Flush­ing: NYC’s ‘hot’ Chi­na­town

Peo­ple who live and work in Flush­ing some­times call it “the Chi­nese Man­hat­tan’’. The city’s fastest grow­ing Chi­na­town is boom­ing — new con­do­mini­ums, re­tail­ers and much more, re­ports from New York.

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

About 45 min­utes from Man­hat­tan on the last stop of the No 7 sub­way is Main Street, the en­try­way to Flush­ing, New York City’s fastest­grow­ing Chi­na­town in the last decade.

Throngs of peo­ple clog the in­ter­sec­tion of Main Street and Roo­sevelt Av­enue, and pack the as­sorted shops that seem­ingly of­fer ev­ery­thing from pork buns and Chi­nese drinks to cell phone charms.

Store signs in Chi­nese — and a few in Korean — stack pre­car­i­ously on top of each other, ad­ver­tis­ing for doc­tors, ac­coun­tants, beauty sa­lons and lawyers. The num­ber of Chi­nese restau­rants is end­less.

A green neon sign on a health sup­ple­ment store in English reads: “We Speak Man­darin’’. Vi­ta­mins, fish oil cap­sules and pro­tein pow­der are among the most fre­quently pur­chased items, says a sales­man who ex­plained that some buy­ers send them to rel­a­tives in China. The nearby West­ern Union also caters to send­ing money back home. Only cars and city buses move slower than the peo­ple on packed side­walks.

That Flush­ing is boom­ing be­yond the main in­ter­sec­tion can be seen — and felt — ev­ery­where in the com­mu­nity of 72,000. The num­bers are up for new res­i­dents, new hous­ing projects, new re­tail­ers and in­vestors, but so are rents and hous­ing prices.

Man­hat­tan’s Chi­na­town is the city’s old­est Chi­nese com­mu­nity, and used to have the most Chi­nese.

Now Flush­ing in the north­cen­tral part of the bor­ough of Queens is No 1 with 33,536 Chi­nese, ac­cord­ing to the 2010 Cen­sus. Of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion, 69.2 per­cent are Asian (Kore­ans are the sec­ond-largest Asian group), 14.9 per­cent His­panic, 9.5 per­cent white and 4.2 per­cent black.

Man­hat­tan’s Chi­na­town pop­u­la­tion has de­creased 17 per­cent since 2000, from 34,554 to 28,671, ac­cord­ing to the Asian Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion, a Man­hat­tan non­profit.

Flush­ing saw a wave of im­mi­gra­tion in the 1980s that trans­formed the com­mu­nity into one of the most di­verse in Queens. To­day, the greater Flush­ing area has the third-largest im­mi­gra­tion con­cen­tra­tion in New York City, ac­cord­ing to a 2011 re­port by the state comptroller. New con­dos

New con­struc­tion for hous­ing has been one of the big­gest de­vel­op­ments in Flush­ing. Much higher rents in Man­hat­tan and Brook­lyn have caused an in­flux of Chi­nese-Amer­i­cans, as well as new im­mi­grants look­ing to be close to rel­a­tives and empty-nesters down­siz­ing from sub­ur­ban homes, ac­cord­ing to real es­tate agents, who say wealthy Chi­nese buy­ers are in­vest­ing in rental prop­erty.

In 2007, Sky View Parc with 448 units in three build­ings be­came one of the first luxury condo de­vel­op­ments in Flush­ing. It was con­structed by Onex Real Es­tate Part­ners. Now Onex is de­vel­op­ing an­other three build­ings —The Grand at Sky View —with 800 units.

The first build­ing opened in Jan­uary, and David Brick­man, Onex’s vice-pres­i­dent, said that within one day half the units were sold. Stu­dios sold for $489,000 to $604,000; one-bed­rooms $540,000 to $ 794,000; two- bed­rooms $890,000 to $1.2 mil­lion and three- and four-bed­room units be­gan at $2 mil­lion. A sec­ond build­ing will open in the sum­mer, Brick­man said.

“There has been pent-up de­mand. We’ve had peo­ple living in Brook­lyn but are buy­ing in Flush­ing,” he said.

Brick­man said buy­ers and in­vestors like that they can get com­pa­ra­ble qual­ity and ameni­ties in Flush­ing for lower prices than in Brook­lyn or Man­hat­tan, where a resur­gence in the real es­tate mar­ket over the last few years has bumped up prices.

Brick­man and An­drew Ger­ringer, man­ag­ing direc­tor of new busi­ness at the Mar­ket­ing Di­rec­tors, which helps de­vel­op­ers mar­ket their prop­er­ties, both said the buy­ers are pre­dom­i­nantly lo­cal Chi­nese and pay­ing all cash. There also are buy­ers from the Chi­nese main­land seek­ing in­vest­ment prop­erty or hous­ing for their chil­dren who might be study­ing at a col­lege or uni­ver­sity in the New York area.

