JetBlue’s takeoff from Forest Hills has been rocky for local businesses – now severely struggling to survive.
A number of merchants say they have lost large percentages of their business since the airline moved from its headquarters in the Forest Hills Tower, located on Queens Boulevard and Union Turnpike, to a modernized facility in Queens Plaza in Long Island City last week – taking with it roughly 900 employees and daily customers.
Con Edison, which has roughly 80 employees in the Forest Hills Tower, is also moving. Several employees left on April 6, and the rest are expected to move by the end of the year, according to a Con Edison spokesperson.
Rikin Patel, the 23 year old who runs Mini LLC, a coffee and snack shop in the lobby of the building, says business has dropped nearly 60 percent in the past week.
“Since JetBlue left, everything has been quiet. Business is very slow,” said Patel, who is now covering expenses out of pocket. “I’m just trying to survive right now. I’m trying to cut down expenses and survive until a new company comes. It’s been one week, so it is too early to say whether we’re able to survive.”
Patel believes business should return to normal when the space is filled with a new tenant.
Matt Davidov, owner of Hot Bialys & Bagels, located a block away from the office building, says his shop used to be very busy thanks to JetBlue customers, who accounted for at least 30 percent of his business.
“We had a lot of JetBlue people coming in. We used to be busy but not anymore,” Davidov said. “I’m concerned to the extent of how I’m going to pay for things, but I’m cutting down here and there. I could probably survive a few months longer without cutting down on the staff. Beyond that, I would have to make cuts.”
JetBlue employees used to get 10 percent off at Davidov’s store, due to the volume of customers, but the owner says he can no longer afford to offer discounts and still earn a profit – which he claims is a common dilemma in the area.
“All the businesses around here are suffering,” he said. “There were a lot of businesses that opened up just because of [JetBlue] being here.”
Leslie Brown, president of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, says one local shop recently closed in part because of JetBlue’s departure.
“We are sorry to see that [JetBlue is] leaving Forest Hills,” Brown said. “We liked the fact that JetBlue called Forest Hills its home. The small shops are going to feel the difference of 900 people not buying coffee or lunch or going shopping on their break or having a drink after work. Hopefully, another corporation will come in and take over the space because Forest Hills is such a vibrant place and a great place to do business.”
A spokesperson for Muss Development LLC, which owns the 17-story Forest Hills Tower, could not comment regarding prospective tenants or a timetable for replacing JetBlue, which occupied 10 stories of the building. The spokesperson did say there has been “a lot of interest from potential tenants.”
Ken Siegel, the international managing director of Jones Lang LaSalle, which is marketing the space, says there has been “a good amount of interest, both from local firms and firms from western Nassau and Manhattan.” Siegel expects to have the location “fully leased within the next few months,” due in large part to the building’s municipal incentives, panoramas of Manhattan and proximity to public transportation.
Reports have indicated that Plaza College, a business and health school located in Jackson Heights, and the Queens District Attorney’s Office is interested in potentially leasing the space.