By Alexander Dworkowitz
After months of anticipation, a 45,319-square-foot, three-story Old Navy clothing store has opened its doors to the public on the site of the old Woolworth’s in downtown Flushing.
It was the second national retail chain to welcome customers in the bustling northeast Queens neighborhood this year.
Located on the corner of Union Street and Roosevelt Avenue, Old Navy had its opening delayed several times, including the day of the grand opening on Sept. 10.
“The day they opened, they didn’t open until 2 p.m.,” said Marilyn Bitterman, district manager of Community Board 7 in Flushing. “People were lined up to get in the store.”
The eagerness with which patrons waited outside the store underscored the desire of many residents to see the revitalization of downtown Flushing continue. In 1997, the vaunted Woolworth’s five-and-dime chain closed and Caldor’s shut its doors in 1999. Stern’s closed earlier this year, temporarily leaving downtown Flushing without a major department store.
However, Macy’s soon moved in to replace Stern’s. Now that Old Navy has occupied Woolworth’s old storefront, only the former Caldor location remains vacant.
“I think this is a very positive thing,” said Jack Hogan, co-president of the Flushing Chamber of Commerce and Flushing Business Association. “Any strong business can bring other business into the area.”
Many area merchants believe that Hogan’s words will be proven correct.
“It’s good for us,” said Qamer Ali, an employee at Flushing News Island, located opposite Old Navy on Main Street. “It’s going to help.”
“It’s good for business,” echoed Yaowei Ge, an employee of New York Tong Rin Tang, which sells CDs, sunglasses, and other items across from Old Navy on Main Street. “It brings a lot of customers here,” he added.
Nevertheless, some area merchants and businessman still were nervous about the prospects for business in downtown Flushing. Ge admitted that sales have been down since the opening of Old Navy, which he attributed to the attack on the World Trade Center that occurred just a day later.
Wellington Chen, a consultant with TDC and member of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, expressed discontent at the timing of the opening of Old Navy.
“It’s a bit of the wrong timing because of the World Trade Center, and consumer confidence is down,” said Chen. He also noted that by opening late, Old Navy missed much of the back-to-school rush, an important period since the store targets the teenage market.
Old Navy, which is headquartered in San Francisco and a division of Gap Inc., could not be reached for comment on the reasons for its delayed opening. But Chen said Old Navy had experienced problems obtaining permits, which contributed to the opening’s delay.
Last week Old Navy had its fair share of customers. But the store was also teeming with employees, most of whom are natives of Flushing.
“They’re very, very community-oriented,” said Bitterman, who said she liked the store. “They hired 90 percent of the staff locally.”
Despite his misgivings, Chen also said he was very happy to see Old Navy arrive in Flushing.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “I think the entire town is glad they finally opened.”
Reach Reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 141.