College Point

College Point Boulevard in downtown Flushing is a strip of land that borders College Point and Flushing. It used to be a rather isolated place because of its waterfront location near the Flushing Bay and the East River, where factories and industries operated. The pollution generated from manufacturing prevented anyone but the working class from settling there. The industrial nature of College Point Boulevard was influenced by College Point, the first of the two neighborhoods which constituted the “first wave” of people who lived on College Point Boulevard.

Years ago, we used to say the only reason anyone would know about College Point is if you lived here, worked here, or if you were lost. Fred Mazzarello

“Years ago, we used to say the only reason anyone would know about College Point is if you lived here, worked here, or if you were lost,” said Fred J. Mazzarello, president of the College Point Board of Trade representing local businesses, which he founded in 1969. Manufacturer Conrad Poppenhusen arrived in College Point in 1854 and turned it into a virtual company town. Poppenhusen opened a large hard rubber factory and employed many immigrant workers. He also built the North Side Railroad (now a part of the LIRR Port Washington line), water and sewage systems, a library, and the Poppenhusen Institute-the historic building that housed the first free kindergarten in America.

College Point itself was a predominately white neighborhood but as wealthy white residents began to move to the suburbs, the only people left in were those in the working class. Hence, the “first wave” of industrial workers in College Point Boulevard were mostly white, but as the third wave of immigration began to take place during the 1960s and 1970s, College Point began to receive many Asian immigrants and as a result, Asian workers and businesses began to replace the predominantly white industries and workers.

Flushing Influences and History

Similarly, Flushing, the neighborhood right next to College Point, was also a predominately white neighborhood. Its proximity to Manhattan was a desirable residential area, which was a major factor to its increasing population growth. After the mid- 1860s there were 30,429 residents. As a result of crowding and industrial developments in Flushing, many white residents moved to the suburbs in Long Island.

Starting in the 1970s, Flushing started to have a Chinese community. The first wave of Chinese immigrants were from Taiwan and the Taiwanese developed Flushing’s Chinatown. It was known as Little Taipei or Little Taiwan. Flushing differed from Manhattan’s Chinatown greatly because in Manhattan’s Chinatown, the Chinese immigrants were predominantly Cantonese, had poor housing conditions, and attained little education. Flushing’s immigrants had a higher education and socioeconomic status and thus created a better standard of living.


Source: The Newest New Yorkers: Characteristics of the City’s Foreign-Born Population from the Department of City Planning

Over the course of the third wave, many new non-Cantonese Chinese immigrants from different parts of China started to arrive in Flushing. Thus, Flushing’s population became very diverse because of the various dialects and cultures within the Chinese community. Flushing has now become the new Chinatown and has an ever increasing Asian population. With a total population of 94,418 in 2011, the number of foreign-born was 63,920, which constitutes 67.7% of Flushing’s population, the highest in any neighborhood in Northeast Queens, as well as the second highest in all of Queens.


Main Street, Flushing before


Main Street, Flushing now

Despite the industrial nature, there are a few pariahs along the boulevard, such as Kanes Diner and Our Wines and Spirits. Kanes Diner encapsulates the old folksy character from College Point and has been in business for 45 years. The diner is “world famous” and many celebrities have dined there. Our Wines and Spirits, on the other hand, is a fairly new liquor store that has been in business for three years, and is right by the newest shopping mall center, Sky View Mall.

Because of the way the neighborhood has changed I'm the only American guy left. George Kanes

What links these two businesses together is that they are both thriving amidst the newest developments along College Point Boulevard and the increasing immigration and overcrowding in Flushing. Sky View Mall, which was built in 2010, has attracted  many customers from all over Flushing, Corona, and Jackson Heights because of its easy access to hypermarkets such as Target, BJs, Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and TJ Maxx.

Moreover, above the mall, there are new luxury condominiums, which have been one of the most expensive places to live in Flushing (a unit can range from $395,000 to $1.39 million). Besides the development of Sky View Mall, College Point Boulevard has become the desired location for a lot of new businesses and residential construction because of its vast land that has been abandoned by industrial plants from the past. An example of a current development is Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recently approved MIH ZQA bill. One of the proposal’s first developments is in Flushing West, which is located right along College Point Boulevard and the Flushing Creek. The proposal wants to build new, affordable, housing for lower-middle incomes.

