Monday, October 15, 2007

You Asked, Leslie Answered

Big thanks to Leslie Brown, President of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce for her time devoted to 'Ask Leslie' (even the name of the segment was her idea). Very cool of her to reach out to us and address everything from the hotel to those mysterious Laytner's bags.

I asked for three or four answers, she answered all of them. And the ones she couldn't answer, she pointed the questioner to someone who could. Great work Leslie - hope to do it again in November. And now, the floor is Leslie's. . .

Hey Forest Hills-
It’s great to hear from you! I hope that my Ask Leslie answers shine a little light on the topics you are wondering about. Here goes…

Q: I know a number of long-time retailers no longer maintain their membership in the Chamber due to their disappointment with marketing efforts, harrassing efforts by Chamber staff to collect dues and additional fees for holiday lights and the like. The older retailers are the anchors of the Forest Hills retail shopping district and are important to its stability and identity. What are you doing to bring them back into the fold and what are you doing to attract new members?

A: Did you know that the Forest Hills Chamber Of Commerce has about 200 members and counting! We reach out to everyone, we hand distribute info and invite merchants to join in all of the programs we support. We have a hard working, dedicated, and may I say, under paid staff and volunteers that help run the Chamber of Commerce. And by the way, we’ll never ask for dues in person. Membership dues are paid by mail or now online.
And to address another concern about membership dues, they have nothing to do with holiday lights. We have many members that are not on Austin Street/Continental Ave. The Holiday Lighting Program has always been funded by merchants and landlords located directly on Austin Street and Continental Ave.

In response to your question about marketing, the chamber is responsible for bringing well over 120,000 shoppers into Forest Hills from our special outdoor events. This month, members and non-members alike, can promote themselves at the Halloween Be Safe Trick-Or-Treat Here Program that attracts thousands of families to Austin Street and Continental Ave. We get lots of press and positive publicity and support for and from these events.

We are proud to have Forest Hills Hospital/North Shore LIJ, Sam Ash, HSBC Bank, Citibank, Sovereign Bank, Muss Development Co., Cord Meyer Development Co., Novo 64, Vital Dent, Verizon, restaurants such as PJ’S Steakhouse, 5 Burro CafĂ©, Sarabella Bistro and Grille to name some of our loyal supporters of our marketing opportunities. The shopforesthills website, and the Guide To Shop Forest Hills Booklet are two successful marketing tools we have developed. Look for the booklet this weekend at Culture Fest in Battery Park at the Queens Tourism table.
We work closely with Newsday Newspapers, The Times Ledger Newspapers, The Queens Economic Development Corp, Discover Queens Tourism, Discover Queens Restaurant Weeks to name some of the organizations we do marketing with. And although the chamber works with very limited funds for marketing, and often our members have limited budgets, we are out there working to keep the name Forest Hills on people’s lips.

I consider each and every business an important asset to the Forest Hills business community. I invite any past members to contact us directly to see all the things that we do for the community and to have an open dialogue about any of their suggestions.

Q: Do Chamber staff attend Chambers of Commerce meetings of other neighborhoods or network with them? For example, to exchange ideas?

A: Yes, I and the chamber board members attend many functions and meetings to network our chamber with other organizations.

Q: Would the CC consider making an effort to have only 1 way traffic, with 2 lanes, head down Austin Street with only 1 side of parking allowed? Also, landscaping Austin Street to add greenery and trees would very much improve the area.

A: A DOT study was done several years ago and this idea was part of the study. It was not accepted as something viable at the time. Perhaps Deputy Borough President Karen Koslowitz or Council Woman Melinda Katz’s office could offer you more details.
Austin Street can use some additional trees, point well taken!

Q: Am I the only one who thinks commercial rents on Austin Street are outrageous?

A: Only landlords can control the rents they request of their commercial rent tenants…it’s free enterprise. Commercial rents are not regulated the way residential rents are. Years ago I lobbied for commercial rent control with The Small Business Congress and other organizations and we never got anywhere.

Q: Can the Chamber do anything to address the 'Quality of Life' issues that are bringing down Austin Street - specifically the growing throngs of kids loitering at the LIRR station and increasing grafitti in the area?

A: Quality of life issues are just that and need to be addressed with the 112th Police Precinct. The 112th Precinct has community council meetings and meets every month. It is open to the public. The chamber works closely with the Community Affairs Division.

Q: Are you able to enforce or create architectural standards that would allow the Tudor look to permeate Austin St. as opposed to some of the abominations that are currently there?

A: No we are not able to enforce architectural standards, this is a community board issue and the department of buildings has codes, regulations and permits that must be obtained or followed. If a builder is within these guidelines they are legal. You can reach out to your legislators to see what can be done to maintain the integrity of the area.

Q: What is the role of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce and to what extent to you have any say in having the street vendors removed from our neighborhood?

A: The Forest Hills Chamber is working with Borough Hall and Council Woman Melinda Katz to re-enact the legislation that kept street vendors off our streets. The chamber maintains that street vendors are suitable for some places and not for other places. Forest Hills is not suitable for street food vendors.

Q: Any plans to get new holiday decorations?

A: I am waiting to approve new holiday lights and to see if they will be financially feasible for this year.

Q: I read an article in the NY Times that says the LIRR is planning oncutting down all the trees along the LIRR tracks in Forest Hills.That's just going to make Austin Street and the area ugly and nosy. Does the Chamber of Commerce know anything about that and are theyplanning to fight against it?

A: The LIRR has been clearing trees along it’s tracks in Queens and Long Island to prevent wet leaves from wearing down wheels on their trains and interrupting service. This is all I know about the situation.

Q: Does the Chamber of Commerce actively go after potential tenants and if so, what can the residents do to help landlords get better stores on Austin Street? We want a Panera! We want a Chipolte!

A: The Forest Hills Chamber Of Commerce is not a real estate developer nor are we real estate brokers, so no we do not recruit commercial rent tenants. I’ll pass on your tasty suggestions for Panera and Chipotle!

Q: Has there been any news on the Ann Taylor Loft Hotel front?

A: The proposed hotel project will not go forward on the Ann Taylor Loft site at this time. The developer is looking into other Forest Hills sites for a hotel.

Q: Are there any new stores coming to Austin Street that you know of? Is there anything on the cusp of happening we can help push through?

A: The newest store that will be opening on Austin Street is Laytner’s. This retailer carries home furnishings, linens, and gifts that are upscale in nature. They have two stores in Manhattan (Upper West Side and on the East Side). They have been in business over 40 years.