“It’s fam­i­lies buy­ing who have strong ties to the neigh­bor­hood,” said Ger­ringer. “I’d say there are more peo­ple in the com­mu­nity buy­ing than there are peo­ple buy­ing from out­side the com­mu­nity.”

El­derly Asians are also drawn to Flush­ing for its con­ve­niences, ac­cord­ing to real es­tate agents and Peter Koo, the New York City Coun­cil­man who rep­re­sents Flush­ing. Koo was elected in 2009 and has spent three decades living and work­ing in the com­mu­nity. The 62-yearold im­mi­grated to the United States from Hong Kong in 1971.

“We’ve had empty nesters who live in Long Is­land and are plan­ning on sell­ing their home and are look­ing to move back into the city and choos­ing Flush­ing over Man­hat­tan be­cause it’s where their friends are,” said Brick­man.

“You don’t have to sit at home here, but if you lived in Long Is­land, most peo­ple sit at home and look at the trees,” Koo joked. “A lot of el­derly peo­ple move here, be­cause even if they have chil­dren who have big houses in Long Is­land, or New Jer­sey, they want to stay in Flush­ing in a stu­dio. They have their free­dom; they can go out and do things.”

Josh Ze­gen, co-founder of Madi­son Re­alty Cap­i­tal, said that Flush­ing at­tracts for­eign in­ter­est. “There’s just a lot of money from for­eign in­vestors, US cap­i­tal and in­sti­tu­tional cap­i­tal com­ing into Flush­ing, as well as other parts of Queens,” he said.

“I think Flush­ing is a very deep mar­ket and only get­ting deeper.” Ze­gen said. “The den­sity is so great and the traf­fic, if you’re a re­tailer, re­tail rents are like you wouldn’t be­lieve them. But be­cause of the den­sity, they have the foot traf­fic, you have the busi­ness.”

Re­tail rents are about $40 to $50 a square foot, Ze­gen said, com­pared to Man­hat­tan’s $55 to $75 a square foot, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from com­mer­cial real es­tate ser­vice Col­liers In­ter­na­tional.

“That’s not a cheap rent,” Ze­gen said. “If you didn’t know the of­fice mar­ket, you wouldn’t guess that Flush­ing was get­ting $40-$50 a square foot.”

And new re­tail­ers are mov­ing into Flush­ing, tak­ing ad­van­tage of rents that are lower and go­ing af­ter the grow­ing pop­u­la­tion.

Flush­ing Mall, a fix­ture in the neigh­bor­hood for 15 years that was known for its Asian food court, closed on Jan­uary 30 to make way for hous­ing and com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ments. When it opened in 2000, it was the first Flush­ing mall with busi­nesses run mostly by Chi­nese, and be­came a must-visit for lo­cals and tourists. New re­tail­ers

Now Sky View Cen­ter, a 700,000- square- foot mall which sits be­low the Sky View Parc con­dos, is at­tract­ing ma­jor re­tail­ers. Nike and For­ever 21 signed leases late last year for 15,000 and 10,000 square feet of space, re­spec­tively. Ja­panese re­tailer Uniqlo signed an 8,000-square-foot lease this year for its first lo­ca­tion in Queens. All three re­tail­ers are ex­pected to open ear­lier this year. Other re­tail­ers at the mall in­clude Tar­get, Nord­strom Rack and Old Navy.

“Th­ese are big moves by re­tail­ers. Flush­ing is seen as an en­clave for the Asian com­mu­nity and a lot of devel­op­ment is com­ing up,” said Michael Lee, se­nior as­so­ciate at com­mer­cial real es­tate group CBRE.

“Re­tail­ers are look­ing for nice pre­mium spa­ces and the Flush­ing mar­ket has been re­ally hot, and now the na­tional re­tail­ers are start­ing to look around,” he said. “There are re­tail­ers that have been in the area for a while, par­tic­u­larly fi­nan­cial ser­vices, and they’re fully aware of the great mar­ket that Flush­ing is. Now there are some other re­tail­ers try­ing to un­der­stand the Flush­ing mar­ket and try­ing to break into it.”

Ze­gen said Flush­ing and Queens are still trad­ing at a dis­count rel­a­tive to Brook­lyn and Man­hat­tan, but that dis­count is nar­row­ing. “Queens is pick­ing up quicker than other places be­cause there’s so much growth in Brook­lyn and Man­hat­tan that we’ve al­ready wit­nessed in the last few years,” he said, pre­dict­ing that in the next few years Queens will catch up to Brook­lyn and Man­hat­tan.

