighborhood. The latest, Lockwood Paper, featuring unique notecards, notebooks, pens and other items, opened this weekend.
It joins Lockwood Style, a clothing store, and the original Lockwood which has a mix of décor, gifts, toys and home goods.
“The reaction has been amazing,” said Farquer, who opened her first Astoria shop in 2013. “Sales are up double digits every year.”
When her landlord had a vacancy on Broadway, she moved one of the shops around the corner.
“We are right near the N train,” Farquer said. “It’s a very vibrant block.”
Barsamian also pointed out Astoria is considered by many to be the “food capital of the world” that offers more than 100 different cuisines.
“Ultimately that will bring people to our neighborhood and community,” he said. “We also have an arts district on top of us. There is a lot for people to do here. Our goal is to get people to shop locally and spend locally.”