By Gabriel Rom
Starbucks will open its first branch in Jamaica during the first half of 2016.
The store will be located at 89-02 Sutphin Blvd. across the street from the Queens County Civil Courthouse. The new branch will include an employment training facility and will hire between 20 and 25 employees from the area.
The store is part of the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative, a nationwide project in which Starbucks, along with more than a dozen other American corporations, have committed to hiring 100,000 unemployed youth by 2018. By that time, Starbucks plans to open 15 stores in low-income neighborhoods across the country.
The store opening comes as Jamaica aggressively tries to attract new business to the area. Major brands such as NineWest, Raymour & Flanigan and Planet Fitness already have locations downtown and Rhonda Binda, the executive director at the Jamaica Center Business Improvement District, says more are on the way.
“The Starbucks opening is part of a much larger trend. Jamaica is becoming a prime tourism and business destination. We have cultural offerings, discount shopping, ethnic food, and two major hotels are on the way. Right now Jamaica is one of the best investments for any business because our property is increasing in value due to constant development,” she said.
While Jamaica has been enjoying a revitalization over the past few years, the area’s unemployment rate remains stubbornly high at 9 percent, which is almost 3 percent above the city average, according to a 2013 report from Safespace NYC, a Queens-based non-profit.
The community’s high unemployment rate was one of the determining factors for Starbucks’ decision to open in Jamaica.
“We consulted with local nonprofits and civic leaders… and looked at where there are local movements underway to rebuild communities in need and where business investment in terms of new jobs and training opportunities for young people are necessary,” a spokesman from Starbucks said in a statement.
Some residents welcomed the new Starbucks, and a renewed focus on business development, with guarded optimism.
“These types of projects are good as long as they don’t displace the existing communities and populations. It’s crucial that Starbucks engages the community and takes their needs into consideration,” said a woman who only gave her name as Ms. Prince, and who has lived in the area for over 40 years.
Richard Mack, an employee at the Long Island Rail Road who lives and works in the area, hoped that the new Starbucks signaled an increased investment in the area.
“Any time you have urban development, it’s a good thing. The only downside is when new businesses—especially big ones that can afford high rents—displace locals and inadvertently drive rents up,” Mack said.