By Georgia Kourkoumelis
Gentrification has been on rise in recent years and has become evident in our neighborhood due to its impact on local businesses in Astoria, Queens. This change in the community has caused many small businesses to be bought out by big developers. Many residents and business owners experience this impact on a daily basis. From small mom-and-pop businesses shutting down after years of operation, to residents having to travel far distances and pay high prices for groceries, gentrification has transformed the landscape of Astoria and raised the cost of living for many neighborhood natives.
The Ditmars staple, Pizza Palace, has shut its doors in June of this year after being open for forty years. Known for its beloved slices, red and white pinstriped exterior, and carousel that so many Astorians grew up with, the institution has gathered an expansive following not just from New Yorkers, but also from people around the country. Manuel Esteban, an Astoria local who grew up going to the restaurant, took to Facebook live to share his thoughts about the news. “It’s been like the Ditmars city hall, this has been the meeting spot for everything. If you’re meeting friends growing up in Astoria you would always say, ‘let’s meet at Pizza Palace.’” said Esteban.
Pizza Palace closed with a “Thank You For 50 Years Sign” Source: Georgia Kourkoumelis
Clearly, many people are devastated by the news and are eager to see what will be done with the space. Neighborhood residents speculate that the owner was bought out by a developer who wanted to take advantage of its superb location. The closure of Home Comfort next door has further strengthened this expectation as there is now a large chunk of real estate available in the up and coming area. Miki Koumis has lived in the Ditmars neighborhood for 20 years and when asked what she believes the space will become she said, “I am not sure, but if it’s not a luxury apartment building, I’m assuming it will be bought by a big-name corporation.” Koumis’ perspective is one that many locals can attest to as gentrification comes along in patterns, and this pattern is starting to become familiar.
The emergence of a new residential building offering luxury condominiums has raised awareness of this new type of developmental gentrification that is occurring in the area. The Rowan, developed by DXA Studios, has reportedly broken the record for most expensive condo sold in the neighborhood at a final price of $1,699,000 (City Realty). Considering the fact that the building is also located on 31st Street, down the block from the now closed Pizza Palace, it is a very symbolic attribute that signifies what is occurring with Astoria’s real estate perfectly.
“The ideal solution to gentrification would be one that allows for the positives of the process to benefit all residents in a community—both existing and incoming—without anyone being displaced.”(Stephanie Waldek, House Beautiful)
Most Astorians who have lived in the neighborhood their whole lives are upset at seeing the sudden change in landscape. Astoria local Selini Kois expresses, “It is heartbreaking seeing all these small businesses, some of which have been established for 50 years, be taken away from the community and being replaced with chains. It’s getting hard to live here.” They feel their memories are being erased by major corporations and luxury apartment developments. But gentrification can also lead to new opportunities and allows neighborhoods to become more modern and safer in most cases. Wayne Norbeck of The Rowan developer DMX Studios emphasized this when he said, “A rare combination of sweeping city views, dramatic ceiling heights, and immersive garden spaces that frame the community” when highlighting what the condominium complex has to offer. Additionally, the neighborhood can bring in more people to support local businesses as well with its new gained spotlight amongst young people. Whether you support the revitalization of Ditmars is up to you, but always remember to contribute responsibly and pay respect to the local institutions and inhabitants.
Vacant stores next door to the Rowan. Source: Georgia Kourkoumelis