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Beach 116th Street Merchants See Positive Road Ahead

From the dawn of the early 1900s, Beach 116th Street, then known as Fifth Avenue, has been the main commercial shopping and transportation hub on Rockaway’s west end. Starting as a quiet, tree-lined block with a few stores and a train platform, today it looks starkly different. However, amidst the changes and challenges including aggressive panhandling, homelessness, keeping the area clean and surviving the lean winter months, merchants are optimistic about Beach 116th’s resurgence as Rockaway’s Fifth Avenue. The Rockaway Times reached out to business owners to find out what is needed to keep business booming and the area welcoming to both residents and visitors alike.

For Tom Murphy, proprietor of butcher shop, Curran’s Superior Meats, it all boils down to business owners sticking together. “It could be as good as we want it to be or as bad as we don’t want it to be. Curran’s has been serving Rockaway since 1960, and I took over in 2006. As time has gone by with all the condos being built and both the old and new stores, I see potential for the area. Each business should make sure their storefronts are kept clean, so our customers feel comfortable. Curran’s has customers coming from all over—both east and west, including Breezy and Broad Channel. After Sandy, like much of Rockaway, we took a hit, but we came back and were able to bring our staff back. Thankfully, Covid didn’t affect us as much, and again, I was able to keep my staff employed. Also, as business owners, we have to patronize each other. For example, the Brazilian Tex-Mex, which is next door to Curran’s, I go there all the time. Their food is great, and they appreciate the business.”

For over 100 years, residents and visitors have enjoyed making memories and drinking pints at Rogers, Rockaway’s longest standing Irish Pub. Since taking ownership of the pub, the McMahon family has worked hard to bring back the old Rogers Hotel, plus made significant renovations to the bar.

“With our repeat Manhattan customers, the hotel is booked all the way to Thanksgiving and end-of-year holidays. Also, our party room has become popular for folks looking to host not just festive events, but also meetings. Each and every one of the business owners is trying so hard to upkeep the area and preserve it as the shopping and dining destination on the west end of Rockaway. One way or the other, we need support from local officials and the NYPD to keep the area safe. We had a meeting this past Friday about the quality-of-life issues on Beach 116th, and over 80 people showed up. People want to see the area cleaned up for the better,” McMahon said.

Rocco’s of Roc Beach owner, Vinny P. agrees that merchants are looking to local pols for help. “The homeless situation in the area is a problem, but we know local pols, such as Councilwoman Joann Ariola, are working their hardest to find a solution. From day one, Rocco’s has been packed and busy. Customers love us for our handmade, fresh, made-to-order bread, pasta, mozzarella and more. Also, from day one, we support local businesses such as The Rockaway Times and others. We have to support each other for the community to get even better,” Vinny P. said.

Rob Pisani, owner of All American Bagel & Barista Station, is no stranger in Rockaway’s business community as he owns eateries not just on Beach 116th, but also on Beach 129th, Broad Channel and Howard Beach. According to Pisani, businesses look forward to busy summer seasons to survive the winter. However, this year, the beach closures did affect some businesses. “From the NYPD, FDNY, teachers and local residents, the community has truly supported us. Also, the foot traffic from tourists has been much better this summer. All American only carries top-of-the-line products and offer great service. However, as with any business owner in Rockaway, you hope for a busy summer to keep you afloat throughout the winter. This is why we need the beach open in the summer months,” Pisani said.

Fitness studio, Orangetheory, located steps aways from the beach, just opened its doors this year, and according to proprietor, Matt Long, the community’s response has been unbelievable. He shared, “On any given day, we have between 185 to 220 people coming to 116th just to workout at Orangetheory. Though the area has its challenges, we don’t plan on going anywhere. As the Rockaway Business Alliance has folded, we are organizing to form another alliance, “Merchants of Beach 116th Street.” Each and every one of the business owners are trying so hard to upkeep the area and preserve it as the shopping destination on the west end,” Long said.

The Rockaway Times reached out to Councilwoman Joann Ariola’s office to see what she’s doing to drive the area’s success as a thriving, safe and clean shopping, dining and living destination. Her office released the following statement:

“On Friday, September 16, my office helped to organize a meeting at Rogers Pub in which several business owners and residents were able to come and discuss any concerns and issues they may have about Beach 116th Street. We listened to everything that was said at that meeting, and will be in close contact with the NYPD and the appropriate city agencies to make sure that all of the issues spoken about can be resolved. It’s my hope and the hope of many others that through this kind of joint action, we can raise the quality of life there and help not only attract new shoppers, but also attract new businesses. Additionally, we are working with the Queens Chamber of Commerce to organize a Merchants Association on the block as well, which will help to promote local businesses and improve the area.”

Over 10 decades, Beach 116th has survived fires, floods, hurricanes and most, recently, the pandemic. However, as all the merchants stated, the area’s commercial resurgence as the “Fifth Avenue of the Rockaways,” will be a community effort.

“There will be challenges, but on a united front we can enjoy success together. It’s about adapting to the environment and again sticking together to beautify the community,” Murphy said.

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