Forest Hills Businesses Get Big Boost After FEMA Moves In

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska on December 10, 2012 7:50am 

QUEENS — Call it the FEMA bump.

The federal disaster agency has opened up a central office in Forest Hills in the wake of Hurricane Sandy — and the hundreds of employees that flock to the building every day have been a huge boon to business, workers and owners say.

After the Federal Emergency Management Agency opened its temporary New York headquarters in the Forest Hills Tower last month, local businesses say they got a big boost in revenue, which had plummeted after JetBlue moved from the building at 118-35 Queens Blvd. to Long Island City in April.

For the last several weeks, employees wearing jackets with FEMA's logo have filled the area’s restaurants and delis, and have been using many local services — from getting haircuts to buying newspapers on the busy corner of Queens Boulevard and Union Turnpike.

Aida Lopez, who works at the popular diner Hot & Tasty on Queens Boulevard and Kew Gardens Road, said the restaurant's business had picked up by 50 to 60 percent after FEMA moved into the building, which sits next to the Q46 bus stop and the Kew Gardens-Union Turnpike subway station.

“I like to be so busy that I forget...my name,” Lopez said. “Now, it’s that way again. It’s making me feel good.”

Lopez said there are so many customers during breakfast and lunch that the restaurant may soon add more tables and chairs.

“They like to eat,” said Roman Davidov, the owner of Hot Bialys & Bagels on Queens Boulevard, referring to FEMA employees. “They work long hours,” he added, estimating that his revenue has increased by about 30 percent since the agency arrived in the neighborhood.

Currently, there are approximately 600 to 700 people working out of the FEMA's Forest Hills office, agency spokesman Ed Conley said.

“We have nearly double that number out in the field," he said. "The number is constantly in flux."

FEMA moved to Forest Hills in early November, taking 11 floors in the building where JetBlue used to have its headquarters. The agency's regular hours are from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., but there are people working at the location at other times, keeping the area busy even at odd hours, Conley said.

Some of the agency’s employees working at the center come from other parts of the country, including Colorado, Oregon and South Carolina. Many live in hotels around the city and some on FEMA’s ships.

“They come from different states so they need all sorts of services,” said Benya Avezov, the owner of Forest Hills Hair Cutters, who said he also has many customers from FEMA.

At ATC Cleaners on Queens Boulevard, about 50 FEMA workers a day come to use the same-day drop-off laundry service. “They like it because it’s cheaper than at a hotel,” said the owner, Sunny Park, who charges 99 cents for each pound of laundry.

But Jimmy Sing, the owner of Mini Mart on Queens Boulevard, which sells newspapers, cigarettes and candy, said he worried that the boost would only be temporary.

“How long are they going to stay?,” asked Sing, who said he lost a lot of customers after JetBlue moved.

Conley said Thursday that FEMA's office won’t be leaving Forest Hills any time soon.

“After a big disaster like this, we’ll be involved with it for a long time,” he said. He explained that the office will stay in Forest Hills “as long as it’s needed.”

But the boost to businesses has a downside: One of the busiest blocks in the neighborhood has gotten even more hectic.

Because there is not much parking in the neighborhood, some of FEMA’s cars parked along the Queens Boulevard service road have interfered with bus service and deliveries.

“Because they are taking those spots, a lot of people that make deliveries are forced to double park,” said Al Ciambriello, who works as an MTA dispatcher at the Q46 bus stop. “And because this is a bus stop area, it’s messing up Queens Boulevard.”

Conley said that most workers use public transportation, but that the agency needs to have some cars handy in case employees need to go quickly to the hard-to-get-to areas.

He also said that the center in Forest Hills was strictly administrative and that people who need help should go to one of the 35 FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers located in the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy. They can also call 800-621-FEMA.

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