LONGWOOD — In the nearly quarter-century since the elevated 2/5 train line along Southern Boulevard was last painted, it has acquired the rust and whalebone tint of a sunken ship.
So when MTA crews began prepping the poles and platforms above the boulevard around Westchester Avenue this summer — and actually repainting them this month for the first time since 1989 — most local merchants were thrilled.
But as the work drags on, the merchants’ gratitude for the long-overdue paintjob has been tinged with worry about lost business, which already suffers because of poor street lighting.
“The painting we’re so happy about,” said Khaddija Dukureh, owner of the beauty supply store, Nature’s Garden. “But business is very, very slow.”
Crews will eventually make some steel repairs to and paint the entire length of the elevated 2/5 line in the South Bronx a color called Woodland Night Green — from Third Avenue to East 180th Street, the MTA said. Work is slated to last 32 months.
Workers began repainting a stretch of the line between Westchester Avenue and East 167th Street this month.
During the work, parking is not permitted along most of that section of the boulevard, a ban that merchants say has kept customers away.
“It killed the business,” said Zaid Illaheb, owner of A-Z Deli.
David Rios, who has run Stephanie Pet Center for 32 years, said he recalled the 1989 paintjob lasting a few days, not weeks. In the four weeks since the current crews started, they have applied a coat of red primer to about half a block of track, Rios added.
Deirdre Parker, an MTA spokeswoman, said the present-day painting procedure requires an enclosure around the structure while the old paint is removed and a new overcoat is applied, then ground covering while second and third coats of paint are added.
“It’s a long process,” she said.
In the meantime, business is down roughly 40 percent, or about $2,000 less in sales per week, Rios said.
“We’re losing money every day,” he lamented.
Jebel Ceesay, who owns the clothing store JB Collection and heads the Southern Boulevard Merchants Association, said there is no denying the tracks need to be repainted.
More than once, crusted sheets of old paint rattled loose by passing trains rained down on his head as he crossed the boulevard, he said.
In fact, the association sent the MTA petitions requesting new track paint before work began.
But he also knows businesses — including his own — are hurting during the work.
The other day, a woman who had double parked because of the shortage of spots during construction, rushed out to avoid a ticket, leaving $125 worth of clothes on the counter, never to be purchased.
“No week passes that I don’t lose a customer like that,” he said.
Akila Shenoy, a program manager at the nonprofit WHEDco, which provides technical assistance to the merchants association, said the unpainted train line had discouraged investment and fostered misperceptions of the area.
“The painting of the el is a great representation to the community that the city is paying attention to the neighborhood,” Shenoy said, “and to prospective business owners that this is a community to invest in.”
But for all the block’s progress — before the painting, tree guards were installed on the sidewalk and the merchants group was formed — some dark spots remain, literally: lighting is notoriously poor along the boulevard.
The shadowy street scares off evening shoppers, requires extra store security and emboldens thieves, which trims profits, merchants say.
They sent a petition to the Transportation Department earlier this year asking for that extra lighting, but have not received a response, Ceesay said.
Rayshell Watson, a regular customer at Nature’s Garden, the beauty supply store, only visits during the day. At night, the street is “desolate — it’s scary,” she said.
It’s a shame, she added, that the elevated tracks would be repainted, while the block they overlook remains shrouded in darkness.
The new paint “is absolutely gorgeous,” she said. “But there’s no light at night, so how can we appreciate it?”