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Vacant stores weigh down boro economy: Weiner

U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) said it does not take abstract numbers on the economy to know the country’s financial situation — just look at the empty storefronts on the borough’s commercial strips.

Weiner released a study Mondaycompiled by his office that found a 12 percent vacancy rate in Queens’ business strips, with more than 20 percent of the stores closed on Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven alone.

“If we are going to have New York’s economy get healthier, it’s going to start with streets like this,” Weiner said outside a shuttered shop at 101-09 Jamaica Ave, where he held a news conference to announce the study’s results. “The simple answer to how the economy is doing is ‘not so great.’”

Weiner’s staff looked at 10 business districts stretching from Astoria to Rockaway.

Of 1,716 total stores, 206 were vacant — a 12 percent vacancy rate, the congressman said.

More than one in five shops in Woodhaven on Jamaica Avenue between 119th Street and Woodhaven Boulevard were closed for a 20.68 percent vacancy rate.

Not far behind was Woodhaven Boulevard between 60th Road and 64th Drive in Rego Park, which had a 19.19 percent vacancy rate, according to the report.

Of the 10 commercial strips, Parsons Boulevard and Kissena Boulevard between 71st and 75th avenues in Flushing had the lowest vacancy rate at 7.14 percent.

Weiner introduced five ideas he said would help the borough’s commercial strips, including a five-minute grace period for metered parking as well as mobile permit and adjudication vans so business owners can solve permit and violation issues without going to the appropriate agency’s office.

Other suggestions have been passed by Congress, including tax credits for small businesses that provide health insurance coverage to their employees and a payroll tax exemption to businesses that hire a previously unemployed worker.

Weiner said “for rent” signs on the borough’s commercial strips have a snowball effect on the businesses that are doing well.

“This could be frankly something that has a terrible effect, even in an open store,” he said. “One closed store can have a dramatic impact on the whole shopping district. Sometimes, it’s infectious.”

Weiner put out a similar report last year that found about an 11.5 percent vacancy rate in the borough. The congressman said that study relied more on information from local business districts while this year’s report involved his staff walking block by block and counting vacant stores.

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), who joined Weiner at the news conference along with state Assemblyman Michael Miller (D-Woodhaven), said small businesses are important to the local economy because they contribute to the tax base and employ local residents.

“There’s plenty we can do for these small businesses,” he said.

Miller called on commercial banks to release funding to small businesses, calling the 20 percent vacancy rate in Woodhaven “unacceptable.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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