Michael Chu, owner of travel agency Asian Amer­i­can Global Travel Inc, is one com­mu­nity busi­ness­man who has ben­e­fited from the rise of wealth in China. He hosts tour groups from the Chi­nese main­land, as well as from Hong Kong and Tai­wan.

“Th­ese vis­i­tors have helped form an in­dus­try chain —from ho­tels and cater­ing to tour guides. A lot of job op­por­tu­ni­ties and thou­sands of small busi­ness groups have been cre­ated. This is in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked with the mother coun­try,” Chu said.

“In this cli­mate, be­cause of Chi­nese im­mi­grants and those com­ing from the mother coun­try fre­quently in­ter­act­ing, there have been mu­tual benefits like cap­i­tal in­jec­tion,” he said. “The Chi­nese com­mu­nity is ex­pand­ing, and the econ­omy here is boom­ing.”

On the jobs front, Flush­ing has seen in­creases ev­ery year since 2005 de­spite the eco­nomic down­turn across the city dur­ing the fi­nan­cial re­ces­sion. In 2010, the com­mu­nity added jobs at a rate of 3.1 per­cent, “far out­pac­ing the rest of Queens and the rest of the city,” said the 2011 state comptroller re­port. The num­ber of busi­nesses grew 37.6 per­cent be­tween 2000 and 2009 com­pared to the 5.7 per­cent city av­er­age.

“Flush­ing is a good ex­am­ple of how im­mi­grants bring up the whole com­mu­nity be­cause they work hard, they per­se­vere. They make sure their kids go to school, so that the sec­ond­gen­er­a­tion, even if they don’t stay in the fam­ily busi­ness, can go on to work in bet­ter pro­fes­sions,” said Koo.

Chi­nese-owned busi­nesses and cus­tomers dom­i­nate down­town Flush­ing, which used to be all-white un­til about the 1970s and then be­came a mostly Korean en­clave be­fore the Chi­nese be­came the most­pop­u­lous eth­nic group.

Koo said that in Flush­ing “ev­ery­thing is more’’: “There are more banks, more doc­tors of­fices, more lawyers of­fices, more travel agen­cies. You come to Flush­ing, you have ev­ery­thing.” New im­mi­grants

The owner of Chung Hwa Book­store on Roo­sevelt Av­enue, who de­clined to give his name, said that Flush­ing is a good area for new im­mi­grants.

“More Chi­nese come here be­cause it’s very con­ve­nient for new im­mi­grants. You can speak Chi­nese, see a Chi­nese doc­tor, eat Chi­nese food,” he said. “No ve­hi­cles are needed since there are all kinds of trans­porta­tions avail­able.”

A travel agent at the L&L Travel En­ter­prise said he chose to rent an apart­ment in Flush­ing be­cause of the ex­ist­ing Chi­nese com­mu­nity. “And it’s more con­ve­nient since all my friends are here,” said the agent, whose sur­name is Chen.

Chen Junjie, a sales agent at United Health­care, said that Flush­ing is a fast-grow­ing Chi­nese neigh­bor­hood be­cause of what he said is its “higher qual­ity” over Man­hat­tan and Brook­lyn.

Koo said that crime in the neigh­bor­hood is low, and most crimes are low-level like pick­pock­et­ing.

Most crimes com­mit­ted in Flush­ing are by those who live out­side the neigh­bor­hood, he said. “If we built a wall around Flush­ing, Flush­ing would be very safe and there would be no crime.”

Ac­cord­ing to statis­tics from the New York Po­lice Depart­ment’s 109th precinct, which cov­ers Flush­ing, there have been 438 crimes com­mit­ted so far in 2015, about 16 per­cent of the 2,672 crimes com­mit­ted across all of north­ern Queens. The city­wide to­tal for the week end­ing April 12 was 24,955 for all five bor­oughs.

Chil­dren in Flush­ing at­tend 26 public el­e­men­tary schools, seven mid­dle schools and seven public high schools. To­tal stu­dent en­roll­ment for the 20132014 school year was 37,279, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cently avail­able statis­tics.

Koo said Flush­ing’s el­e­men­tary and mid­dle schools are good, but most stu­dents tend to leave the com­mu­nity to at­tend such spe­cial­ized high schools as Stuyvesant High School in Man­hat­tan, the Bronx High School of Science and Brook­lyn Tech­ni­cal High School.

“Ev­ery­one wants to go to spe­cial­ized high schools, to go out­side of Flush­ing. They don’t stay here for school. That’s why we have so many open­ings, and the depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion sends stu­dents from other bor­oughs to come here,” he said.