The new Sky View Towers in the background

One might suspect that new developments would create fear among small businesses, but in fact, these storeowners think the opposite. According to a few furniture storeowners we interviewed, such as Hen Tai (恆泰) and Modern Window Fashion, they believe that the new developments attract more customers to come to College Point Boulevard and in turn, attract them to come to their stores, which solidifies College Point Boulevard as a central business district. Moreover, they believe that with the new developments and new businesses springing up, the competition forces these veteran furniture stores to make sure their products are good and consequently forces them to improve themselves in order to appeal to customers.

George Kanes, the owner of Kanes Diner, and Wincy, the manager of Our Wines and Spirits believe that the recent developments are good for their businesses too. 

The Stories of Kanes Diner and Our Wines and Spirits

At that time I said, ‘We're gonna be homeless. We're gonna lose everything. We're gonna be on the streets.' So that drive made me go to work. George Kanes

Kanes Diner has existed for over 45 years, and George has witnessed these developments during this time. He spent his time helping out at Kanes Diner on College Point Boulevard since the early age of six, when his father, Ernest, first bought the place. George would come in almost everyday to wash dishes, mop, clean the windows and peel potatoes-whatever he could do to help his father. Unsurprisingly, he eventually took ownership of the diner, and has been keeping it up and running for about 30 years.

Despite working at the diner from an early age, George didn’t always envision owning it one day. In fact, he initially wanted to attend law school. Unfortunately, his father was hospitalized and his mother “wasn’t in great shape,”  leaving no choice but for him to take over.

“At that time I said, ‘We’re gonna be homeless. We’re gonna lose everything. We’re gonna be on the streets,’” he recalled. “So that drive made me go to work. I saw my dad in the hospital, my mom home with three kids, [the diner] sitting here by itself, so I kind of came to…wake up, not be homeless, not lose everything.”

George, who grew in Jamaica Estates, said that the area surrounding the diner has changed dramatically since the diner’s early days, describing it as “very rough” and filled solely with factories and warehouses with no residential areas. He described it as a “ghost town” with primarily “trucks, concrete, dirt, working guys.”

While College Point Boulevard still has many of these industrial businesses, George said that an influx of Asian immigrants has helped lead to more diverse developments such as the Sky View Center, which has “put downtown Flushing on a worldwide map.” As a result of places like Sky View drawing in customers from all over the world, business at Kanes has increased since its start.

In fact, George has had to gradually change certain aspects of his business to adapt to this influx. For example, he has added large visuals to the menus to accommodate more ethnically diverse customers. He also started serving coffee and hot water in a pot, which he said “is an Asian adjustment.”

George added these hot water pots to cater to the Asian influx of immigrants

“Because of the way the neighborhood has changed I’m the only American guy left,” said George about his diner. He feels that this “one-hundred percent” helps business and has consistently stuck to American-themed foods such as the diner’s “world-famous” steak and eggs.

Fun fact: A speciality at Kanes Diner is the “Viagara Steak.”

Our Wines and Spirits, located a few blocks from Kanes, is another business that has benefitted from the Sky View Center. Unlike Kanes, Our Wines and Spirits has only been there since 2012. Kanes, who is the building’s landlord, described the location of Our Wines and Spirits as a “hot corner.”

The area along College Point Boulevard surrounding our wines and spirits

The business is not only situated directly across from the Skyview Center mall and the expanding Sky View Parc luxury condos, but the New York City Housing Authority’s Bland Housing Projects. According to the store’s spunky manager, Wincy, these surrounding structures affect the business.

Like Wincy, George makes sure to cater to customers of all classes, serving both cheap and high-end foods, and thus receives customers from different socioeconomic statuses.

“Anybody [who] walks in here, they can eat,” he said. “I don’t wanna lose a customer.”

