Liberty Avenue – the bustling avenue that rises with the sun
From Bina Mahabir
June 27, 2004
NEW YORK: As the early morning sunshine softly kisses the earth’s surface, life on the famous Liberty Avenue in Richmond Hill, Queens, has been given a jumpstart to its first leg of a long day’s hectic journey. With a thin film of fresh morning fog still evident in the air, the combination of cars honking and loud music blaring out of speeding vehicles breaks the somewhat peaceful spell that still lingers from the previous night.
Liberty Avenue -the bustling avenue that rises with the sun, is a place that sleeps little. Stretching from the Van Wyck Expressway, rolling all the way down to Rockaway Boulevard, Queens, Liberty Avenue has blossomed into a very busy strip, which has become a beehive of non-stop commercial activities over the years.
If variety is the spice of life, as they say, then Liberty Avenue is the place where variety is easily accessible. Whether its every-day commodities like vegetables, fruits, fresh flowers, spices and groceries or clothing, bags and CD’s, - to the latest brands of cell phones, digital cameras, DVD players and other electrical gadgets - these and more can be readily found in one of the many shops that line the avenue.
It can safely be said that Liberty Avenue reaches its peak during the hours of 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on any given day. While there are those shoppers who prefer to conduct their business in the crisp cool of the morning, there are others who like to take care of things with a brilliant sun hovering above their heads. Either way, during these hours, the `hustle and bustle’ is so severe that people are practically breathing down each other’s throat!
The `midday mad rush’ is even more pronounced, particularly when the traffic is backed up and cars are honking annoyingly at each other. Meanwhile, the drivers are anxiously waiting to `beat it’ once the green light comes on. To complete the idyllic scene, mention must be made of the many, mixed groups of excited shoppers who are waiting impatiently to cross the road to bargain at the other stores on the avenue.
The echo of cars, `clip-clap, clip-clap’ as people walk by, loud music and peoples’ spirited chatters create a unique blend of noise pitch against a rich metropolitan backdrop that is reminiscent of many big, diverse shopping areas around the country.
As one traipses down the avenue, one is confronted with many lively scenes where stalls in front of many shops are strewn over with items such as beautiful artificial jewelry, shoes, designer’s jeans and shirts, bags and other accessories. There is no need for subtle window-shopping here, as products offered in many shops are amply displayed outside on hangers and shelves.
Over the years, Liberty Avenue has become the heartthrob of the New York Guyanese community and to a large extent, the West Indian community as a whole. As a matter of fact, Richmond Hill is now known as `Little Guyana’ because of the large concentration of Guyanese who settled there. The avenue has grown into the centre of attraction for many who migrated from the West Indies.
Indeed, West Indians take great pride in the fact that many products, particularly food items, which make delicious West Indian dishes, can be easily found in one of the many grocery stores on the avenue. This is a wonderful reminder of home, noted one shop owner. This is also tangible testimony that immigrants from the West Indies brought with them their rich heritage and culture, noted another businessman.
Years ago, Liberty Avenue was nothing like it is today. After the large influx of Guyanese who migrated to the United States during the sixties and seventies, many saw the need to fashion a shopping area which reflects a rich blend of Guyanese flavour.
One shop owner alluded to the great increased in the volume of traffic on the avenue where, “you could hardly walk without bumping into another person, if you’re not careful!”
He related that 16 years ago, there were hardly that many people, “even on a hot and sunny midday”.
He further stated that “though there are slow seasons, business is doing great”. A Guyanese by birth, he said that he would not trade his store for anything in the world, as he loves “serving the West Indian people”.
Liberty Avenue has patches of spots, which are more conspicuously busy than other areas on the bustling avenue. The busiest part of the commercial strip stretches from Lefferts Avenue and goes all the way down to 125th Street. Here, the traffic and flow of people are much more evident than other areas.
Lefferts Avenue is the last stop for the ‘A’ train, which operates all the way to downtown Manhattan, the financial centre of New York City and to a large extent, corporate America.
The services of the ‘A’ train help to increase the volume of traffic between Queens and Manhattan. Then, the Green Line Bus, Q110, also makes frequent stops on Lefferts on its way to Rockaway Boulevard and then back to Jamaica in Queens.
The lone bus that services commuters on Liberty Avenue is the ‘brownish’ Q112, which “runs pretty frequently”, according to Sunita.
She migrated from the twin island republic and though “no place is like Trinidad and Tobago”, for her, when she visits Liberty Avenue, she is very much reminded of her home country.
