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Meng unveils Flushing biz language guide

Meng unveils Flushing biz language guide
Community leaders, business owners and residents have long argued about how to address non-English signage in areas such as 40th Road in Flushing. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Connor Adams Sheets

The offerings of downtown Flushing’s commercial district may soon be a little easier for people of all nationalities to navigate, thanks to a new community guide put together by a local advisory board led by state Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing).

The issue of whether or not to create new language rules for signs on businesses in downtown Flushing, one of the most contentious topics one can mention to Flushing leaders and residents, came into the spotlight once again last Thursday, when Meng’s board met to find ways to address the issue.

Since last summer, when she established an English Signage Advisory Board made up of local residents, businesspeople and community leaders, Meng has taken the lead on the issue, which politicians including former City Councilwoman Julia Harrison and her successor, John Liu, had little luck fixing.

Last Thursday, the group met for the “third or fourth time,” Meng said, and revealed a new guide aimed at helping customers and shopkeepers communicate across language barriers.

“This is a shoppers’ guide. It’s like 10 phrases for merchants like, ‘Hi,’ ‘How are you?,’ ‘How can I help you?,’ ‘What size do you need?’ in Chinese, Korean, a bunch of different languages,” Meng said after the meeting. “Next time we meet, in about two months, we will review it and hopefully that will help bridge the gap between employees and customers.”

The guide is expected to be ready for distribution by the end of the year, Meng said.

The board was formed in response to ongoing concerns about a lack of English translations on many Chinese and Korean signs in the bustling downtown commercial district, which many community members say creates confusion and leads to safety issues when emergency responders cannot identify businesses. But with time the board’s scope has expanded as other concerns have emerged during the group’s meetings.

“A lot of the complaints we get don’t necessarily stem just from lack of English signage — a lot of it also comes from a feeling that many English-speaking customers don’t necessarily feel welcome when they walk into a store without English-speaking employees,” Meng said.

Many residents and members of the board, including Mary Ann Boroz, who has lived in Flushing for 33 years, believe the issue will not be addressed unless legislation is passed requiring that all stores post English signs. Boroz said she does not even shop in downtown Flushing anymore because she does not feel welcome there.

“I really don’t see any progress with the stores. I’m beginning to think they’re not going to voluntarily use English. So what choice is there other than to make it mandatory?” she asked. “I don’t want to sound racist or bigoted, but we have to remember where we are, we’re in the United States of America … and Asian people are not the only people who want to shop here.”

So the board is looking into possible ways to legislate reform of signage laws without punishing business owners or causing undo economic burden. It is also working on another program, in which English-friendly business owners would post stickers in the windows of their shops as a goodwill gesture to welcome English-speaking customers.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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