Named after the Jameco Indians who originally occupied the area in the 1650s—and then later settled by both the Dutch and the English—Jamaica, Queens has a vibrant history. This transportation hub and highly ethnic portion of the New York's metropolitan area experienced high crime in the late 20th Century; but more recently, this vibrant locale is booming. Revitalized historical buildings and fabulous shopping can be found along the stretch of Jamaica Avenue and in the surrounding area. Park your car in suburbia and take the train into Queens for a slice of history melded with modern-day New York culture.
Shopping on Jamaica Avenue
Jamaica Center, the downtown section of Jamaica, Queens, is experiencing a resurgence of attention. The retail mecca along Jamaica Avenue (between Parsons Boulevard and 165th Street) now thrives with bargain clothing stores, hip-hop specialty stores, and retailers like Old Navy, Strawberry, and Children's Place. Art deco buildings and a once abandoned, now renovated, movie-theater-turned-church highlight the city center. And the recent rezoning aimed to maximize the area’s commercial potential, while protecting the character of the neighborhoods, assures this must-visit destination will only get better.
Jamaica Mulitplex Cinemas
Jamaica’s Multiplex Cinemas meld the neighborhood movie house feel with state-of-the-art digital technology. Surrounded by big name stores like Old Navy and the Gap, this 15-screen movie theater sits smack dap in the middle of Jamaica Center One, the largest commercial development to date in Jamaica Center. Stop in for a matinee to beat the mid-day shopping heat.
Jamaica Colosseum Mall
Founded in 1984, the Jamaica Colosseum Mall likens itself to a huge indoor flea market with over 120 merchants and jewelers under one roof. Located in the 165th Street pedestrian mall, one block north of Jamaica Avenue, it's home to small and medium-sized vendors selling anything from custom hip-hop t-shirts to Hispanic first communion dresses. Go downstairs for discount jewelry stands selling over-the-top bling, sneaker vendors with excellent selections, and photo booths for quick teenager selfies.
165th Street Pedestrian Mall
Just north of Jamaica Avenue, the 165th Street Pedestrian Mall is a great hangout spot for teens. Over 75 small to medium-sized clothing shops, including Jimmy Jazz (a brand name retail chain offering streetwear and sneakers), makes this a clothing and footwear destination. This pedestrian-friendly locale was designed to enhance downtown Jamaica and its easy access to the bus terminal makes it a quick stop for those on a shopping mission.
Jamaica Performing Arts Center
The First Reformed Church of Jamaica at Jamaica Avenue and 153rd Street (seen here in the foreground) opened its curtain in 2008 as a renovated performing arts center. The 400-seat multipurpose performance space contains a balcony with 75 fixed seats and 325 additional seats. Founded by Dutch merchants and then partially destroyed by a fire, the renovated building holds reminders of the past like large stained-glass windows in the entrance way that were restored using glass from other windows in the former church. Visit their online box office for tickets to shows.
Grace Episcopal Churchyard
The historical church complex located at 155-15 Jamaica Avenue includes the church (built between 1861 and 1862 and constructed of rough-cut sandstone), a parish house, and a cemetery. Step into the cemetery to see colonial-era gravestones, as well as the resting place of personalities like Robert McCormick, a New York war correspondent and friend of Abraham Lincoln. The Grace Episcopal Churchyard offers an incongruous step back in time from the bustling shopping district.
Sybil's Bakery and Restaurant
Sybil's is more than a restaurant; it's an established institution in three locations throughout Queens and Brooklyn. Located at 132-17 Liberty Avenue in Jamaica, Sybil's serves up hearty, home-style Guyanese food from a steam table. Try their famous tennis rolls and pineapple jam-filled tarts and sample their traditional Guyanese fare, which melds Indian flavors with a Caribbean edge. Sybil’s children and grandchildren continue to carry out her legacy with iconic dishes like pumpkin curry.
Long Island Railroad Station and the Air Train Building
One of the most historically significant places in the city, Jamaica's Long Island Railroad (LIRR) Station was built in 1913 when the LIRR was expanding its service to Queens. This station is also the largest transit hub on Long Island and one of the busiest stations in the country. In 2006, a completed 387-million-dollar renovation project linked the refurbished station to the new Air Train building to provide transport to passengers going to JFK International Airport. The main entrance to the station—where you purchase tickets—is housed in a 100-year-old building that serves as the headquarters of the LIRR Company. Take the train to Queens to view the juxtaposition of two attached buildings from different eras.
Just outside Club Kalua, Sean Bell (a nephew of a University of Tulsa basketball coach) was shot and killed on November 25, 2006, by plain-clothes NYPD detectives. The controversial killing drew large protests and led to grand jury indictments of three of the five officers involved in the shooting. But despite the dive's hard knocks, including this incident and a loss of its liquor license in 2008, it survived and thrived until 2016. Today, a stroll by 143-08 94th Avenue now reveals a Pentecostal church in place of a bar with a sketchy past.