Close-Up on Jamaica

Landmarks:Other features of the area include the Victorian edifice of Grace Church (Jamaica Avenue between 153rd Street and Parsons Boulevard), built in 1862, and historic, decaying, solemnly creepy Prospect Cemetery (159th Street and Beaver Road). Near Jamaica Center are the Queens Borough Central Library (89–11 Merrick Boulevard), the Joseph P. Addabbo Federal Office Building, and numerous Queens county courts, such as the Queens Supreme Court (88–11 Sutphin Boulevard), Queens County Civil Court, Queens Family Court, and others.

Green Spaces:Not so surprisingly located on the site of the King Manor Museum, King Park and playground is an 11-acre historic park providing a welcome break from the continuous streets, lots, and buildings. Tangentially related to the neighborhood is the relatively easy accessibility of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Preserve (it's in the bay on the other side of JFK). The mother of all green spaces in the New York metro area, Jamaica Bay contains one of the largest wetland areas in the Northeast and can provide both an escape from the urban environment and a reminder that even as New Yorkers we're still connected to nature.

Shopping:Jamaica Avenue for about twenty blocks east of Sutphin Boulevard is a major bargain district for a huge variety of consumer goods from brand name to secondhand. Urban fashion, shoes, CDs, video games, electronics, fabrics, furniture, luggage, toys, mattresses, books; you name it. Claimed by some as the birthplace of hip-hop (though the many seminal Queens artists were largely native to nearby Hollis) and others as the birthplace of hip-hop fashion, Jamaica offers loads of both. Near the Sutphin-Archer stop are several discount stores along Archer Avenue including a large Salvation Army thrift shop. North along Sutphin are a string of pawn shops (remember pawn shops, New York?), such as US Pawnbrokers, Inc. (9033 A Sutphin Boulevard) and Gem Pawnbrokers Corp. (9026 Sutphin Boulevard). Asian fish markets run along Sutphin near the train station, such as the tersely named Corner Fish Market (Sutphin and 91st). Queens eco-artist Brandon Ballengée (a recent exhibitor at JCAL) jokingly said, "Practically every type of sea creature can be purchased and consumed at those markets." Ballengée himself frequents the markets, not necessarily for dinner; sometimes he finds viable samples for his bioscience influenced work. Further down an Old Navy and a multiplex cinema have been built into Jamaica Center. Local businesses crowd into the Gertz Plaza Mall and Jamaica Coliseum, giant indoor markets of retail, discount, and custom goods. The 165th Street Mall is an outdoor pedestrian plaza comprising a block between Jamaica Avenue and 89th Street, lined with shops and Caribbean takeout. Along Jamaica Avenue are also the likes of Nubian Heritage bookstore (168-14 Jamaica Avenue), it's door sign urges patrons to "Buy Black"; and reggae emporium V.P. Records (170-21 Jamaica Avenue); along with countless other shops.

This phone-booth poster is a site-specific installation by Olu Oguibe and part of "Jamaica Flux: Workspaces & Windows," organized by the Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning.
photo: Jennifer Snow
This phone-booth poster is a site-specific installation by Olu Oguibe and part of "Jamaica Flux: Workspaces & Windows," organized by the Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning.

Restaurants and Bars:Although the area seems more geared towards working-class functionality than fine dining and swank nightlife, in such an ethnic melting pot, there are a wide variety of options from fast-food to regional cuisine; restaurants are on nearly every block. Though demographically Guyanese and West Indians dominate, there's Spanish-Latin, Italian, Pakistani, Indian, American diner food, bagels, soul food, seafood, about 10 million Chinese places, and more to be had (much of it easier to reach if you're driving). The Palm Court of Guyana (117-16 Hillside Avenue) is a good example of a local-oriented restaurant and lounge, summing up the disparate influences of Jamaica dining as it's located across the street from middle-American franchise fixture (and NYC rarity) IHOP. Through Jamaica Avenue's shopping district, there's a virtually infinite number of Guyanese, Jamaican, and West Indian bakeries and takeout such as Kassim's Bakery and Restaurant (169-28 Jamaica Avenue) or Jamaica Way (92-12 Merrick Boulevard). Calypso City (121–08 Jamaica Avenue) is a local venue known for dancehall parties that rage until late night. At the Blarney Bar (146-09 Jamaica Avenue), the predominantly African-American staff and clientele puts the "black" back in Black Irish, though everyone's welcome. "We're a multi-ethnic establishment," the bartender chuckled to me during a recent visit, "so tell everyone you came to Blarney's and had a good time."

Happenings:Jamaica Avenue hosts the Jamaica Arts & Music Summer Festival (JAMS), sponsored by arts organization Cultural Collaborative Jamaica (goccj.net), featuring concerts and "arts in the parks" events. In December, there's Holidays on the Avenue. Outdoor fruit and flower markets can be found bi-weekly near Jamaica Center.

Politicians:City councilmen James F. Gennaro for the 24th District, Leroy G. Comrie Jr. for the 28th District, and Allan W. Jennings for the 28th District; Queens Borough President Helen Marshall; state assembly members William Scarborough for the 29th District, Michele R. Titus for the 31st District, Vivian E. Cook for the 32nd District, and Barbara M. Clark for the 33rd District; state senators Malcolm A. Smith for the 14th District and Ada L. Smith for the 10th District; congressmen Gregory W. Meeks for the 6th District and Anthony D. Weiner for the 9th District—all Democrats.

Crime Stats:The 103rd and 113th precincts serve the greater Jamaica area. As of November 22, 2005, the 103rd Precinct (the business district and central Jamaica ) reported 8 murders, 33 rapes, 273 robberies, 316 felony assaults, and 420 burglaries. As of November 22,2005, the 113th Precinct (southeastern Jamaica) reported 13 murders, 39 rapes, 265 robberies, 301 felony assaults, and 664 burglaries. (The 103rd (the business district and central Jamaica) reports to date 10 murders in 2004, down from 17 in 2003; 35 rapes, up 59 percent; 248 robberies, down 14.1 percent; 232 burglaries, up 28.1 percent; 286 grand larcenies, up 10.4 percent; 225 grand larceny auto, down 21.6 percent; and an overall drop in crime of 3.01 percent from 2003. The 113th (southeastern Jamaica) reports 7 murders, 38 rapes, 203 robberies, 208 felonious assaults, 222 burglaries, 438 grand larcenies, and 282 auto thefts to date with an overall reduction in crime of 8.27 percent from 2003.)

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