They boast art museums, sports stadiums, airports, public parks, a 24/7 rapid transit system and a collective population of more than 4.7 million. Yet when it comes to retail, New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens are off the map. The amount of existing retail is just 10.8 square feet per person in Brooklyn and 12 square feet per person in Queens — just one-third the national average and only one-fifth the retail density of Manhattan.

It seems developers have not yet taken lessons learned in Harlem — where first-class retail has thrived — and exported them off the island. The Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC), a Boston, Mass.-based nonprofit that promotes economic development in inner city markets rates the boroughs as two of the most underserved inner city pockets in the nation. Parts of the boroughs are getting attention. Notably, Brooklyn is the site of the contentious Forest City Ratner mixed-use Atlantic Yards project. Meanwhile Long Island City in Queens is host to the six-acre Silvercup Studios development.

But there are vast neighborhoods like Flatbush and Sunset Park in Brooklyn and Sunnyside and Woodside in Queens that national retailers and developers have barely noticed. (That might change soon thanks to New York magazine's recent profile of Sunnyside as a rare oasis of affordable housing in a city notorious for its exorbitant prices.)

“There is a lot of disposable income in those areas, but there hasn't been a lot of retail development,” says Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of the retail leasing and sales division with New York-based brokerage firm Prudential Douglas Elliman.

And that's a shame, because a lot of retail dollars that could be spent at home are being taken on the road. According to estimates from the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, Brooklyn has higher population density and the same amount of disposable income as nearby Nassau County, at $31 billion, but registers only half its annual retail sales, with $7 billion — that means a lot of retail dollars are getting spent elsewhere.

“What you are seeing is that over the past decade there has been momentum and increased retail penetration, but inner city residents still need to go outside of where they live in order to shop,” says ICIC's Deidre Coyle.

Fast Facts

  • Kings County (i.e., Brooklyn) and Queens County rank as the 7th and 10th most populous counties in the United States.
  • The two counties, however, have just 10.8 square feet and 12 square feet of retail per person, respectively, which is just one-third the national average of 36.4 square feet per person. In contrast, Manhattan has a whopping 52.2 square feet of retail per person.
  • They are the only counties in the top 25 largest in the nation that have less than 20 square feet of retail per person.
  • Combined, Kings County and Queens County contain a total of 54 million square feet of retail space, according to CoStar data.
  • Queens County's median household income is $45,595 while Kings County's is $35,168. The per capita income in Queens is $31,125 and in Kings is $27,343.
  • The average age in Queens is currently 37.4 years. It contains 817,250 housing units.
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