The Real Deal New York

Long Island City won’t be retail ghost town forever, panel says

All the ingredients for an awakening are there, but progress has been slow, say speakers at LIC Summit
By Eddie Small | June 20, 2017 06:10PM

Long Island City, Queens (Credit: Getty Images)

Long Island City’s notorious lack of retail was one of the main points at this year’s LIC Summit, with developers and realtors saying they finally see light at the end of the tunnel.

During the summit’s “Retail as Placemaking” panel discussion, which was moderated by Rockrose Development’s TRData LogoTINY Patricia Dunphy, local realtor Donna Drimer said a lack of stores is still a major problem in the area — and it makes it hard for her business Matted LIC to survive.

From left: Rockrose SVP Patricia Dunphy, Tishman Speyer Managing Director of Leasing Natalia Macias, Tobey’s Estate co-owner Amber Jacobsen, Director of Retail Real Estate at Winick Realty Aaron Fishbein, Lendlease Executive GM Melissa Burch and MATTED LIC founder Donna Drimer

“It’s horrible. I’m the only destination. There Is No Place else to go shopping,” she said, “so rather than coming to me, it’s a lot easier to hop back on the 7, go into Grand Central and go wherever and go shopping,” she said.

Aaron Fishbein, who heads up retail real estate at the Winick Realty Group, said he doesn’t believe the problem will continue for too much longer. He said Long Island City is currently in the first wave of retail, which consists largely of fitness, medical and education tenants. Fishbein maintained that this will be followed by a wave of restaurants, which will in turn be followed by big box retail.

“Long Island City is big league. Let’s get that out of the way,” he said, adding that the neighborhood has the key ingredients in transportation, office space, schools, hotels and residential space.

“It has everything,” he said, “so it has the infrastructure, currently, for retail.”

The neighborhood has seen a few retail signings in recent years, including Toby’s Estate Coffee and the upscale pizzeria Levante last April.

Amber Jacobsen, co-owner of Toby’s in New York, said the business enjoyed its experience in the neighborhood, but was not enamored by the prospect of big box retail coming in.

“I think it’s actually good that these big retailers that have had a store on every single corner block are going away,” she said, “and then you can have something that’s a little bit more interesting…something that you want to discover in your own neighborhood.”

Natalia Macias of Tishman Speyer and Melissa Burch of Lendlease rounded out the panel, and Macias said she expected retail in Long Island City to essentially feed off of itself, arguing that more stores are likely to arrive after the first wave.

“Retail begets more retail,” she said, “and we feel that retailers especially are herd animals, right? They like to be near other retailers.”

(To view retail leasing transactions in Long Island City, click here)