Today’s news:

Forest Hills Chamber gets grant for summer concerts

The Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce recently received a grant for its summer concert series, Jazz Thursdays, and local businesses are just excited as music fans.

The grant came from the Queen Council on the Arts and will help fund the popular concert series that closes down 70th Road between Queens Boulevard and Austin Street for two consecutive Thursdays during the summer.

“We were so honored,” said Leslie Brown, president of the chamber. “It’s something that people really look forward to. They’ve been asking why we can’t do it all summer.”

This is the seventh-annual Jazz Thursdays, which has featured artists from around the world playing everything from Dixie to Latin forms of the genre.

And the 500 or so concert-goers who Brown expects will also provide a boon to the nearby small businesses.

“I think a lot of the business owners around the area of the concerts look forward to it,” Brown said. “It’s proven to be a real economic asset.”

Many Austin Street eateries will be offering outdoor seating and special deals to take advantage of the increased foot traffic, which the stores have not seen much of recently.

“Lately the weather hasn’t been favorable for businesses,” Brown said. “I’m hoping people can hold on until the spring and we can get some more foot traffic.”

And aside from the dismal weather, symptoms of the ailing economy have also been sporadically popping up along Austin Street, which is usually a bustling small-business mecca.

“I’ve seen a difference in the last year and a half,” Brown said. “Prior to that, there were no empty stores. If there was, it got rented quickly.”

Many of the small clothing boutiques have been hit hardest.

But poor sales have hardly been widespread. Many restaurants in the area seemed to have prospered, according to Brown.

“You can’t always think everything is the economy,” she said.

Jazz Thursdays can be a boon to anyone in the local business community, she said, even if their location is not near where the concert will take place.

“Even if they aren’t busy that day, that doesn’t mean that people won’t come back next time,” Brown said. “It would be an event to call attention to Forest Hills, to what a great place it is and have people spend an evening here.”

In past years, the jazz concerts have featured Gotham City Jazzmen, Jay Leonhart and Victor Lesser. People from all over the country flock to the concert.

“It brings so many culturally diverse people together. I love it,” Brown said. “I have pictures of an 80-year-old woman dancing with a 10-year-old kid.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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