Target has Queens in its sights, with new stores planned for Astoria and Elmhurst — but activists in both neighborhoods are waging separate battles to boot the big-box retailer.
The Targets are set to open by 2022 on bustling blocks steps away from subway stations and near grocery stores, pharmacies, newsstands and restaurants.
Opponents fear the chain stores will erase union jobs and mom-and-pop shops, and lead to potential displacement of longtime residents.
“These corporations — Amazon, Target, Walmart, whoever — treat our neighborhoods like corporate playgrounds, and think our people are just open wallets,” said Patricia Chou, an organizer with Queens Neighborhoods United, a grassroots group that is taking legal action to stop the Elmhurst store.
Meanwhile, local elected officials, labor and community leaders are scheduled to rally Friday afternoon in front of one of the threatened retailers, a Key Food in Astoria.
Target currently counts 78 stores in the greater New York area, employing a workforce of more than 17,000, said Jacqueline DeBuse, a spokesperson for the chain.
Some 15 of the New York outlets are smaller-format stores averaging 40,000 square feet, one-third of the size of a standard location. Target plans to open eight more of these mini-stores across the city over the next few years, including the Astoria and Elmhurst branches.
“These stores bring us closer to new and existing guests, and give us the opportunity to meet the needs of new communities,” said DeBuse, touting the smaller stores as an “easy and inspiring shopping experience.”
Development Drama in Astoria
In Astoria, Target’s arrival at busy 31st Street and Ditmars Boulevard would push out five active businesses, while consuming other vacant storefronts.
Neighborhood resident and newsstand operator Kinnira Patel said her landlord informed her it won’t renew the lease on her decade-old business come August.
“They said I could stay month-to-month. How can you stay month-to-month? I have to pay two months ahead to keep the lights on,” said Patel, 54. “Now I don’t know what I’m going to do next.”
Employees from affected businesses said the landlord, Ditmars 31st St. Associates LLC, gave them no notice about the Target plans, which have been in the works for more than a year.
Last March, the landlord signed a memorandum with Target for a 15-year lease on a nearly 47,000-square-foot, three-floor space to be constructed. An application for a demolition permit is on file with the city Department of Buildings.
In addition to Target, about 45,000 square feet of retail space will remain, said Michael Hirschhorn, president of Jenel Management Corp., who spoke on the property owners’ behalf.
A Key Food supermarket is among the businesses facing possible demolition. Roughly 60 of its employees are members of UFCW Local 1500, said Aly Waddy, a union vice president. DeBuse confirmed that Target’s employees are not unionized.
Key Food franchise owner Larry Mandell said he wants to stay put, whether or not Target arrives. But with his lease expiring in October 2020, he said he’s waiting to hear back from the landlord on stalled renewal negotiations.
“We have been there nearly 50 years. We would like to be there another 50,” Mandell said. “Whatever the current market rate is, we are prepared to meet it.”
No Supermarkets Allowed
Ominously for Key Food, Target’s lease memo filed in city property records bars from the development site a drug store, a supermarket or convenience store exceeding 1,000 square feet.
Hirschhorn said the lease offers more wiggle room. “I have the ability and authority from Target to pursue a supermarket provided that the supermarket doesn’t compete with them directly,” Hirschhorn said.
He declined to provide a copy of the lease.
Hirschhorn said that negotiations for a long-term lease with Key Food broke off about three months ago because the grocery store walked away from a deal to occupy 25,000 square feet of space. Despite the lease memo’s restraints, Hirschhorn said he is talking with other supermarket contenders, including unionized grocers.
“We are trying to improve the area, we are making a major commitment to the area. I think it’s an upgrade,” Hirschhorn told THE CITY.
But Astoria Councilmember Costa Constantinides, whose office is organizing Friday’s rally, called the potential arrival of Target a “classic big development move” focused solely on profits.
“This a lifeline for our seniors, our parents,” Constantinides said of the Key Food. “The greed of this developer and Target to tear all of it down…. That doesn’t play well with labor and with communities.”
Legal Fight in Elmhurst
For more than a year, Elmhurst activists have been battling a development on 82nd Street that includes a planned Target.
Heated community opposition prompted the Heskel Group and Sun Equity Partners, the developers, to forgo plans for a 13-story mixed-use building and instead move forward with a two-story commercial complex with a cellar.
Target would occupy the ground floor and cellar. Opponents argue the project exceeds the 10,000 square feet permitted by area zoning rules for stores serving “local consumer needs.”
In December, Queens Neighborhoods United, joined by Desis Rising Up, state Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-Queens) and other opponents, brought the fight to state Supreme Court, with the goal of halting construction.
But a judge in January cleared the way for construction to resume. Opponents are pinning their hopes on a May 21 city Board of Standards and Appeals hearing on Queens Neighborhoods United’s bid to void the development on zoning violation grounds.
Passing by the construction pit, Karla Cano, 28, who grew up shopping on 82nd Street, said Target’s potential arrival “really sucks.”
“It means a lot of mom-and pop stores will close, it means we won’t have affordable prices,” Cano said. “It’s really hard to see gentrification because we grew up in this community. It’s like a home away from home. You know the people that sell the food.”
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