“I like to shop here, because many of the things I need are sold right here,” she said.
Speaking with a deep Trinidadian accent, Sunita, who is a working mother of two kids, noted that when her “mango achar and pepper sauce are finished” she could very easily get these pickles at Tony Yassin’s Spice World store or one of the other grocery stores on Liberty. That is, until her mother sends some for her from Trinidad, she added with a broad grin.
At the juncture of Lefferts and Liberty Avenue, many cab drivers linger around, particularly in the evening, each competing with the other to lure tired passers-by who are headed for home after a long, hard day at work.
Gregory told this newspaper that it is a “fun, part-time job for him”. He has his regular job at a store in Queens, but, to make ends meet, he “started to operate as a taxi driver in the evenings.”
“You know, in these hard economic times we live, one has to have a back-up job,” he stated seriously.
He particularly enjoyed “being able to help out the tired shoppers or the very exhausted people who are going home from work”, adding that sometimes, he ended up meeting friends he knew from back home.
A huge billboard of prominent Guyanese businessman, Ed Ahmad, that is strategically placed high up across the Lefferts subway station smiles and greets visitors and shoppers alike who grace Liberty Avenue.
Starting at Lefferts and going up the avenue, there are many shops which lined the avenue that sell designer clothes of the latest in pop culture, as well as, the more trendy stuff that is hot in the haute couture world, particularly, for teenagers and young adults.
Looking for the perfect outfit for a casual occasion, a party, a formal evening, or even a “funky nightclub outing”? Then, look no further. Knockout, Smash, Annjee’s or the other clothing stores on Liberty Avenue, is bound to have something for everybody, the conservative, as well as, the more daring.
According to Samantha, “the clothes here are very fashionable and the prices are reasonable,” – it’s ‘the buy factor’ for many serious people.
She shops here all the time, she said, because she could “pick almost anything up for any occasions” at prices she could afford.
“I can get more clothes here for less money,” she offered, adding that the clothes, whether tops, pants, skirts or dresses are not only trendy, but “they are also very durable and hot in style!”
She quickly compared the prices here to those at the shops in Greenacres Mall in Long Island, where “the prices for jeans and tops are so very expensive at Macy’s and Sears.”
“You pay for the brand names, and why, when it’s the same clothes anyway,” she explained.
As for East Indian cultural apparels, there are no shortages in this department either. The popular Annjee’s Sari Store, Choji’s and DJ’S are havens for the most intricate hand-woven, beautifully designed saris, lehengas and shalwars, with matching jewellery and shoes, all imported from the subcontinent of India.
If the event is an elaborate East Indian wedding, then these stores carry almost everything for such grand affairs.
After long hours of shopping, which simultaneously involve a lot of walking, exhaustion and hunger eventually crawl there way into the body. Well, suffice it to say that Liberty Avenue boasts a wide range of restaurants and eating-houses that bedeck the avenue.
There is a Burger King, Popeye and McDonald’s to serve the hungry who are looking “to grab a quick bite of sandwich and a drink”, said Robert in line at McDonald’s.
About a year and a half ago, two new eating joints have joined the long list of eateries on the avenue - Pizza Hut Express and Taco Bell.
Then, there are Kaiteur Restaurant, Brown Betty Restaurant, Sybil’s and Singh’s Roti Shop, among others that specialise in catering West Indian dishes for their clients.
`Clubbing’ and socialising are popular pastimes for many young people in the area and towards this end, several of these clubs are scattered on the avenue. Readily coming to mind are the famous Parrot Club and Bar, Club Tobago, The Gemini Bar and The Blue Dolphin which are all popular hanging-outs among the young folks.
Liberty Avenue also boasts a number of impressive buildings of modern architecture that house beautiful offices for mortgage bankers, brokers, real estate agents, insurance agents, doctors’ and lawyers’ practices, to name a few.
Lately, there has been an increase in the number of 99 Cent stores operating on the avenue as well.
While many Guyanese own and manage their businesses on the avenue, other nationalities are also tapping into the large West Indian market. More and more stores are opening up as time goes by.
On a closer look, one notable absence is a modern bookstore. The avenue does not have a proper bookstore to serve the large number of young people who attend schools and colleges in the Borough of Queens.
However, when all is said and done, Liberty Avenue – the bustling avenue that rises with the sun, has grown to become a very important place for many people for different reasons.