Scaffolding has appeared on Deals & Discounts store – formerly a Rite Aid – in Astoria, and some residents are worried that owners may be removing the decades-old terra cotta on the historic building.
Located at 36-11 Broadway, the building was the site of a Childs Restaurant, according to Bob Singleton, executive director of the Greater Astoria Historical Society (GAHS).
Childs was one of the first restaurant chains in the United States and revolutionized the restaurant industry, he said. The Astoria location opened in 1928.
Owners at the Broadway Silk Store at 3-11 Broadway alerted Singleton to scaffolding that has been set up at the store. While here have been no alterations yet, Singleton believes the Deals & Discounts, which expanded to the site, is trying to replicate their blue exterior. Our calls and emails to Deals & Discounts were not returned.
“The first modern chain restaurants started with Childs,” Singleton said. “They [were] very important in terms of the dining experience but also in terms of what we expect [from] food.”
Brothers Samuel S. Childs and William Childs were hyper-vigilant about cleanliness in their restaurants and catered to the working class. They used white tiles, white uniforms and hired mostly women for waitress jobs instead of the more common waiters.
They also started their own dairy company to provide customers with fresh milk, Singleton said.
“[The Childs brothers] said, “look we have to have a place that’s completely sanitary, completely spotless [and] clean,” Singleton said.
The buildings that housed Childs restaurants are also known for their intricate terra cotta facade that depicts nautical themes such as King Neptune, the Roman god of the sea. The Astoria location includes seahorses, fish and other colorful figures. There are about two dozen of these buildings in the city and many are located in Queens and operated as commercial spaces.
Childs Restaurant also operated hot dog and hamburger concession stands at the 1934 World’s Fair that took place at Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The first restaurant opened in 1889 and the Childs brothers lost control of the company in 1929 when William Childs started imposing his vegetarian lifestyle on the menu.
As of 2009, the company, now named Sonesta International Hotels Corporation operates more than 100 restaurants including franchised units of Dunkin Donuts, KFC, Pizza Hut and T.G.I. Fridays.
“A really nice thing about this circumstance is that it also resonates with the newer residents,” Singleton said. “There are people that are moving in Astoria that are involved in arts, food, architecture and this touches on many of these topics.”
GAHS shared the information on their Facebook page and Astoria residents have shared the post and reached out to D&D and Councilman Costa Constantinides to express their disappointment.
“I think the Deals II store is there now,” Astoria resident Stefanie Weisman wrote on the post. “I don’t know if it’s up to them, but I contacted them and said I would never shop there again if this is destroyed.”
A spokesperson for Costa Constantinides said they are gathering information about the store’s next steps.
Singleton said he is in the process of writing up a request to the Landmarks Preservation Commission to see if the building is worth landmarking. The Childs Restaurant on the Coney Island boardwalk was landmarked.
He also added that local organizations such as Central Astoria Local Development Coalition should be more involved in preserving historical storefronts.
“I looked at their mandate and their mandate is store beautification [and] building strong shopping areas,” Singleton said. “This is something [they] should be engaged in.”
QNS reached out to Central Astoria Local Development Coalition and is awaiting comment.
“I would argue to the owner and D&D if [I] was a person that was running that place I would love to have something like that in front of my store because it’s so unusual, it’s so beautiful,” Singleton said. “Everybody that walks up and down that street instinctively glances at the work there. It’s so interesting and unique.”