QUEENS — The annual holiday lights that decorated a busy commercial strip in Forest Hills for more than 20 years will go dark this year due to lack of funding, the organizers said.
For years the white, snowflake-shaped lights along Austin Street and Continental Avenue — which host a mixture of mom-and-pop shops and big chains such as Gap and Sephora — were installed and maintained by a company hired by the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber would collect about $15,000 a year to maintain the lights, mostly from local property owners, while paying the remaining costs such as electricity and insurance out of its own pocket, according to its president, Leslie Brown.
Years ago, local merchants also contributed to the display, but over the past decade most shop owners stopped chipping in, she said.
At the same time, property owners also decreased their donations, with one major contributor upset that “the merchants don’t pay their fair share” bowing out of the initiative this year, said Brown, who would not reveal the name of the donor.
In 2015 and 2016, the chamber distributed flyers to merchants along the commercial strip asking them to contribute $100 or more in order to keep the “lights shining in Forest Hills for the holidays," Brown said.
However, only three merchants donated money last year, Brown noted.
On Monday, about a dozen business owners and their employees queried about the issue said they were either not aware of the effort to raise money or didn't believe that installing holiday lights was an effective way to boost their business.
"It's not a major factor prompting people to shop," said Chris Tang, who owns Violet’s Bake Shoppe.
Dmitry Toscano, owner of Dmitry Ties, voiced a similar opinion.
"I don't think they do anything to help the businesses, so I'd rather invest that money in my store," he said of the lights.
Toscano added that the chamber should instead focus on encouraging store owners to decorate their window displays along the street.
"It's like a junk street now, only a few stores look nice," he said.
However, local residents residents said they would miss the lights.
"It's always nice to have some holiday decorations," said Karina Bucholtz, 38, who lives in the neighborhood and shops on Austin Street on a regular basis. "They get you in the holiday spirit."