2006-08-09 / Editorials

Willets Point Merchants Unite To Save Jobs, Businesses

Business owners in the Willets Point section of Queens have organized a coalition to protect their firms and employees from the city's plan to erase them from the neighborhood as part of a large scale redevelopment plan. The fight has just begun for these merchants, who employ nearly 1,800 people, as they vow to aggressively challenge the city's efforts for condemnation of the property.

"We are part of an active business district and we refuse to be steamrolled by the city on the grounds that no economic engines exist here. Why is the city bullying small businesses? The city should be looking out for our interest as well," Dan Feinstein of Feinstein Iron Works said.

"First, the city neglects to maintain an adequate infrastructure for local businesses and then those same businesses, which contribute greatly to our economy, are punished for the government's failures," said Dan Scully of Tully Construction. "Our combined economic future remains uncertain and it's a total disgrace."

Lifelong residents and local immigrants work side by side, contributing to the vibrant local economy. Several notable names whose corporate headquarters are located in the area include House of Spice at 127-40 Willets Point Blvd., Tully Construction down the street, Fodera Foods on Northern Boulevard, Parts Authority and Sambucci Brothers Auto Parts. These shops and many others like them, in addition to the local auto parts and service companies, amount to 225 firms. Together, they provide over $1.1 million in real estate tax dollars to the city on an assessed property value of $118 million.

"Our company's 110 employees are primarily immigrants who live in the surrounding residential community and have families with school age children," said Neil Soni of House of Spices, the largest employer in the area. "They work very hard and are able to survive because their jobs are close to home and family. The city wants to displace them on the justification that we work in a junkyard. Nothing could be further from the truth. These are real people with real jobs who are able to build a life and a local community."

An April 2006 study conducted by the Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development underscores the strength and vitality of the local economy in Willets Point. The report's findings show Willets Point to be a "unique business incubator that provided jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities to diverse new immigrant populations from surrounding neighborhoods." The study also shows that 68 percent of all firms in the area have been in business for five or more years and that 90 percent of the jobs are full-time. Three-quarters of all the area's employees reside in Queens.

The study further revealed that official data from the city is "seriously deficient and undercounts business, workers and investment" in the area.

-Scott Gastel, Willets Point Industry & Realty

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