QEDC report suggests need for local merchants association in Richmond Hill

Little Guyana Bake Shop on Liberty Avenue in Richmond Hill. (Courtesy of QEDC)

A new report created by the Queens Economic Development Corporation and NYC Small Business Services is highlighting the need for a local merchants association in two diverse and vibrant shopping centers in Richmond Hill to address sanitation and marketing challenges.

The Commercial Needs Assessment reveals that businesses along the stretch of Liberty Avenue known as “Little Guyana” and “Punjab Way” on 101st Avenue between 111th and 123rd Streets have the potential to be organized as a local merchants association to clean up, beautify and  promote their unique offerings as a destination neighborhood and cultural enclave.

Courtesy of QEDC

While 19 percent of merchants surveyed cited sanitation issues, 22 percent identified the issue of parking along the corridors that needs to be changed in order to attract more visitors and shoppers, and 27 percent are in need of marketing support to help grow their businesses, according to the report.

“Richmond Hill is a unique, endearing area with a strong commercial corridor that provides products and services to the public while creating jobs. “We discovered some ways to improve the area and guarantee a bright future for all,” said Sam Smouha, QEDC program manager. 

Some of the report’s recommended interventions include the following:

  • Collaborate and share resources to address problems
  • Market Richmond Hill as a unique cultural and culinary destination
  • Clean and beautify the sidewalks and public spaces
  •  Increase street furniture; implement holiday lights to welcome shoppers and generate neighborhood pride
  • Leverage the proximity to economic anchors, especially John F. Kennedy International Airport and Resorts World Casino New York City
  • Develop a storefront improvement program to finance exterior renovations and promote annual events 

Smouha organized and facilitated stakeholder meetings and gathered more than 620 surveys from storeowners, shoppers, workers, property owners, and residents between August 2019 and March 2020. 

The data was then compiled into the report, which provides insight on the local retail landscape and consumer characteristics.

Richmond Hill is a vibrant, diverse neighborhood with more than 1,000 small businesses that form a unique cultural and culinary destination. Its key commercial corridors — geographically known as south Richmond Hill — Liberty Avenue and 101st Avenue are bordered by the Van Wyck Expressway to the east and Woodhaven and Crossbay Boulevards to the west, according to the report.  

The southern portion of Richmond Hill is home to several tight-knit communities, such as the Punjabi Sikh and Indo-Caribbean populations. Within blocks, there are also multiple Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, and Christian houses of worship, which further reflect the diverse composition of the Richmond Hill community. 

The commercial corridors have plenty of culturally relevant vendors (Indo-Caribbean tropical bakeries, roti shops, and open-air markets) along with a healthy mix of new and long-standing occupants with few long-time vacancies. 

The streets are pedestrian-friendly with public transportation options (i.e. the A train) and proximity to major roadways such as the Van Wyck Expressway and Cross Bay Boulevard. Plus, nonprofit cultural organizations and religious institutions organize high profile public events — such as the annual Phagwah Parade —  that attract tourists from around the world.

However, Smouha found unacceptable levels of garbage on the sidewalk and overflowing litter baskets due to illegal dumping from households. 

Additionally, the dark and shadowy street conditions below the elevated A line on Liberty Avenue make the environment less welcoming to pedestrians. Other challenges include online retail and proximity to Queens Center mall. 

According to the report, Resorts World Casino, which is undergoing a $400 million expansion to be completed this year, and the JFK International Airport, which is undergoing a $13 billion redevelopment, can provide the potential for future partnerships and marketing opportunities for local businesses.

In July 2020, SBS began a three-year commitment to fund commercial revitalization efforts in Richmond Hill.

“I really feel honored to have worked with SBS on this needs assessment,” Smouha said. 

The complete report will soon be available in Punjabi and Spanish.

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