Richards Tours New Storefronts in Downtown Far Rock

By Gail Johnson

Originally published at The Wave on January 27, 2017.

Valerie West VP of RDRC, Councilman Donovan Richards and SBS Commissioner Gregg Bishop took a tour of the stores that took part in the Downtown Far Rockaway Storefront Improvement Program.

The face of Downtown Far Rockaway is changing. The decades of neglect and lack of investment that turned the beloved “Village” into a blighted eyesore have ended.

The face of a ‘brick and mortar’ retail store, its façade, is often the first thing future customers focus on. This basic fact of retail trade resonated with the 18 storeowners who received grants from The Downtown Far Rockaway Storefront Improvement Program to revitalize their stores.

The Small Business Services of NYC offered a 75 percent match of storeowners’ funds, averaging $10,000, to renovate their storefronts. The Downtown Far Rockaway Storefront Improvement Program is a component of the Downtown Far Rockaway Roadmap for Action. The program is a partnership between SBS, the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and the Rockaway Development and Revitalization Corporation (RDRC).

Store owners Paul Benjamin, Kris Lakharam and Alix Pierre show off their newly renovated storefront on Mott Avenue in Far Rockaway. Photos by Gail Johnson

Councilman Donovan Richards led a tour of the businesses on Mott Avenue and Beach 20th Street that received the grants. He was accompanied by Small Business Services (SBS) Commissioner Gregg Bishop, Rockaway Development and Revitalization Corporation’s (RDRC) CEO Kevin Alexander, VP Valerie West and Chairwoman of the Board, Linda Plummer.

The renovations to the storefronts went beyond painting, new awnings and signage. There are new doors, open-grille security gates, much-needed masonry work and exterior lighting. Careful attention was paid to preserve the architectural details of the buildings.

“This is a significant day. This is progress on Mott Avenue,” said Richards. “What’s going on in Downtown Far Rockaway? An abundance of light and life. This idea started as a coffee klatch conversation between Commissioner Bishop and myself; what can we do in the immediate future? And he has come through! Why is it important? Because small business is the backbone of this country. These businesses who labored through the bad times, the Sandy times and now the good times, I will fight to keep them here through the development.”

He continued his speech by complimenting the interagency cooperation built upon Mayor de Blasio’s $91 million commitment to revitalize Downtown Far Rockaway and re-establish it as a place to live, work, and play.

“This is much appreciated, Commissioner,” continued Richards. “The city is committed to Far Rockaway. There is so much potential with de Blasio and a new Commissioner. There is a little sunlight after the storm. We can all agree on change for Downtown Far Rockaway and we can debate issues of density, housing, parking and other concerns as we figure out how to assure that real change comes to Downtown Far Rockaway.”

Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato reminded the assembled crowd she’s very familiar with the area.

“I’m was born here in Far Rockaway,” said Pheffer Amato. “This is well needed in this town. I welcome more and keep it growing. Far Rockaway has to be modern, be current with the rest of the world.”

Bishop spoke next, reassuring the crowd that this is just the start of our investment with RDRC and the community.

“We are celebrating 18 new store fronts, the first tangible change you’ll see,” said Bishop. “I’m very excited about today. Thanks to property owners and store owners for their participation. This is just the beginning.”

The Smith Building, located at 1931 Mott Ave., is owned by the Kaufman Organization which underwrote the renovations to all the retail stores on the ground floor of the building.

Alexander spoke of the newly found relationships with the city agencies.

“We’ve never had a relationship like this before,” said Alexander. “The (major investment) that the mayor has offered is the same money that’s been leaking out of this community. We can restore it to what it was, ‘The Village,’ where people came in and did not leave.”

The first storefront on the tour was Tino’s Unisex Hairstyling. A Downtown Far Rockaway fixture for over 35 years, the owner Sabato Venezia and his son Carlo were excited with their new look.

“I appreciate this. It really looks good. It looks good at night too. It really sparkles,” he beamed.

A few doors down, Perfect Properties, which had interior and exterior renovations, and owners Paul Benjamin, Alix Pierre and Kris Lakharam gave Richards and Bishop a tour.

At the Corner Coffee Shop, owned by Tess Tsimbidis, where she was joined by Paul Ohana of ADP signs and awnings, said she was initially cynical of the storefront project.

“I was one of the store owners who did not believe in the project. I gave you a hard time,” she told Richards. “(But) these people were professional and easy to work with.”

The final stop on the tour was to Park’s Clothing Corp. on Beach 20th Street, owned by Yung Mal Park and her daughter Jenny Park.

“Yes, I am very happy,” said Yung Mal Park. “I am very pleased.”