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National retailers flocking to Queens despite slowdown

Queens boasts the second-highest number of national retailers in the city, and stores like Dunkin’ Donuts and Subway have flocked to the borough, according to a new report by the Center for an Urban Future.

The Manhattan-based think tank published its second-annual ranking of national retailers in the city last week, and the group found Queens has 1,448 national chains, placing it just behind Manhattan, which has 2,552. Elmhurst, home of the Queens Center Mall, and Forest Hills, where the Austin Street shopping hub is, had the largest number of national shops in the borough.

“I think Queens has a lot of wealth and a lot of hidden wealth,” said Jonathan Bowles, director of the center. “It really is the middle-class borough, so there’s quite a bit of buying power there. I think in the last five or 10 years, national retailers have really awakened to that buying power and have increasingly opted to tap that market.”

Despite a sour economy, the Center for an Urban Future said in a release that “one of the surprising findings” from the study “is that more than 30 percent of the retailers from last year’s report actually expanded their presence in the city in the past year.”

“Some retailers who had a strong enough balance sheet to weather the recession, they’re taking advantage of much cheaper rents in this economic downturn,” Bowles said.

Like last year, Dunkin’ Donuts still has the largest presence in Queens, with 132 stores — up from 96 last year. Subway has the second-highest number of stores in the borough, with 88 shops — up from 77 last year. Some of the biggest gainers over the past year in Queens were Walgreens, which increased its footprint in the borough from 11 to 19 stores, and Starbucks, which added 12 new stores in Queens for a total of 33 locations.

Eduardo Giraldo, vice president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Queens, grimaced at the news that national retailers are growing in the borough.

“They’re a direct threat to small businesses,” Giraldo said. “They have deep pockets to ride out the recession. Customers have to understand they need to patronize small businesses.”

Leslie Brown, president of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, said many mom and pop stores in the area tend to offer different services and goods than the national chains, allowing them to be located near them on a place like Austin Street and not suffer.

National retailers “have been on Austin Street for 20 years, but the majority of Austin Street is independent stores,” Brown said. “It’s a very good blend.”

Bowles agreed and said while national chains likely have had some negative impact on the smaller shops, the independent stores still thrive in Queens.

Brooklyn has 1,256 national retailers, there are 705 in the Bronx and Staten Island’s national chains number 396, according to the report.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174

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