By Mark Hallum
With Macy’s and MovieWorld out of the picture at Douglaston Plaza, as well as the nod of approval from the city Board of Standards and Appeals, Lowe’s Home Improvement is primed to make dramatic changes to the shopping center, which could redeem its relevance for shoppers.
Jon Popin, an attorney from Duane Morris representing the landlord — known as Ashkenazy Acquisition Corporation and Lowe’s — claimed the mega store came with the support of condominium owners within the immediate area who feared the nearby shopping center was falling into ruin and having a “ghost town” effect on their property values.
“We didn’t know how this would play out because this is going to be a new-built, large format hardware store coming almost into their back fence,” Popin said. “They were very concerned with Macy’s going out and Macy’s being really the main anchor — the only anchor — at the shopping center that if Lowe’s didn’t come in and no one else really wanted to, that it was really going to become a darkened site and affect their property values ultimately. Maybe it was economic reason that drove their support more than friendly neighborliness, but both of the issues were definitely at play.”
Douglaston Townhouse Condominiums Association fully backed the measures necessary to bring in Lowe’s and even petitioned the BSA to illustrate its support.
Feelings toward the proposal were different for many across northeast Queens, however, with a number of residents concerned about losing a cheap, locally owned movie theater.
Members of Community Board 11 narrowly passed a recommendation to approve the variance Lowe’s needed to expand the sub-cellar level of the space, making their store feasible, at a Feb. 5 meeting. The debate at that meeting got contentious and often personal.
During the public discussion period, many residents, including one MovieWorld employee of 14 years who gave an impassioned speech, voiced their support for preserving the theater as the best option for affordable tickets for schools and the elderly on fixed incomes.
Ashkenazy exercised the buy-out option in its contract with MovieWorld, which still had five years remaining, and officially closed July 5.
“There was a lot of support in favor of maintaining the movie theater,” Popin continued. “It’s unfortunate the local, community people wanted the movie theater to stay, but if Lowe’s didn’t come in,” he trailed off. “My client had been trying [almost a year] to find a new tenant to fill the space and there was none.”
The space in which Macy’s operated was 157,000 squarefeet, but Lowe’s needs 250,000 to operate. The BSA granted a 15,000-square-foot extension of the sub-cellar which was approved in just a month, according to Popin.
The nearest shopping hub is in Long Island almost 10 miles away, Popin pointed out in closing.
“Farewell. Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened,” MovieWorld tweeted out on its last day.
Macy’s closed hundreds of stores in 2017 as a result of the inability of its brick-and-mortar locations to keep up with online markets, executives of the company said. In April 2017, this included the location at Douglastion Plaza.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall