Corona Shops Struggle to Stay Afloat

QueensLatino visited 103rd Street between Roosevelt and 39th Avenues in Corona, Queens, to find out how Latino business owners are being affected by the still-lingering economic crisis.

Socorro Sánchez, owner of a shop that sells Mexican religious items, says with or without recession, it’s a constant struggle to keep her business afloat. (Photo by Antonia Colodro via Queens Latino)

“I’m at the point of closing my business,” said Carmen Delasco, owner of Trapitos, a second-hand clothing shop on 103rd Street. “I’ve been selling clothing for 12 years, but these last three years have been very hard. The rent keeps rising every year and sales keep dropping.”

Delasco is one of thousands of business owners in Corona who have seen their sales decline significantly since the government declared an economic recession in 2009.

According to a report by the office of New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, the local economy grew in the neighborhoods of Corona, Elmhurst, and Jackson Heights from 2004 to 2008, but since the recession began, growth has been falling by 1.5% each year.

“I’m definitely feeling the effects of the crisis,” said Delasco. “This business used to be my way of earning a living. I’ve always survived off it, but now I’m not only having trouble paying the rent; it’s also a struggle to find enough money to cover my personal expenses.”

The report from DiNapoli’s office shows that approximately half the business owners in northeastern Queens spend more than 30% of their income on rent, while a quarter of the most vulnerable businesses spend more than 50% of their earnings on rent.

For Ecuadorian Luis Uzhca, the owner of the bodega La Favorita, rent costs is what has hit him hardest during the economic downturn. “The rent is probably three or four times higher than what it was 20 years ago,” said Uzhca. “Between the water, the electricity and the gas, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to pay the bills.”

According to a report by the Pratt Center for Community Development, the wages of Queens residents have fallen by 6% over the past decade, while rent prices for housing and commercial establishments has risen by 7%.

However, there are certain types of businesses that benefit from the crisis. The pawn shop the Barlian Corp., on 103rd Street between Roosevelt and 39th Avenues, is one of them.

“There are certain industries that do better when the economy gets worse, like bars and pawn shops,” said Monica Guevara, manager of the Business Outreach Center (BOC), a nonprofit that supports the city’s small business owners.

According to the manager of The Barlian, the number of clients they have has increased by 10-15% in the last few years. “Since people don’t have money, they pawn off their jewelry and gold,” said the 32-year-old manager, who identified himself only as Guillermo. “We operate as a bank. People need a loan, we give it to them, and afterwards they pay us an interest.”

Oswaldo’s jewelry shop has suffered during the recession. (Photo by Antonia Colodro via Queens Latino)

In contrast, Joyeria de Oswaldo (Oswaldo’s Jewelry), on 103rd Road, has seen sales fall in recent years. “I only sell jewelry; I don’t operate as a pawn shop,” said Oswaldo. “People are buying jewelry less and less. How can you expect people to buy from you when they don’t have work?”

Three years ago, Oswaldo was a victim of an attack on his store. “They stole almost half of my jewelry. They beat me in the head and I had to be hospitalized,” he said.

According to reports by Ronald Leyson, the chief of the 110th Precinct, crime has risen in Corona by 16% over the past few years, especially robberies of private homes and small businesses.

For other business owners along 103rd Street, they haven’t experienced big changes during the crisis; rather, it’s always been a constant struggle to stay afloat. “For me, it’s a balance,” said Socorro Sanchez, who owns a shop that sells Mexican religious items.

“I’ve always seen good days and bad days at my business. I continue to fight to keep my business going. I can’t let bad days bring me all the way down. You have to keep a positive outlook, crisis or no crisis.”

The businesses located along 103rd Street remind us that not all commercial establishments share the same struggle during an economic downturn. Business owners in Corona have diverse experiences, just like the immigrants that live in the area.

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