FAR ROCKAWAY — The Thriftway Shopping Center on Mott Avenue has been mostly vacant for decades, but is finally showing signs of life with the installation of the sign for its first new business in 30 years.
A Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins chain, first announced in 2013, is scheduled to open this fall.
It will be the first new addition to the center in three decades, according to Councilman Donovan Richards, who said the opening "is the beginning of the revitalization for downtown Far Rockaway."
The new store is just the beginning of what will hopefully be a full rebirth, including infrastructure improvements and more businesses to the shopping center, he said.
The center, owned by Queens real estate mogul Rita Stark, is across from the Mott Avenue A train hub, near the LIRR and right on the bustling Mott Avenue. It once thrived, but had struggled through years of neglect and vacancies.
The elusive Stark, whose family owns properties around Queens, ignored calls from the local community board who wanted to work with her to improve the eyesore.
But three years ago she reached out to Jonathan Gaska, district manager of Community Board 14, who said at first he thought it was a prank call.
It wasn't. Stark, who did not return a call seeking comment for the story, said she wanted to fix up Thriftway.
She met with Gaska and other pols including Richards, who invited her to drive around Far Rockaway and see the progress being made in the decades of decline at the shopping center.
"She actually did it," Richards said.
"She did take our recommendation and she got to see that she is basically the last holdout in terms of revitalization of downtown Far Rockaway."
The city is also planning infrastructure improvements to Mott Avenue, funded with FEMA money from Hurricane Sandy.
There are other businesses who may open up at the shopping center, but it's too early to say, Richards said.
Mike Popal, who has operated a Halal cart outside the shopping center for a decade, said he's hoping for restaurants, chain stores and even a gym.
"You want bigger places and establishments, then it brings more to the community, more jobs," he said.
"The fact that Dunkin Donuts is opening up is hopefully a good sign of things to come," Gaska said.
"It's a baby step forward and it's not something we're used to down here."