By now (we hope), any New Yorker with a dim sum habit knows to take the 7 train to the end of the line to land square in the middle of New York's most vibrant Chinatown. The Chinese-immigrant population of Flushing has long surpassed that of Manhattan's Chinatown, and while the neighborhood is known as a stronghold for incoming immigrants, it's also a place of incredible change, particularly as outer-borough real estate hype starts to seep further into Queens. Residential and commercial real estate development is booming here, and the nearby mega-development Willets Point is nearly underway. All of this construction promises to transform the fabric of a neighborhood that is very much in transition.
This in mind, we explored this oft-hyped northeast Queens 'hood to get you the inside scoop on everything from new developments, existing house stock, the dining-and-drinking scene to the prevalence of shopping malls in Flushing. (And yes, we'll tell you where to get great dumplings.)
Flushing is a large, narrow neighborhood bounded by Flushing-Meadows Corona Park to the west, Utopia Parkway to the east, the Long Island Expressway to the south, and Willets Point Boulevard to the north. Named after nearby Flushing Creek, it was discovered by Dutch settlers in 1645. The area ultimately attracted English colonists seeking religious freedom, and one resident, John Bowne, started holding Quaker meetings inside his house at a time the religion was actively repressed in most of the New England colonies. Colonists signed the Flushing Remonstrance in 1657 to protest religious prosecution, and in response the Dutch West India Company allowed Quakers and others to worship in Flushing freely. For that reason, the neighborhood is claimed to be the birthplace of religious freedom in the New World.
When the English took control of New York in the 1660s, Flushing was one of the five original towns of Queens County. That township remained until Queens became part of New York City in 1898, and the Flushing name was assigned to the present-day neighborhood. The area developed and grew denser throughout the 19th and 20th centuries but it wasn't until the 1970s the Chinese community established a foothold here. Taiwanese immigrants came first, picking Flushing instead of the Manhattan Chinatown to create a higher standard of living and better housing quality, according to the book New Immigrants of New York. That was followed by many new Chinese immigrants from different regions and provinces, an immigration that has continued into the present.
While Flushing is often discussed in blanket terms, it actually breaks down into several smaller residential neighborhoods-within-the-neighborhood, with downtown Flushing as the anchor. Main Street — yes, it is the main drag — and the blocks just west of it are home to the highest concentration of Asian businesses and restaurants in the neighborhood. Here, you'll find hawkers selling Chinese newspapers, fruit stands, bakeries, Asian specialty stores, noisy traffic and construction. This is the only area of Flushing directly accessed by the 7 train.
Venture away from downtown and you'll find the many quiet, suburban subsections of Flushing. Auburndale, Waldheim and Broadway-Flushing are all enclaves with historic freestanding homes of eclectic architectural styles. Broadway-Flushing boasts its own historic district due to the elegant, park-like atmosphere of the area; it's known for its stock of Tudor and Colonial freestanding homes. Auburndale, too, has a similar suburban layout that has many Tudor homes. Waldheim — German for "home in the woods" — is known for large homes of varying architectural styles, laid out in an unusual street pattern. It was the home of some of Flushing's wealthiest residents until the 1960s.
Today these neighborhoods are mostly upper-middle class enclaves, although homes are still cheaper than those in other Queens areas like Forest Hills or Jackson Heights. Linden Hill, a sub-neighborhood with a mix of apartment buildings and houses, is also a mix of European-American, Asian and Latino communities. And Murray Hill, not to be confused with its Manhattan counterpart, is located just east of downtown Flushing and has had an influx of Korean residents in the past few decades. It is a sleepy neighborhood with close-set homes, Korean restaurants and the Kingsland Homestead, a historic, late 1700s house museum run by the Queens Historic Society. Today the area is considered a second Koreatown to NYC much like Flushing emerged as a second Chinatown.
THE REAL ESTATE
The real estate development of downtown Flushing “is kind of crazy right now,” explains Douglas Elliman broker Michael Wang, who was born in the neighborhood and now represents properties throughout Queens. A number of large-scale projects are underway, including Sky View Parc, a luxury condo and shopping development near the Flushing River, the condo conversion of the historic RKO Keith's Theater, and Flushing Commons, which includes 600 new residential units and 500,000 square feet of commercial space. Right across Flushing Creek, the city is in the process of converting the old auto shops of Willets Point into 62 acres of housing, retail and park space. With the completion of such major development, Wong expects prices to surge and for Flushing “to emerge as a major metropolis of Queens.”
Jefferson Mao, who runs the local blog Flushing Exceptionalism, notes that this development is unique to the rest of the New York City boom. “Flushing now serves a special purpose for a select group of people who are affluent with oversees capital,” he explained. Indeed, in the past few years, buyers and investors from mainland China have shown a growing interest in Flushing real estate. As the New York Times explained in an article, “For many Chinese buyers in this latest wave, the apartments are investments and will be rented out.” The result, as Mao pointed out, is rising housing and commercial rents. Rising prices are clearly evident at The Grand at Sky View Parc, a luxury condo tower still under construction. It is already 80 percent pre-sold, according to David Brickman, a vice president of the developer Onex Real Estate. Prices on apartments range from $489,000 to over $2 million.
