BY LYNN EDMONDS
Thirty years ago, Borough President Claire Shulman has said, Main Street in Flushing didn’t have a single business except for a stationary shop. But then immigrants from Taiwan came to settle in the area. They were followed by others from mainland China and Korea. Restaurants and small businesses began popping up. So did malls and luxury housing. Now Flushing holds New York’s second largest Chinatown, behind Sunset Park in Brooklyn but in front of Manhattan. Most Chinese people in Flushing speak Mandarin, unlike in Manhattan’s Chinatown where most speak Cantonese.
To those who like bustle, Downtown Flushing can be a rush. To those who don’t, it can be a sensory overload. The intersection of Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue is the biggest pedestrian intersection in New York City after Herald Square. The Queens Library Flushing branch is the most-visited in the borough.
Flushing draws many visitors for grocery shopping and eating. The area’s many Asian supermarkets, like the one found in the New World Mall, have Asian vegetables as well as excellent deals on other produce. Restaurant-wise, diners can find cheaper and tastier Chinese and Korean food than they can find elsewhere in the borough.
In that, visitors have an opportunity to try some classic treats for the first time: bubble tea, flaky pastries with red bean paste inside, sweet shredded pork sandwiches and food courts that offer no-frills but exceptionally well-cooked meals.
The food courts serve the older bachelors, the busy workers, and all the people who don’t have the time or the ability too cook but may not have the money to spend on restaurant fare and tips. Instead, one can build one’s own meal, getting four main courses, steaming hot white rice and a clear-broth soup for only $4.50. Some of the choices are fried chicken or pork glazed with sweet and sour sauce, and steamed greens and bok choi that are perfectly salted and deftly cooked to bring out the full force of their natural flavor. Diners eat out of a Styrofoam tray, enjoying a silent solidarity with the strangers at their table as they pass one another the vinegar or the soy sauce, or make room for a mother with a stroller to squeeze between the tightly packed chairs. The best part is that the portions are generous enough to make a second meal, in many cases.
Flushing is continuing to transform with the western edge, adjacent to Flushing Creek, slated for major redevelopment. Parts of the project include rezoning to allow for 1,000s of units of residential housing as well as opening up the waterfront to the public and taking the industrial edge off the area.
One landmark in downtown Flushing that is devoted to celebrating the neighborhood’s diversity is St. George’s Episcopal Church. The church, founded in 1702, holds services in English, Chinese and Spanish.
Flushing Town Hall is also home to multicultural arts performances and exhibition spaces, as well as being a community gathering place on some occasions. The historic building was built in 1862 and leaders of the village of Vlissingen, as Flushing was once called, used to govern from that building.
The building is a relic of Flushing’s rich history. The area was first settled by the Dutch in 1645, and then by English colonists. It is considered the birthplace of religious freedom because The Flushing remonstrance, signed in 1657, signaled the right for Quakers, and others who were barred from practicing their religion freely, to do so without fear of punishment.
The John Bowne House and the Old Quaker Meeting House are other landmarks that speak to this history. Additionally, Old Flushing Burial Ground is the resting place where many African Americans were buried in the 17th and 18th centuries.
A more commercialized landmark in the downtown area is Sky View Parc a large, luxurious mall with Target, B.J.s, Home Depot and other large retailers, and Queens Crossing, a smaller mall in the center of downtown and the New World Mall, “New York’s largest Asian Indoor Mall,” which is known for its food court.
Flushing borders the eastern part of Flushing Meadows Corona Park and located within Flushing is the beautiful Queens Botanical Garden. Like New York City, every “neighborhood” within the garden is different: there’s a meadow, a rose garden, an herb garden, an American garden and a wedding garden.
Aside from the densely populated downtown area, Flushing also technically encompasses several more suburban neighborhoods: Linden Hill, Broadway-Flushing, Murray Hill, Auburndale, Kissena Park, Queensboro Hill, Pomonok, Flushing Heights and Hillcrest.
Flushing is accessible by the 7 train and the LIRR.