‘Don’t Target Us’: Residents view new Elmhurst department store as step toward gentrification

Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech/QNS
Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech/QNS

Activists and community members from Elmhurst and Jackson Heights chanted “don’t Target us!” during a rally in front of the office of the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) on Thursday morning. A new Target set to be built at 40-31 82nd St., near the neighborhoods’ border.

Queens Neighborhood United (QNU), an anti-BID group, delivered an appeal and a stack of affidavits stating that the new proposed Target is illegal. According to the organization, the new store, which is described by developers, Sun Equity Partners and Heskel Group as a department store, directly contradicts “local use” clauses in the city’s zoning laws.

“Gentrification is not natural,” said Tania Mattos, organizer and founder of Queens Neighborhood United who attributes the death of family business to the large developers and city agencies. Community members and lawmakers alike claimed that the new Target, which is going to be part of a larger mall called “The Shoppes,” would push out local business, increase traffic and destroy job prospects for the neighborhoods’ black and Latino communities.

The rally and legal challenge was part of yearlong community battle to stop “The Shoppes” project which plans to bring corporate chains and luxury housing to the mostly working-class immigrant neighborhoods of Jackson Heights and Elmhurst.

“It’s an evil thing to be in the middle of our community,” said Eleanor Batchelder, a Jackson Heights resident. Target has a history of opposing labor unions and LGBTQ rights and recently made headlines for claims of discrimination toward black and Latino job applicants. The company paid $3.74 million to settle claims against racially biased hiring practices in April of this year.

“We can’t pretend to keep New York affordable for working families if we are not protecting our small business and any means to create real and affordable housing that is affordable for the people that actually live in the neighborhood,” said state Senate candidate Jessica Ramos.

Another Target has been proposed at a site on 31st Street south of Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria, according to Ramos. Target has locations in College Point, Elmhurst (at the Queens Place mall) and Forest Hills.

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