What immediately distinguishes Kanes from other diners are the photographs of famous people who have visited the diner, some vintage-looking, lining the walls. A recent picture of the staff with Ralph Macchio stands out (he filmed here once), and there are other staff photos with Mayor de Blasio (who visited before he became mayor), Mayor Bloomberg, and a signed picture of Brian Williams, whose daughter played tennis in a nearby park. These images make for a homey, personal atmosphere.

Though the diner has been here for 45 years, there have been some bumps along the road. George’s biggest challenge are government agencies that “make it hard sometimes”  with permits and new laws that “come out of nowhere and they come in harder.” For instance, one agency told him he needed a public assembly permit, which cost him “thousands of dollars, sleepless nights, and five inspectors.” He added that it’s burdensome to also deal with the health departments unexpected visits.

He understands that these agencies have duties to carry out, but does not believe it is reasonable to treat a small business such as Kanes like a big business.

“I’m not an Apple phone company,” he said. “I’m a little guy making a living.”

Key to the success of Kanes Diner is maintaining health employee relationships. Kanes currently has about twenty employees (though according to George, it needs a hundred on the weekends when things get busy). His employees generally stay for a while, and his longest-working employee has been at Kanes for 25 years.

“You gotta be flexible [with your employees],” he said.  “We work together, we gotta have each other’s back, we’re human. We blow up sometimes but that’s…OK.”

It's a small business you gotta somehow survive. Stay in the game, stay alive. George Kanes

Back at home in Roslyn, George has two teenage daughters who “live a fairytale life.” He wants to bring his daughters to the diner to help more often to at least learn how to work with people. His brother, who would also help out at the diner as a kid sporadically, is now a monk in a monastery. George wears a black rubber bracelet as a reminder that his brother prays for him.

Business aside, George has learned different life lessons from running the diner, especially from his father, who passed away eight years ago. For starters, George stressed the importance of remaining consistent in everything he does and always “looking at the bigger picture.”

“I wish to have five percent of my dad’s brain,” he said.

He added that another important lesson for small businesses is to “stay in the game until the cards change.” Even if things might seem to be taking a turn for the worse for a small business, he feels “somehow your luck will turn.”

“It’s a small business you gotta somehow survive,” George said. “Stay in the game, stay alive.”

Wincy has also faced challenges in keeping her business afloat.

Wincy feels that the biggest challenge to running Out Wines and Spirits is the competition it faces from the many, usually cheaper, liquor stores along Main Street that appeal to Flushing’s large Asian community. In order to set Our Wines and Spirits apart from these stores, Wincy and the owner carefully select “specials,” or wines to sell that make Our Wines and Spirits stand out and gain a reputation for certain products besides standard hard liquor.

Inside Our Wines and Spirits

“[The liquor stores on Main Street] have been there for more than 20 years,” she said. “We’re kind of the newest one. This is frustrating because there’s mostly Chinese people here, so whatever they like, [the liquor stores] will really lower the price. That’s why we try to stay away from those brands.”

Thus, she and the owner try to carry special alcohol brands that other nearby stores don’t sell-ones that are inexpensive and taste good. She tastes most of the wine and hard liquor herself first…which she unabashedly admitted was her favorite part of her job.

Wincy also said that people have suggested that they change the signage at the front of the store to Chinese in order to appeal to Flushing’s large Chinese population. However, shrugging, she said she didn’t think doing so would make a difference and appears content with the way business is going.

More selections at Our Wines and Spirits

Looking Forward

I look at it as a way of life. I do it with passion. I love it. It's a part of me. George Kanes

Despite the challenges of running small businesses, both Wincy and Kanes are satisfied with their work at the moment.

On the future of Our Wines and Spirits, Wincy said, “For [the] long term, so far I would say we are the good-looking liquor store in Flushing right now.”

George is uncertain about his plans for the diner’s future, but isn’t worried because as a diner owner and landlord, he “wears many hats.”

“Right now we’re happy doing this,” he said.

When asked about the secret of maintaining the diner for so long, George said, “I look at it as a way of life. I do it with passion. I love it. It’s a part of me.”



The Newest New Yorkers: Characteristics of the City’s Foreign-Born Population from the Department of City Planning


Erica Fu & Stephanie Geier

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