“There is definitely a demand for higher-end real estate in Flushing,” he said, “And right now the demand outweighs the supply.”
The most expensive unit on the market right now in Flushing is at SkyView Parc, a two-bedroom asking just over $1 million. A two-bedroom co-op, however, is much more reasonable, with this unit asking $335,000. According to Streeteasy, the median sales price for a one-bedroom condo $456,000, and for a one-bedroom co-op it's $199,500. The median value for a one-bedroom condo in a new development is significantly higher than both, at $669,888. To rent, the median price of a one bedroom is $1,650 a month. For a two bedroom it's $2,100 a month.
This surge in real estate leaves Flushing's future up in the air. Mao worries that the rising prices will drive out the neighborhood's strong immigrant base to cheaper Queens neighborhoods like Elmhurst. “No one is quite sure how the developments will change the neighborhood,” he noted.
This boom in development has also brought dramatic changes in Flushing's retail scene. “All this infrastructure is bringing new businesses and big box retailers,” said Mao. The most prominent example is the Shops at SkyView Center, which is the retail component of the Grand at SkyView Park. It's a suburban-like shopping mall that's now home to Uniqlo, Nordstrom Rack, a Nike Factory store and Forever 21. “We were able to attract premiere retailers because the density in the area is incredible and the buyer tends to be affluent,” said Brickman. He says the Shops at SkyView Center also attracts many tourists visiting from Asia.
Despite this big-box retail boom, Flushing is a primarily a neighborhood of small businesses. The majority of small businesses, many of them located along Main Street, specifically cater to the Chinese population. There are two popular Asian malls, the New World Mall and Golden Shopping Mall, which are well known for their specialty groceries and food courts. As a response to the development boom, Mao expects that the immigrant economy will remain strong for the foreseeable future, but will start to diversify to accommodate the growing professional class. “Flushing will still be based around small businesses,” he said, “But they must be higher quality.”
FOOD AND DRINK
One of the main reasons most New Yorkers coming to flushing is to eat. The New World Mall has a famous, bustling food court where you can eat hand-rolled dumplings, scallion pancakes, hot pots, hand-pulled noodles and bubble tea for cheap. Golden Shopping Mall has another excellent food court, the one where Xi'an Famous Foods first started serving up their dumplings (and still has a home base to this day). Venture outside the food courts and you'll discover restaurants that specialize in Taiwanese, Szechuan, Cantonese, Korean-Chinese cuisine and more. Although both Manhattan Chinatown and Flushing Chinatown are equal in finding great cheap eats, Flushing's does stand out with its sheer variety – even the obscure Dongbei style of cuisine from Northeast China is available here. “The reason why the food scene is so good is because you have all different specialties available in one spot,” said Wang. His favorite Flushing food tradition? Walking down the street with $10 and sampling the street food available that day, like $2 dumplings and $2 skewers.
The bar scene here is sparse, although Wang suspects that the arrival of new hotels will encourage more nightlife. For example, the Oo Bar and Lounge – one of the few nightlife options – is located on the top floors of the One Hotel. There's also a popular karaoke bar, Happy Karaoke, in Murray Hill, the Koreatown of Flushing.
Flushing still has historic remnants from its days as an English settlement. The John Bowne House and the Old Quaker Meeting House is now a preserved house museum that teaches visitors about the history of Flushing and its importance in establishing freedom of religion in the country. The Flushing Town Hall is also a popular cultural destination in the neighborhood. Built in 1862, this former courthouse and jailhouse is now a thriving center for the visual and performing arts.
Flushing also lends its name to Queens' most famous 1,255-acre park, the iconic Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The fourth largest park in NYC was created to host the 1939 World's Fair and then also hosted the 1964 World's Fair. Today, remnants of the fairs, like the New York State Pavilion and the Unisphere, are still on display. The park is home to a number of other Queens landmarks, including the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the current venue for the U.S. Open tennis tournament, the New York Hall of Science, the Queens Museum and the Queens Wildlife Center. It is adjacent to the Queens Botanical Garden (which also borders Flushing) as well as Citi Field, the home of the New York Mets baseball team.
HOW TO GET THERE
How to get there: Flushing is only served by the 7 train, which begins in Midtown Manhattan and cuts through Queens. Just take the 7 to the last stop, Flushing-Main Street, and you are in the heart of downtown. Many of the destinations popular with tourists — the restaurants and malls of Chinatown — are a short distance from this stop. The suburban surroundings of the neighborhood can be accessed from that point by a bus or car.
There's also a Long Island Railroad stop in downtown Flushing, half a block from the subway station. You can get to Penn Station from there in less than 20 minutes, as opposed to a 30- to 40-minute train ride on the 7 from Grand Central.