FINANCIAL DISTRICT — Barricades that lined Wall Street since Occupy Wall Street protests started six weeks ago were taken down Wednesday — a day after a neighborhood restaurant owner told DNAinfo the barriers forced him to lay off 21 workers.
Minutes after the police blockades came down, Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson was seen eating lunch in the struggling Milk Street Cafe, whose owner said business had dropped more than 30 percent because of the barricades.
Wolfson, who toured Wall Street with Borough President Scott Stringer and State Sen. Daniel Squadron last Friday to look at the barricades, said Wednesday that the final decision to remove them rested with Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
"The police commissioner makes an assessment based on public safety," he said as he ate roasted chicken with tomato salad and a side of pickles.
"This was the assessment he made today…. We're going to be continually monitoring this and assessing it."
Wolfson added that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver had a role in affecting the city's decision. Silver wrote a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg with other local officials on Monday asking the city "to remove the excessive number of barricades."
Wolfson sat at the Milk Street Cafe with Judy Rapfogel, Silver's chief of staff, and Micah Lasher, the mayor's state legislative affairs director.
Silver, Squadron and City Councilwoman Margaret Chin all released statements Wednesday afternoon praising the city's responsiveness to their request to remove the barriers.
Marc Epstein, owner of the Milk Street Cafe at 40 Wall St., stood beaming at the doors of his international food hall as he watched lunch crowds filter in through the unobstructed entrance.
"I'm thrilled," Epstein said. "We will assume the barricades are down [for good]."
Epstein said he didn't expect his business to rebound overnight, but the removal of the barricades is a good first step. He had said the barriers prevented people from accessing his eatery.
"It's getting there," he said. "You can't expect it to change in an hour."
At an unrelated press event Wednesday, Bloomberg told reporters that he continues to be concerned about the impact Occupy Wall Street has on the surrounding community.
"This isn’t an occupation of Wall Street; it's an occupation of a… vibrant residential neighborhood in Lower Manhattan," Bloomberg said. "The community, businesses and residents in Lower Manhattan feel that they are the ones that are being occupied."
Marc LaVorgna, a spokesman for the mayor, released a statement later in the day about the barricade decision.
"We worked with the community and listened to concerns, coming up with a solution with NYPD that will help businesses and quality of life while maintaining public safety," he said.
Before Wednesday's decision to remove the barricades, the NYPD had told the community that the Wall Street barriers had to stay in place because the protesters were unpredictable and would not agree to restrict their marches to specific routes and times.
On Wednesday, some protesters acknowledged that challenge and said they were sorry to hear some businesses were struggling.
"It is unfair or regretful that we have inconvenienced the people we are trying to help, that we see as our allies," said Clair Kaplan, 24, a protester from Philadelphia who has been at Occupy Wall Street for three weeks. "Some of it might be unavoidable to draw attention to our grievances."
Sam Le Dily, 23, a cook from Long Island who spends some nights at Occupy Wall Street, said he thought the long-term benefits of the movement would outweigh any immediate impact on the local community.
"I hope we don't judge Occupy Wall Street in the short-term," he said. "We are learning to be men and women, how to be an adult. It's about educating a community, a coming of age for a generation."
The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Jill Colvin, Leslie Albrecht and Serena Solomon contributed reporting