Wall Street Journal: Business Slides on Second Avenue As Subway Construction Drags On
By Joseph De Avila
July 31, 2010
Every day, business owners along Second Avenue contend with noise, rodents, dust and debris. What's not plentiful are customers.
The businesses say they are struggling to survive amid subway construction that has been obscured their storefronts with fences, corrals and construction cranes.
"Foot traffic is done. People can't park. My lunch business is gone by half," said Joe Pecora, who owns Deliza 92 Ristorante & Pizza at Second Avenue and 92nd Street. "We need a break here. Businesses are dropping like flies."
Subway construction began three years ago on the Upper East Side and won't be completed till 2016 at the earliest. Since 2007, nearly 20 out of a total of 70 businesses around 91st and 97th streets have gone bust, said Mr. Pecora, also the director of the Second Avenue Business Association.
Many of the stores remaining report sales declines as high as 50%, Mr. Pecora said. Foot traffic on the street has been estimated to have dropped by nearly a third as pedestrians opt to walk along First or Third avenues to avoid the construction zone, said Barry Schneider, co-chairman of the Second Avenue subway task force of the local community board.
"The downturn of the economy and the impact of construction has devastated many of the businesses," Mr. Schneider said. Businesses in the area have been trying to secure tax abatements and grants to help them get by but haven't had any luck, he said.
To try to stem the loss of customers, the Second Avenue Business Association launched a new website two months ago to advertise specials from local businesses.
The Manhattan Chamber of Commerce also has formed a coalition to help businesses gain access to credit, business planning and marketing.
"They are looking for anything to keep the wolf from their door. The wolf in this case happens to be a 700-odd ton boring machine," Mr. Schneider said.
At Molly Pitcher's Ale House at 85th Street and Second Avenue, the outdoor cafe is usually the pub's biggest moneymaker. But that was before construction moved near the restaurant.
"No one wants to sit looking at a crane when they are eating dinner and lunch," said owner Mick McCullagh, who pays about $15,000 a year for outdoor dining permits.
Business is down about 20% from last year at Molly Pitcher. That decline can be attributed to the drop in outdoor diners, Mr. McCullagh said.
"Everybody up here is having the same problem. Everybody is way down," Mr. McCullagh said.
The MTA has assigned a community-relations liaison to hear concerns from business owners and residents and to keep them updated on the construction schedule. It posted signs around the neighborhood that say "Shop 2nd Avenue" to encourage people to spend money in the local shops. And it's using noise mitigation techniques to limit the ruckus caused by construction.
"We are doing everything we can to help businesses along Second Avenue," said Kevin Ortiz, an MTA spokesman.
The Manhattan Chamber of Commerce's Second Avenue Resource Coalition is currently preparing a marketing strategy with advertisements that would highlight struggling restaurants and small businesses, said Nancy Ploeger, director of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce.
The coalition also is awaiting $10,000 in funding from state Sen. Liz Krueger and $9,000 from Council Member Jessica Lappin of the Upper East Side that will go towards the formulation of the marketing strategy.
Effort to aid the businesses suffered a setback this week after the coalition's request for $625,000 in appropriations funding from U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand didn't make it out of a Senate subcommittee meeting and won't be included in budget negotiations later this year.