Open Letters

A Long Island City Primer: What Amazon Needs to Know

An open letter to Jeff Bezos and his team about what makes the Queens neighborhood so great—in hopes that they’ll keep it that way.

Photo courtesy of Amazon.com/Facebook

New Yorkers tend to proclaim the end of a neighborhood every time a major chain moves in—Marshalls opening up next door to Katz’s; Target “tributing” CBGB in its East Village locale; Starbucks and 16 Handles calling Williamsburg’s North 7th Street home. But Amazon declaring Long Island City HQ2 last week shook Queens to its humble core.

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Photo courtesy of The Lower East Side/Facebook

It’s an understatement to say that its impending arrival is controversial: Social media and message boards have been heated ever since word got out, even more so when it was announced that the city will also be making room for Amazon’s new helipad. There’s a decent chance the rapid influx of workers will collapse LIC’s mass transit options, and it’s basically a guarantee that the nabe’s new apartment complexes will be filled with lovelorn tech bros.

For the sake of looking at the (shipped overnight!) glass half full, though, we think this is a good opportunity to tell our new neighbors what makes Long Island City so great…in hopes that they’ll keep it that way. Jeff Bezos and team: Here’s the 411 on your new Queens home. 

Its History Is Built on Industry and Innovation

Long Island City has historically been one of the most industrial neighborhoods in the boroughs ever since its birth in the 19th century. Long-established businesses like Steinway & Sons, the New York Architectural Terra Cotta Works Building, and Pepsi-Cola’s former bottling factory once called the inconspicuous riverside warehouses their first New York home.

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Photo courtesy of WikiCommons

While many of the original locations have since been torn down, several are still standing and house innovative endeavors across every industry. Beer destinations like Fifth Hammer, Big Alice, and Transmitter Brewing use their respective square footage to brew funky stouts and pale ales; the Falchi Building, which used to be a distribution facility dating back to 1922, has been converted into a mixed-use space, hosting art galleries, pop-up events, and Doughnut Plant’s first tasty location in Queens County; and such city-centric television series as Sex and the City, 30 Rock, The Sopranos, Mr. Robot, and Mad Men have all shot inside Silvercup Studios.

LIC’s Landscape Is Ever-Evolving

The area has been in development far before Mayor De Blasio and Governor Cuomo signed off on Amazon. Long Island City has seen more apartments built than anywhere else in the United States between 2010 and 2016, ranging from high-rises along Hunter’s Point to developments on the remains of former manufacturing warehouses and artists’ meccas. Several high-end hotels have been constructed to prep for Queens’s inevitable tourism boom.

However, not all of the neighborhood’s recent developments have been money driven. Most recently, two local nonprofits, the Coalition for Queens and Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center, were slated to build out the Long Island City Innovation Center. The initial plan incorporated a mix of eco-friendly manufacturing and affordable housing with an arts center, public middle school, and the restoration of Anable Cove and its marine habitat. However, the project’s future is currently in limbo; the tech company is set to reside in their space.

The Art Scene Isn’t Afraid to Take Risks

Much like its businesses, Long Island City’s art community is constantly evolving with the times. Initially known as a haven for rebellious underground street artists, the area is now home to several avant-garde galleries and well-respected spaces hoping to keep the art scene alive when Amazon moves in.

MoMA’s more radical sibling, PS1, tests art lovers’ limits with challenging installations and retrospectives not suitable for all audiences. Sculpture Center’s exhibitions highlight emerging talents not often seen in bigger art institutions; upcoming shows include Los Angeles–based Post-Minimalist Fiona Connor and Istanbul visual artist Banu Cennotoglu. Even the tinier hubs stand out in major ways. Flux Factory doubles as an artists’ collective and nonprofit striving to preserve the creative heart of Long Island City; recent WSWD People Who Make NY Special subject Tina Stipanovic even hosted some of this year’s Backlot Art Festival in the space! Buzzing comedians perfect their sets inside the Creek and the Cave, perhaps while eating a Tex-Mex burrito. And longtime light fixture factory Edison Price Lighting also recently opened a gallery that celebrates both local and light-based artworks.

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Photo by Loren Wohl

All Your Trendy Faves Are (or Soon Will Be) Here!

Some of the city’s hottest cultural establishments have already been enticed by Queens’s allure. Sweet Chick, Birch Coffee, and Toby’s Estate have foodies flocking to LIC via the 7 train; Xi’an Famous Foods will be hand-pulling its famed lamb cumin noodles any day now, while Dan Kluger’s new concept will be Queens born and bred. Those looking to burn off well-earned calories can rely on boutique studios like SLT and soon-to-be Barre3. There’s even two rock-climbing gyms  (The Cliffs at LIC and Brooklyn Boulders Queensbridge) within walking distance of each other.

Don’t Count Out Seasoned Staples, Though

The changing landscape may indicate that long-timers are looking for new homes elsewhere, but several signature Long Island City spots have stood the test of time—even by New York’s standards. L.I.C. Bar has been operating out of its current location for the past century, keeping its suds cheap and crowds chill after all this time. Court Square Diner may have updated its retro look since opening in 1991, but the greasy spoon still gets plenty of business from the 7 train hovering right over it. And right at the Pulaski Bridge exit for the last 25 years is Manetta’s, a family-owned restaurant specializing in Italian comforts your nonna would approve of.

The Neighborhood Also Has Michelin Cred

That’s right, you can get some of the world’s best chorizo tacos and mole enchiladas at the one-star Casa Enrique. Nearby neighbors the Bellwether and Mu Ramen also received Bib Gourmand status this year for their under-$40 delights.

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Photo courtesy of Mu Ramen

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