Bell Boulevard welcomes change with new businesses

By Tom Momberg

Bayside has a new look. Several new businesses now grace Bell Boulevard with even more on the way. And as the Bayside Village Business Improvement District looks for new parking solutions, the area known for its independent small businesses will be more welcoming to both residents and visitors than ever before.

New to the neighborhood are Krave It, a sandwich and pizza shop; Challenge Escape Rooms, which offers entertaining group games; and Caffè Béne, a Korean-based café chain. Coming soon are Rani, a vegetarian deli and restaurant; Sol, a new Latin-fusion cuisine spot; Sangaritas, a tapas restaurant and wine bar; The Bayside Paint Place, coming to the corner storefront that previously housed McDonald’s; and a new Greek bakery and coffee shop on 38th Avenue and Bell Boulevard, though its name has yet to be determined.

Also, Taco Palace changed its name to Taco Han and is now under new ownership; Il Vesuvio has moved to a new location to expand, changing its name to Il Borgo; and Bourbon Street Cafe is soon to open a new rooftop patio.

Bell Boulevard looks much different than it did just five months ago, when at least a dozen vacant commercial spaces lined the street. But Vincent Riso, a principal at Briarwood Organization, which has built a number of retail and office buildings along Bell Boulevard since the 1960s, said Bell saw a historic low this past winter and spring.

“Bell Boulevard has always been reasonably full in its commercial and office spaces,” Riso said. “But since (the 2008 recession), it’s been tough for many small businesses to rent or get a good start. Suddenly in the last six or eight months, people have been looking around, and we have signed a great number of new leases.”

Stephen Preuss, a Bayside real estate agent for Cushman and Wakefield, said mixed-use property sales and retail rent prices have been climbing over the last couple years.

Retail space in prime areas of Bell have been renting for $50 to $70 per square foot more recently, whereas they might have been renting for $30 to $40 in 2010, Preuss said.

Riso said the boulevard has been known for a great number of years as a “restaurant row,” always home to a plethora of options for eating and drinking. The new businesses coming to the area are bringing even more variety: some new, some fresh and some hip.

But Riso said the change is nothing short of good news. The scene is vibrant, and has a good mix of young people, families and long-established residents.

“There is now more medical and commercial business than ever before,” Riso said. “And though I think Bell has always been a very well-used area for retail, it’s only going to get better as we employ new options for parking.”

The BID is leading the way for new parking alternatives, although no concrete plans have been set into motion yet. A recent study completed by the BID and its partners with discretionary funding set aside by Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) determined there were about 2,500 public parking spaces available along the commercial corridor, but the problem is that employees are taking most of the spaces, not customers.

The study gave a generous estimate that nearly 1,000 more parking spaces would be needed, and the BID is getting businesses to pledge that employees and managers park away from work to leave public parking for visitors.

The rise in demand for Bell Boulevard’s restaurants and shops is not only apparent by the lack of available parking, but mixed-use buildings on the strip have been sold for higher prices due to an increase in demand.

BID Executive Director Lyle Sclair said more and more small businesses have expressed interest in starting up in Bayside.

He said the great number of mom-and-pop stores is part of what makes the area so appealing.

“What makes Bell Boulevard special is the great support it has from the surrounding residents,” Sclair said. “What we saw earlier this year was a hiccup … but Bayside has a great success rate. Parking might take us off the radar for many small business startups, but people here shop locally, and that money stays in the community.”