The Shops at Atlas Park mall have not received an auspicious beginning. Almost from the time they opened their doors, the local media started adopting a bipolar attitude.
The story ranged from the more pessimistic authors reporting that the mall is in decline and going to fail soon. On the other end of the spectrum, the hopefuls announced that the mall was on the brink of recovering and achieving its full potential after any new store opened in the complex.
Being bombarded with such discussions, it is easy to conceive that the local residents did not fully appreciate the mall for its current offerings. Residents either focused on being unsatisfied due to having unfulfilled expectations or being scared that the mall would not last long.
But the mall persisted for the last several years. As a result, Queens residents should be grateful for the chance to walk into a clean and modern space to relax, especially as there are not many other alternatives in the nearby surrounding neighborhoods.
The initial disappointments with the Shops at Atlas Park started with the selection of stores. Originally intended to be a high-end shopping experience, the mall owners did not take into account local preferences for style, nor did the prices reflect well on the budget of the local population. As other, better-off customers did not materialize to frequent Atlas Park, the locals who became loyal customers started becoming alienated that the mall was not catering to them.
Things have only gone downhill with the closing of several stores, such as the Amish Market, Rosetta Wines and the Italian restaurant Pasticcio. The final nail in the coffin was when the Borders bookstore closed, although this was certainly not a reflection of Queens residents not frequenting the place.
Overall, local residents formed the impression that stores were leaving the mall at a faster pace than new businesses opened. Such attitudes are clearly stated on yelp.com, where customers review their satisfaction with certain businesses. The Shops at Atlas Park scored just three stars out of five based on 97 reviews, indicating an indifferent attitude or at times even polarizing views between people who are in love with the structure and those who believe it is a ghost town.
How can this be a thriving business when there is no viable means of public transportation to the mall? To further complicate matters, there is also a lack of public parking and the mall charges for private parking.
But the people who live nearby are extremely grateful that the traffic is not even worse. Had the mall been more popular it would have caused even greater delays in the already congested traffic. The street in front of the mall is so narrow that I am always hesitant to ride my bicycle with the current flow.
The mall has greatly increased the neighborhood’s chances of bringing back a Glendale stop on the Long Island Rail Road, which would greatly benefit the locals working in Manhattan. There is a railroad line passing by the mall and there are also no constraints on space to build a station. This might be a positive or negative event depending on one’s view and opinion of public transportation and its effects on a neighborhood.
Everyone from residents to local politicians are worried about the mall’s profitability and thereby its future. State Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) and City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) were present during the ribbon-cutting ceremony of a redesign of the mall’s center.
It is obvious that the neighborhood and its affiliates place a lot of value on the mall’s effect on the local economy, but there are more methods to accomplish this money-making goal than one.
The Shops at Atlas Park is not an ordinary mall and we should not treat it as such. Where in New York City does one have the opportunity to be a pedestrian in an outdoor shopping space while also being able to work out, get a haircut and watch a movie? Instead of bringing random stores and creating a busy environment, why not bring businesses that the community needs?
For example bakeries are in short supply in the neighborhood and the mall needs a casual, affordable location where locals can chat over a morning coffee. Starbucks is a great example, as it is always impossible to grab a seat there. There is also a lack of pharmacies in the area surrounding the mall. Why not install a space for a kids’ playground so at least one parent can enjoy time off to shop? This could also serve as a place to celebrate children’s birthdays and host parties. Commercial kitchen spaces are all but nonexistent in the neighborhood.
The current mall owners own Queens Center Mall, which ranked among the 10 most profitable malls in the country, according to U.S. News &World Report. Queens Center Mall is just a 10 minute drive away for everyone’s shopping needs, but where can one find a serene public environment nearby?
Queens residents should not object to Atlas Park’s operating more as a community center for as long as the mall can sustain itself. No one stands in the way of profitable progress, so change is certainly coming soon.