2013-11-15 / Front Page

Shopping Center Rebounding

By Dan Guarino

Inside the Key Food on Rockaway Beach Boulevard near Beach 88th Street, new display cases, refrigeration cabinets and cashier stations are being put in, more than a year after Sandy. Photos by Dan Guarino Inside the Key Food on Rockaway Beach Boulevard near Beach 88th Street, new display cases, refrigeration cabinets and cashier stations are being put in, more than a year after Sandy. Photos by Dan Guarino More than a year after Sandy, the shopping center on Rockaway Beach Boulevard remains a symbol of Sandy’s lingering effects. Just a few of the 18 stores managed to open in the months after Sandy and the largest business of all – Key Food – has stood as an empty shell. Even its sign was damaged. The huge letters in the front read “Key Fo,” just another sad reminder of Sandy’s wrath.

But now, there’s hope.

The shopping center known as the Dayton Shopping Center or The Key Food Shopping Center by many is officially called Rockaway Commons. Its owner, Ari Malekan, said, “Aaron’s Appliances just opened, Family Dollar before Thanksgiving, and the Adult Day Care Center should be this week.” In addition to the businesses opening, the parking lot of the shopping center which stretches from Beach 90th Street to Beach 84th Street is getting new black top in spots.

Before Hurricane Sandy, the shopping center was home to a supermarket and several thriving shops, food places, services and offices, a large chain drug store and a large clothing store.

Hurricane Sandy damaged roofs and delivered 5-6 feet of water causing some of the businesses to close for good.

Speculation has centered around the large Key Food store, the only supermarket in the immediate area, and when, or even if, it would reopen.

Store owner Rafael Diaz stated “We lost everything. All the equipment, the merchandise, the electrical systems, the plumbing. We’ve had to redo everything.”

And it looks like they’re almost there.

Inside the huge, now empty store, are new display and refrigeration cases, lighting and cashier stations, and more activity has been seen around the store than at any time since the storm.

As far as when they will be ready to reopen, Diaz explained, “I was planning on Labor Day, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas. Now it looks like next year.”

But progress is being made. “We started work in March. We’re expanding all departments. There’s a new design” he said.

Diaz said the roof was also damaged. Of all the damage, Diaz said, “Well, it’s cost over $2 million to rebuild and it’s still going.”

Diaz has had his hands full. He also owns the Key Food outlet on Beach 105th Street.

About that store, he said a full rebuild is needed there as well. As to when or even whether it will reopen, Diaz said, “it’s too early (to tell) still.”

While Key Food in Rockaway Commons gets ever closer, some are already eager to get started. Oleg Yavorovskiy said enthusiastically, “We’re opening next week.” Yavorovskiy owns and operates the Heritage Adult Day care Center.

Executive Director Kevin Alexander of Rockaway Development and Revitalization Corporation (RDRC) said, “About two years before Sandy, we put together plans for downtown Far Rockaway and this area.”

One current idea RDRC is working on with the Department of Traffic, Alexander said, is upgrading the boulevard and developing a distinct look to the area, “so you will know you are in the Rockaway commercial corridor.”

Alexander said, “We also want to see the merchants organizing here. “We have a grand vision of what can be,” Alexander noted. “The bottom line is we can contribute much more to the pot and towards the revenues of New York City.”

Property owner Malekan said repairs including new sidewalks will be a great draw for customers. “This is a golden area. This could be like the Hamptons, without the drive.”

And business levels right now? “It’s a major concern right now,” Malekan said. “We are expecting steep increases.”

New to the block and the Rockaway peninsula, Aaron’s Appliances General Manager Susan Haynes noted, “Business has been very good. Better than expected.

“Post-Sandy,” she says, “I know there are a lot of families, a lot of people who lost a lot of things.”

But citing new homes being built, residents moving back and new residents moving in, Haynes foresees “a lot of development” in the next three to five years.

“The area is very much developing and developing fast,” she commented.

New businesses like Aaron’s, she states, may be inspiring “other people to take a look, to consider coming back, to think maybe the area is coming back.”

At the other end of the mall, Mello Magic sneaker outlet, in business at Rockaway Commons for six years, is one of the returning pre-storm shops.

The manager there said, “We came back in February.

“Most of the old businesses didn’t come back,” he said, “but a lot of new ones are coming. A lot of new businesses are coming.”

And business now?

“Business is not as good as it was, but it’s getting better and better. Slowly, but it’s getting better.”

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