Together, the owners of these businesses founded Metro Village of Forest Hills, a new small business and community alliance.
What distinguishes Metropolitan Avenue from nearby commercial areas is that many of the businesses have been in existence for decades.
Some other long-timers include Cinemart Cinemas, Eddie’s Sweet Shop, La Dolce Italia Bakery, Wagging Tails, Alberto Restaurant, Jones Surgical Company, Continental Hardware, Metro Meat Market, J&B Paint, Acey Ducey’s, and G&N Collectors Den.
“There is a true camaraderie among owners and they all have so much to offer,” said Rachel Kellner, who owns Aigner Chocolates with her husband Mark Libertini. “We want to see each other thrive and support one another as much as we can.”
Last August, the husband-and-wife team was awoken by the officer from the 112th Precinct informing them the shop had been burglarized. They soon learned they were not the only targeted business.
“We received a gift from a restaurant consisting of an entire meal with encouraging messages on each container, and even more important than nourishing our bodies they nourished our spirit,” said Kellner.
She reached out to Eileen Arabian of Dee’s and Sandra Mandell of Oliloli Studio, and not long after Metro Village of Forest Hills was born.
“This initiative will highlight the uniqueness of Metropolitan Avenue as a wonderful destination to shop, dine, work, and live,” said Kellner.
The alliance’s goal is to foster relationships integral to the community’s survival.
“There is a need to pivot very quickly and be creative in order to adapt to the current climate,” Kellner added. “For us, it was installing a service window and offering delivery, whereas for others it entailed modifying a menu and creating outdoor seating.”
The alliance currently consists of nearly 20 businesses, and members are open to ideas and participation from more businesses and the community at large.
“If a volunteer opportunity arises, we would happily be part of it,” Kellner said.
She praised Metropolitan Avenue’s small business owners and their employees as resilient, kind-hearted, and generous, as well as being the heart and soul of the neighborhood.
“They bring dimension and richness to our neighborhood,” Kellner said. “We are supported by the community, and businesses are always finding ways to give back.”
Wagging Tails, which opened in 2000, sponsors the Forest Hills Youth Athletic Association and has a history of donating to local animal shelters. Manager Crystal Ann said the small businesses on Metropolitan Avenue offer a personal relationships you can’t find anywhere else.
“When you walk into a local business, there’s a good chance the person behind the counter knows your name and you know theirs,” she said.
Timothy Ducey opened Acey Ducey’s in 2014.
“Small business owners are facing a lot of challenges, such as not being able to operate at full capacity, while all other bills have not changed by percentage,” he explained. “It has been harder than ever. We have families and work families we care about.”
Ducey takes pride in the community and participates in local events.
“I have always made it a point to hire and encourage the kids of the neighborhood or surrounding areas,” he said. “We always say that Metropolitan Avenue is like a hidden gem. We have fantastic restaurants and small shops that most people don’t know about.”
Dee Arabian is the owner of DEE’s Brick Oven Pizza. He feels fortunate to have a family-owned and run restaurant.
“The majority of businesses are owned and operated by those who live in the community,” he said. “Community members have already been in contact to initiate activities that will encourage people to shop, dine, and conduct business on Metropolitan Avenue.”
To participate or learn more, send a direct message on Instagram to @Metrovillagefh.