Second Avenue merchants: subway construction cutting business by up to 40%

By Jane C. Timm | August 24, 2010 01:00PM

Second Avenue at the corner of 73rd Street, the Beach Café on 70th Street and Second Avenue and Pyramida Grill on the corner of 73rd Street and Second Avenue

As Second Avenue Subway construction slogs on, more Upper East Side businesses are reporting additional losses — and the end is far from near.

The construction has been obstructing businesses and walkways, even forcing residents out of their building for renovations in the 90s, but farther down the avenue, another stretch is suffering.

On Second Avenue between 69th and 74th streets — where the east half of the street is fenced off for five blocks and has shrunk ordinarily wide sidewalks into smaller, temporary walkways — business owners say their sales are down 20 to 40 percent. According to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, this area still has another three years of construction in the works, and the entire first phase, from 63rd to 96th streets, won’t be finished until 2016.

The Beach Café on 70th Street has been in business for 42 years, but according to owner Dave Goodside there’s “no guarantee that we’re going to be in business next year and that’s due to the subway construction. We’ve never felt like that before, but that’s how we feel.”

His business is down 25 percent, Goodside said.

“We deal with challenges every day that are related to the subway,” he said.

Especially troublesome is the street lighting — which was relocated by construction and darkens outside the restaurant at night — and altered trash collection patterns, which in turn has impacted outdoor seating.

To deal with the losses, the Beach Café is dropping menu prices (weekend brunch prices are now 25 percent lower) and there are new weekly promotions on wine and lobster, Goodside said. They’re also working to spruce up the exterior of the restaurant.

“We’re trying to maintain our existing customers, as we’re not getting as many new customers,” he added.

New York State Assemblyman Jonathan Bing is the sponsor of a bill, which was proposed by Assemblyman Micah Kellner last year and passed in the Assembly in March. The bill would offer tax abatements for commercial property owners located in construction areas along Second Avenue.

The Second Avenue Subway will help both the city and the state, Bing said, and “I think it’s our responsibility” to help the local businesses hurt by its construction,” he added.

The MTA has tried to be as helpful as possible to local businesses, said Kevin Ortiz, an MTA spokesperson. In addition to having a full-time liaison working with business owners affected by the construction as well as local community groups and elected officials, the MTA is participating in a promotional campaign called “Shop Second Avenue” that looks to promote the Second Avenue businesses through an advertising campaign. They are also working to ensure proper promotional signage for businesses obstructed by the construction.

Surface roadwork on Second Avenue between 69th and 74th streets began in Fall 2008. The MTA is currently awarding another construction contract for the next 37 months.

Jae Lee owns two stores on Second Avenue near 73rd Street — Naturino and Greenstones. Both have seen considerable losses due to the construction, he said.

“Before the construction began, a lot of my customers drove and parked right outside, bought their shoes and clothing,” Lee said. “But now they aren’t able to do that.”

Lee said sales at both stores are down 20 to 30 percent.

Roger Remkissoon, owner of Pyramida Grill on the corner of 73rd Street, said his business is down 40 percent because of the subway construction. The restaurant is trying to bolster its delivery business, which now represents 70 percent of the overall sales, through flyering and promotions.

Goodside said he’d been to community meetings with the MTA and that they’d been as “accommodating as I think they’re able to,” but that it’s still a struggle for small businesses. “They have to do their job, they have to build the subway.” For now, he said he’s working to “keep the business viable and not go into the red numbers.”

Further north, tenants and business owners alike continue to struggle. “We are all being affected negatively. Tenants are frustrated by the lack of information forthcoming by the MTA and the nuisance of the construction. The small business owners may not survive due to loss of revenue,” Bonnie Boyuk said. Boyuk is a resident of 1873 Second Avenue, the building that will be evacuated later this month to accommodate construction efforts. The MTA said the evacuation of 1873 Second Avenue would begin Sept. 11.