Monday, October 25, 2010

Some May Lose in Aqueduct Game By Patrick Clark - Crain's New York Business

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It's easy to spot the winners in the long-awaited deal to put hundreds of video slot machines in a new racino at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. New York state gets a $380 million licensing fee and future tax revenue to bank on, while Malaysian gaming company Genting gets to put 4,500 video slot terminals just three miles from John F. Kennedy International Airport. Meanwhile, the local economy gets a big shot in the arm from a project expected to generate 1,300 construction and 800 permanent jobs.
To find the probable losers, look no further than the South Ozone Park racetrack's sprawling front parking lot. There, 1,000 vendors stage the city's largest flea market on Tuesdays and weekends from April through December. For those small business operators, mostly immigrants, the flea market is their first toehold on the path to prosperity. With the flea market facing possible closure, the vendors' prospects are uncertain, and they may find their lives upended.
Consider Vietnam native Mike Thai, who has sold cheap wristwatches at Aqueduct for the past 10 years. On a day when the sun is shining and shoppers are plentiful, he can clear a profit of around $400. Since news of the racino deal broke, he's been considering relocating to a New Jersey flea market but worries that the 90-minute drive is too far.
“The problem is, my van is old,” Mr. Thai says. “It's not going to make it.”


Sandy Harry faces a more desperate situation. For the past eight years, the Guyanese immigrant has supplemented her income as a babysitter for a Manhattan family by selling jewelry and apparel at the flea market. Confident that she was getting ahead, she took an adjustable-rate mortgage and bought a house in Richmond Hill. When the interest rate jumped, she found herself struggling to make payments.
“Without this, I will lose my home,” Ms. Harry says. “I take the little salary I make in the city and I invest it [buying wholesale jewelry] to sell at the market to make a profit and pay my bills.”
According to the Center for an Urban Future's World of Opportunity report, immigrant entrepreneurs like Mr. Thai and Ms. Harry are among the most dependable engines of the city's economy, creating growth in all cycles. Many of them make their money catering to the needs of fast-growing immigrant populations.
Vishnu Mahadeo, president of the Economic Development Council in Richmond Hill, notes that many residents in his area rely on vendors like Mr. Thai and Ms. Harry for inexpensive goods they send to their families abroad.
“When they want to fill their suitcases to send back to their home country, the flea market is one of the places they go,” Mr. Mahadeo says.
Not everyone, however, would be sorry to see the flea market close. Some local residents consider it a source of garbage and crime.
Betty Braton, chairman of Community Board 10, which includes the racetrack, declined to comment on the fate of the flea market, but says she supports the racino because of all the jobs it will create.


Those jobs are already starting to appear. Genting is planning an Oct. 28 groundbreaking. A company spokesman says that hiring is ramping up in advance of that date. He also says that Genting has made no decision about the flea market. Nonetheless, the company told the Community Board back in July that the market would have to move.
The flea market's operator, Plain N Fancy Shows, which has only a month-to-month lease, says it has yet to be told if the market is staying or going. Although Mr. Thai wonders why there has been little concern for the vendor jobs that stand to be lost, he is resigned to moving on.
“We always stock up for Christmas shopping,” he says. “But I've talked to my friends here [in the market], and everyone says, "The flea market's ending.' This year, we're just liquidating [our stock].” ?