Thursday, August 7, 2008

Avoiding the Corcoran Curse

Why Forest Hills is Lucky Barbara Kept Her Hands Off

by Steve Tiszenkel

When Barbara Corcoran speaks, the real estate world listens. Though no longer involved with her eponymous company, the Corcoran Group—she sold it in 2001 for $70 million—Corcoran is still the go-to girl for the latest forecasts and trends of New York real estate. After all, this isn't just someone who's sold a few luxury condos. This lady has played an active and very real role in changing the face of New York neighborhoods.

Back in the '90s, when Barbara moved into a neighborhood that time forgot—from Morningside Heights down to Park Slope—you could bet that it would be the next big thing. In a 2003 talk reported by The New York Observer, Corcoran spilled the recipe to her secret sauce: She would ask poor, hip kids—often gay—where they were forced by economic circumstances to live. Then she would go to work making sure they couldn't afford to live there anymore.

Queens is sort of hot right now, thanks in part to Corcoran running the ethnic and low-salaried out of places like Carroll Gardens, but the grande dame of realtors got out of the rat race before she really got a chance to flex her formidable muscles in the city's third-coolest borough. To this day her company's website declines to list any Queens neighborhoods, not even long-established Brooklyn alternative Astoria, opting instead to showcase such not-quite-there-yet areas as Gravesend.

Humiliatingly, hyper-yuppified Long Island City makes an appearance in's Brooklyn menu. With this in mind, it comes as a bit of a surprise to learn that hey, Barbara Corcoran likes Forest Hills. These days Barbara, donning her journalist hat, pens a regular column for the Daily News, where she employs her sage wisdom in answering letters from the peons. A couple of weeks ago, one inquired as to the wisdom of buying in the neighborhood. After having denied us her seal of approval for years, Corcoran couldn't gush strongly enough.

“Forest Hills ... is an idyllic New York neighborhood of Tudor mansions, adorable little condominiums, and a handful of two-and three-family homes that fetch very good rental rates,” she informed us. “The best news of all is that its proximity to midtown Manhattan(less than a 30-minute commute)makes it attractive to sophisticated Manhattanites who are looking to move into the boroughs. Forest Hills also has great shopping,with a nice mix of big stores, interesting boutiques,bookstores and some of the best bagel shops this side of the Mississippi.”

Though I'd contend that Forest Hills has exactly one of the best bagel shops this side of the Mississippi—the awesomely retro, Thai-owned Hot Bialys on Queens Boulevard near the Kew Gardens border—and the only local bookstore I can think of is the formidable Austin Street Barnes & Noble, isn't this what many of us have been saying all along?

But beyond going a long way to alleviate the standard-issue Queens inferiority complex, what exactly would Corcoran have done to Forest Hills or Rego Park or Elmhurst if she hadn't been so late to the game? Sure, she might have brought in some twee restaurants with names that are nouns—“Garden,” say, or maybe “Townhouse”—and I could have hit Court Street in Brooklyn to brag about it over Sangiovese at the bar of some impossibly charming Italian restaurant, but I fear her influence might have done more than a little to destroy the communities' character.

That's not just a hunch, either, because in another Daily News column way back in November, a homeowner in an unnamed Queens neighborhood wrote in to express concern that his neighbors were all paving their front yards, leaving him noticeably concrete-deficient. Barb, as always, knew just what to do.

“Hey, a flower garden might look pretty and keep your wife happy,” she lectured, “but the space in front of your house is worth a hell of a lot more as a driveway. You should know that the city council of Queens has just proposed a zoning change that would prohibit residents from paving their yards in some areas. So ... get a cement truck over there fast.”

Maybe it's better that Barbara doesn't have her hands in Forest Hills after all.

The writer, Steve Tiszenkel is the host of the Website, Queens Central. Log on to to read more about Forest Hills and surrounding neighborhoods.

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