Since 2016, community members of Jackson Heights have been pushing back against the construction of a Target. Heskel Group and Sun Equity Partners purchased the site on 82nd street to build a 13-story commercial and luxury apartment building. Though the rezoning plan was retracted due to protesters, the plan to build a two story mall with corporate stores such as Starbucks and Target was proposed. Though it is technically illegal to build a mall in a residential area intended only for small stores under 10,000 sq ft, Target succeeded through finding a loophole by building their store underground. As a predominately low-income and immigrant neighborhood, the big-box retail store poses a threat as it may increase the price of rent and displace residents; create traffic to Elmhurst hospital; negatively impact small businesses; and attract more developers to the area. Mei, the store owner of Mei Mei Gift Shop, was forced to close her shop after her landlord raised her rent after stating “this is going to be a luxury neighborhood now.”
As an effort to raise awareness of the gentrification in Queens, these photos of community members in Jackson Heights highlight the perspective of people who are impacted by the Target development. Small business owners such as Helen Rivera and Leandra Requena share their views as they are located next to the lot. James McMenamin and Eleanor Batchelder are also residents who actively fight against the developers and corporations that threaten to displace and gentrify their community.
Kenny Hong is the owner of Mango Rico, a grocery store constantly bustling with customers. He said he is not worried about competing with Target, as they do not sell produce. However, he expressed his issues with the congested one way road that Mango Rico shares with Target. The Q29 bus stops right in front of Mango Rico and Target, and the road is always blocked with the bus, trucks unloading products, and cars passing through. Hong states that he thinks once Target opens, the road will be even more crowded but there isn’t anything he can do because they are a big business.
“It’s unfair that Target won’t receive tax cuts as much as my business and other businesses like mine. I’ve been working here longer, 40 years now,” says Leandra Requena, the co-owner of a small clothing and goods shop. She states that Target will attract more customers than her business despite selling mass produced cheap garments. As an activist and community member, she attended the rallies protesting the Target when the proposals first came about. Requena has also protested the plan to build a stadium for Major League Soccer in Corona Park in 2012. She blames Francisco Moya, the council member representing neighborhoods such as East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Corona. She shared her frustrations with the fact that the city and politicians like Moya choose to allocate money to development projects rather than helping low income communities and small businesses.
David Ortega is the owner of Ortega Unisex Salon and Barber Shop. When asked about the Target, he stated there’s nothing that can be done because Target is a big business and whatever happens is out of his control. Though aware of the issues it may cause such as the rise in rent, he says that he will continue focusing on working and making money as a small business owner.
Helen Rivera and Ludy Jamarillo
Helen Rivera, the owner of the clothing store selling Colombian and U.S.-made garments had an optimistic view on the Target development. She states, “In general, most of the impression is negative but I believe that because my store carries different products from Target, we can continue business as usual.” Rivera says that the rent in the area has already gone up since retail stores like Banana Republic and Old Navy came into the neighborhood along 82nd street. She expresses, “I think it is a good thing that the neighborhood is improving and it will bring in more people outside of Jackson Heights. This is just a part of progress and people come and go.”
(Ludy translated for Helen during this interview)
James McMenamin is a long-time resident of Jackson Heights and a preservationist. He is a vice-president of the Elmhurst History & Cemeteries Preservation Society and part of the Newtown Civic Association. McMenamin has been active in fighting for the preservation of historical sites and cemeteries in old Queens neighborhoods such as Elmhurst. When discussing the Target, he recalls the time where he used to go to the Jackson Theater as a child that used to be located in the lot that is now the Target. He talked about the lack of care and compassion from politicians who are the ones who make these changes to the neighborhood despite its impact on people.
Eleanor Batchelder has lived in New York for many years, and Jackson Heights for three years. As part of various grassroots organization groups, she has consistently fought against gentrification and development in immigrant neighborhoods in New York City. She described the impression of the Target by the residents in the neighborhood, “There’s a big class difference here. Most people I associate with are dimly aware of the Target but not particularly disturbed by it. I think they see that area, South Roosevelt, as an immigrant community that’s not very clean or desirable.” The class difference in Jackson Heights prevents those living outside the affected area to see the detrimental impact of gentrification. Batchelder also described the dynamic between politics and the real estate industry that creates this very issue and makes it difficult to fight against: “All the people in politics don’t call it gentrification. They call it economic development, and for them it’s a good thing because they can’t get re-elected without it.”
In her statement in an article in Queens Chronicle, Batchelder stated, “Gentrification is about economics, rent, prices, taxes… But it is also and more deeply about community. We who live in this neighborhood are not just statistics. We are real people... But to Target we are nothing but potential customers. Target is not interested in our lives.”