El­derly Asians are also drawn to Flush­ing for its con­ve­niences, ac­cord­ing to real es­tate agents and Koo.

Each day hun­dreds of se­nior cit­i­zens gather at a se­nior cen­ter on 39th Av­enue which was launched in 1966 by the Chi­nese-Amer­i­can Plan­ning Coun­cil (CPC), one of the big­gest Chi­nese-based so­cial ser­vices agen­cies in New York.

Cheng Chean Ming, a 75-year-old re­tiree orig­i­nally from Tai­wan, said he has been a mem­ber of the CPC se­nior cen­ter for years. He said that he lives about 20 min­utes from the cen­ter and comes most days of the week, pay­ing $20 a year in dues.

“I used to be a mem­ber at other se­nior cen­ters in the area, but chose this one be­cause of con­ve­nience. It’s so close to my house,” he said.

Daily lunches at $1.50 are avail­able at the cen­ter for mem­bers.

The CPC cen­ter has got­ten more crowded over the years, Cheng said. “Years ago, there might have been a few dozen peo­ple here dur­ing the day, but now up­wards of 200 peo­ple pass through th­ese doors ev­ery day,” he said.

While res­i­dents and small busi­ness own­ers can take ad­van­tage of the neigh­bor­hood’s con­ve­niences, they also must deal with the draw­backs that come with a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion. Foot traf­fic that makes neigh­bor­hood busi­nesses bus­tle also brings traf­fic con­ges­tion, said Koo and nu­mer­ous Flush­ing res­i­dents.

Buses are a ma­jor source of that traf­fic, with 19 bus lines com­ing to Flush­ing from other parts of Queens. Koo said he is try­ing to work with city trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials to es­tab­lish a bus de­pot and to reroute some buses. Last month, Queens bor­ough Pres­i­dent Melinda Katz and the city’s trans­porta­tion depart­ment an­nounced new mea­sures to al­le­vi­ate traf­fic con­ges­tion in down­town Flush­ing.

Fred Fu, a 27-year res­i­dent of Flush­ing and pres­i­dent of the Flush­ing Devel­op­ment Cen­ter, said that peo­ple of­ten com­plain about the traf­fic and con­ges­tion, not re­al­iz­ing that they them­selves are caus­ing the prob­lem.

“Flush­ing is popular now, and peo­ple like my sis­ter would come in from Westch­ester to buy gro­ceries on the week­end, and then com­plain about how there are so many peo­ple and so much traf­fic,” he said. “She doesn’t re­al­ize that it’s peo­ple like her­self who are con­tribut­ing to the is­sue!”

Even though the num­ber of small busi­nesses is in­creas­ing, shop own­ers com­plain about the in­creas­ingly com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment and the ris­ing rents.

“Flush­ing’s devel­op­ment is get­ting bet­ter, but do­ing busi­ness is get­ting more and more dif­fi­cult,” said Tony Mei, a manager at N.J. Jew­elry at the New World Mall. “The rent is too high and the city gov­ern­ment un­rea­son­ably im­poses var­i­ous fines.”

Ivy, an­other shop­keeper in the New World Mall, said that when she ar­rived in Flush­ing 10 years ago, the neigh­bor­hood was quiet af­ter 6 pm be­cause it was deemed un­safe. Although now the streets are teem­ing with peo­ple at all hours, she also com­plained about ris­ing rents, say­ing “main­tain­ing a small busi­ness is get­ting in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult.”

A book­shop clerk at Chung Hwa Book­store, with the sur­name Zhang, said that she has seen res­i­den­tial rents go up by $1,000 a year. “Some ten­ants are even or­dered by land­lords to pay the land tax be­sides rent. That’s why I don’t live here, be­cause the neigh­bor­hood is ul­tra-ex­pen­sive,” she said.

There are res­i­dents who take a more op­ti­mistic view to the grow­ing pop­u­la­tion and busi­nesses. A Chi­nese restau­rant cook who goes by the sur­name Tan said that com­pe­ti­tion for cater­ing and other busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties is in­creas­ing, but that “this is the prin­ci­ple of eco­nomic devel­op­ment.”

The 40-year-old Tan, who im­mi­grated to Flush­ing just three years ago, said that now that US visa va­lid­ity has been ex­tended from one year to 10 years even more peo­ple will come from China. “I hope Flush­ing does well and that every­body living here does well too,’’ he said. “The good of this com­mu­nity will be good for every­body.” Con­tact the writer at amyhe@ chindai­lyusa.com Hong Xiao con­trib­uted to this re­port.

MENG HAN / FOR CHINA DAILY

Down­town Flush­ing

MENG HAN / FOR CHINA DAILY

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