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U.S. Open Foot Traffic Not Reaching Queens Small Businesses, Locals Say

By Nigel Chiwaya | September 5, 2012 7:17am

FLUSHING — Hundreds of people poured out of the 7 train at the Mets-Willets Point subway station Tuesday afternoon, making their way to Arthur Ashe Stadium for the ninth day of the U.S. Open.

But just a few blocks down the street, business was slow at the Roosevelt Sports Bar. Despite its proximity to the Open, only two people were the bar, and neither of them were watching tennis.

"We haven't gotten huge crowds," said manager Michael Fann. "It hasn't really affected business too much."

The United States Tennis Association, the organization that runs the U.S. Open, claims that the event generates more than $750 million in annual revenue — up $330 million from 2001 — for the New York City region, according to published reports.

But while thousands of fans head to Flushing Meadows Corona Park every day during the two-week tournament, some businesses in neighboring Corona and Flushing say that they haven't seen the love from the influx of tourists.

The impact, or lack therof, can be seen at the Skyview Center, a shopping mall located across the Roosevelt Avenue Bridge. The mall, which houses a big chains like Best Buy, Bob's Furniture and Bed, Bath & Beyond, was been sparsely visited during the Open's first week.

At the Roosevelt Sports Bar, located down the street from the Skyview Center, Fann noted that 20 to 30 additional people have stopped by the bar in the two weeks since the tournament started, an increase he called insignificant.

"I don't think we really get the foot traffic," Fann said. "I don't recall anyone saying 'I'm going to watch the Open.'"

The problem, store owners say, is that the U.S. Open is self-contained. Fans exit the 7 train at Willets Point, walk down the boardwalk, and enter the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center — all without ever setting foot on a Queens street. Once inside the tennis center, fans have access to food, drinks, retail stores and ATMs.

"Once you're there, you're there," said Vincent Barbaccia, who runs the Lemon Ice King of Corona, the famed Italian ice stand on 108th Street and Corona Avenue.

However, some businesses do benefit from the tournament. Robert MacKay, a spokesman for the Queens Economic Development Council, said that the U.S. Open brings increased traffic to both of New York's airports. In addition, the area's hotels see more customers as well.

"A lot of people are staying in hotels in Queens," said MacKay, who works on the Queens Tourism Council as well.

The boon has been felt at the Corona Hotel, a nondescript inn that sits under the 7 train on Roosevelt Avenue in Corona. The hotel reported that their rooms were completely booked during the Open's first week.

"Normally we're not booked up," said the manager who answered the phone at the hotel. "This week we're all booked."

MacKay admits that traffic to local businesses isn't where the QEDC would like it to be, and that they're working to improve things.

The council has a Queens tourism booth at the U.S. Open, where employees work to point fans to restaurants and businesses around the borough. MacKay, who has manned the booth himself, has pointed people to several Queens restaurants, including the Lemon Ice King of Corona.

Despite the word-of-mouth, the Lemon Ice King hasn't seen the crowds. And even in the best of years, Barbaccia said that the impact is minimal.

"Sometimes a limo will pull up and the driver will buy some ices," said Barbaccia, who has been running the Lemon Ice King for 20 years.

But there are signs that things might change in the future. MacKay pointed to a recent experience he had at the tourism booth, where a tourist asked about staying in Queens next year.

"One person from Wisconson came up to me and said, 'I've been going here seven years. I want to stay in a hotel in Queens next year.'

"Be it ever so small," MacKay said, "there's something going on."