BY JON CRONIN
Commercial real estate on popular thoroughfares has always followed an ebb and flow, and Forest Hills’ Austin Street is no exception.
Last year, the street saw its long-time Barnes & Noble bookstore shuttered due to rent increases, but now a busy Target store has taken its place. The street is bustling and those that can pay, stay.
Of the dozens of stores in and around the shopping magnet, only a handful is completely empty.
There are currently two empty storefronts on Austin Street near Ascan Avenue. One is the former burger and fries joint Twist and Smash’d, which has been closed for a year.
Sam Mizrahi, a Century 21 commercial real estate broker who has that listing, said that the owners were being “particular” as to how they intend to fill the space. He noted that the owners wanted to make sure that the new tenants have “good financials.”
Currently, property owners in the area are being “extra cautious” in choosing retailers for empty storefronts, Mizrahi said. He said that some are competing with internet businesses, while others are leaving retail spaces in favor of selling only on the internet.
A little farther west down the street at 71-53 Austin St., the lot has been empty for several years. Last year, an urgent-care medical office was planned to be built there, but the deal fell through.
The city’s Department of Buildings issued a stop-work order at the property on Oct. 30, 2014, after developers completely demolished the building, including the foundation, without a demolition permit. A DOB spokesman stated that the owner was issued an alteration permit on April 11, 2013, but this did not allow for the demolition of the building. The stop-work order is still active.
In January, the building’s owner, Jerry Lebedewicz, operating under the name Austin Street Property LLC, filed a plan for a new seven-story mixed-use building, but it failed to garner the DOB’s approval at the end of February on the grounds that the application was incomplete.
“The applicant may schedule a new plan exam with the department and return with a fully completed application if they intend to proceed with this project,” a DOB spokesman said.
In February, Forest Hills residents sighed with relief after it was announced that the owner of the property on the eastern side of 70th Road would not be developing it for a 12-story mixed-use building.
Many residents, especially those of Lane Towers next door to the property, did not want to lose the popular restaurants located there. The developer never gave a reason for scrapping what would have been an as-of-right development.
“There’s always an empty store, somebody coming or going. It’s the same on Metropolitan Avenue,” said Frank Gulluscio, district manager of Community Board 6.
Gulluscio believes that the ebb and flow on the commercial strip will not change anything, and the economic tax base that exists will continue to positively affect the area.