FEMA moving into Forest Hills has been a welcome sight for the area’s local businesses.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy hitting New York and other parts of the northeast, the federal agency has taken over the vacant space at the Forest Hills Towers on 118-35 Queens Boulevard that was left by airline Jet Blue, which opened its new headquarters in Long Island City earlier this year.
The agency has brought hundreds of employees— about 700— to the area, according to FEMA spokesman Ed Conley.
The new office space is used as a central command center for operations and administrative work.
And local business owners say they have seen a boost in sales thanks to their new neighbors.
Aida Lopez, who has worked at the Hot & Tasty Café on Kew Gardens Road for the past eight years, said that revenue has increased about 45 percent since FEMA settled in Forest Hills.
“It reminds me of the way it used to be. Before the recession, it was so busy that I couldn’t even think straight,” she said. “When they moved in, it brought back that electricity, that excitement of seeing so many people.”
Lopez added the spike in business is much needed as the country’s economy has been down overall and Jet Blue packing its bags didn’t help the situation.
Dan Unter, who is the owner of Redwood Deli across the street from where FEMA is based, said that he’s seen his fair share of FEMA employees eat at the deli and that he’s happy to feed their hungry workers especially because they’ve helped his parents in New Jersey who are still recovering from the storm.
“FEMA is doing good work for people I care about and we also get to feed them so that’s good too,” Unter said.
Other storefront owners echoed similar sentiments, but wondered whether or not the agency would be staying for good.
Conley said that there is no set time table for that and that they will remain there for the foreseeable future.
“We’re going to be here as long as we’re needed,” he said. “Obviously when there’s a big disaster like this, we like to be as close as possible to the area that’s affected.”
He also reiterated that their office in Forest Hills is not for people to visit to register for assistance or to check on an application. If you’d like to do that, you should call the help line at (1800) 621-3362 or visit one of the disaster recovery centers they have set up in New York.
There are five of those centers in Queens including one at the American Legion Hall in Broad Channel.
FEMA is also looking to hire people to work at the Forest Hills location. If you are interested in applying for employment, please visit newyork.us.jobs. To find their available positions on the website, type in “FEMA” in the search bar at the top of the page.
Conley said that many people who are currently working there are from out-of-state, but they are looking to hire locally as well.
By Luis Gronda