Back In Business
Pickles & Pies with their new awning on Beach 116 street.
By John McLoughlin
Grab a slice of pizza. Pick up a container of milk. Get bagels and cake. Purchase some school supplies for the kids. Rent a video. Buy a new stereo. Don't forget to get a haircut. And when that's all done with, relax on a leather couch with an imported cigar. No, this doesn't require a commute into Manhattan. These services are available right on Beach 116 street, the business district on the west end of Rockaway.
Five years ago Beach 116 street had a number of empty stores, and business was bleak for many merchants. Residents were fearful of walking around the block at night, and sometimes during the day, as hoodlums made the corners their hangouts.
Some locals see little change on the block, but merchants overwhelmingly agree that things have improved for the better. Only a handful of stores on the beach block of 116 street are vacant, merchants have made significant investments into their businesses and many agree that the block is safer and cleaner.
Recent investment into properties is evident. Pickles & Pies, a 24-hour grocery store/deli on the corner of the street, placed a new, bright blue awning on their building. Having purchased the store three years ago, this family-owned business continues to improve its services and products, offering groceries, deli, produce, soda/beer, dairy and household/personal items. Joe Omairat, the well-known manager of Pickles & Pies, said the store's getting "better every single day." He added that the "customers have been good" and there has been an increase in safety with "cops on the corner most of the time."
Joe and his family have owned a store in Brooklyn for 20 years, but have grown so attached to Rockaway that they are looking to purchase a house in the area.
Another family-owned business on the block, Ciro's Pizza & Restaurant, has been on the block for 18 years and has recently renovated. The pizzeria, which offers only freshly made food and delivers from Beach 69 street to Breezy Point, offers a congenial environment. Surrounded by murals, painted by Rockaway artist Geoff Rawling, many customers feel they've left Rockaway and get a little of Italy when they walk through the doors of the restaurant. Angelo, owner of Ciro's, said their pizza's secret ingredient is "love and dedication," something they extend to the community. Ciro's frequently donates pizza to local religious organizations on the peninsula.
Angelo was quick to add that there are "more people around" on the block and "safety-wise, things are improving."
Just across from Ciro's, and a few stores down, is the BBC Department Store, in the old Woolworth's building. Originally a small 99-cent store four years ago, the owners of the BBC occupied the Woolworth's building after that establishment went out of business. Alberto and Israel, the father-son team who own the BBC, carry everything from jeans to televisions and VCRs. The bet is whatever you're looking for, you'll find it in the BBC.
Israel told The Wave that he also owns the property extending from Woolworth's to the corner, formerly Beach Drugs. He is presently in discussions to bring a Pizza Hut/Taco Bell to that location, and is considering a kosher deli for another storefront he owns on the block. Israel reiterated the point of other merchants, saying that he has received "a lot of support from police" and has seen an increase in business.
Rogoff's Cards and Gifts, no longer owned by the Rogoff family but still known for offering everything from cards and gifts to games and school supplies, is another seven day a weeks store that said the "local community is very supportive" and "cops are always on the block."
A few stores down, Station Liquors and Terry's Tobacco, owned and operated by the Hughes brothers, offers fine wines, lottery, cigars, pipes and a smoking lounge for those who just want to "chill out."
And the list continues of stores that improve the area. The Beach Club, owned by Steve and Kenny Good, are not only known for their "fine food", but continue to impact the community by supporting various programs and projects. Within the past few years the Good's reinvested in their restaurant, adding The Ocean Room for catering occasions.
Still, some people like to get a quick bite at Last Stop Gourmet Shop, purchase clothing at Fashion Wave, Clothesliner or Jilly's Sports (above The Gift Is Love--a popular spot to buy gifts), have their VCR repaired at Rockaway Video, get tools and other odds and ends from Brown's Hardware and S.R. Plumbing & Home Center, take-out (or sit down) at a number of Chinese restaurants on the block, get a seven layer cake at Harbor Bakery, or purchase the New York Times at the Tobacconist.
Completing the block is Baskin Robins, Dunkin Donuts, Harbor Wine, Rockaway Beach Surf Shop, numerous real estate offices, florists, hair salons and grocery stores, and three banks.
Merchants from the block hope business will continue to grow, and residents would like more of a selection. Many locals would like to see further investment on the block, such as a men's clothing store and a music/book store, and an effort on behalf of the business owners to keep the block clean.
Other initiatives have been taken by the Rockaway Park Business Development Association to beautify the merchant strip, and recently the newly organized Rockaway Task Force plans to address the dilapidated hotels and property at the end of the beach block.
With safer streets and a noticeable increase in customers, Beach 116 street might just be "back in business."
(Look for stories on other merchant districts throughout the Rockaway peninsula in future editions)