UPPER WEST SIDE — Business owners are fighting unsightly scaffolding by adding creative decorations like flowers, balloons and even multicolored umbrellas to lure customers into their shops.
The tangle of metal beams, which can stay up for months or even years even while no active work is happening, is almost universally dreaded by businesses.
Last May, Flatiron restaurant BLT Fish sued the owner of the adjoining building, claiming scaffolding caused the restaurant to lose $50,000 a month in revenue. The restaurant owners called the scaffolding the "kiss of death" for their business.
But small business owners on the Upper West Side are determined not to let that be their fate.
The day before the women's clothing boutique Purdy Girl opened its third location in the city, on Amsterdam Avenue at West 82nd Street, storeowners decided they would find a clever way to draw people in, despite the scaffolding that went up around the store for façade and parapet repairs.
Owner Corinne Purdy bought fake flowers and affixed them along the metal poles outside her store, along with bright balloons, said shop assistant buyer Griselda Benavides.
"[The flowers] are pretty. They're youthful. They're lively," Benavides explained.
They mirror the colorful, flowery aesthetic of the store's clothes, she noted.
Because scaffolding blocks sunlight, Purdy Girl wanted to counteract that with the flowers, she added. The current permit for the scaffolding doesn't expire until Feb. 4 of next year, records show.
While the store hasn't measured whether the decorations have made a difference in foot traffic, it has gotten a lot of positive comments, Benavides said.
"People really like it. They think it's pretty," she said.
Restaurant owner Larry Bellone abhors the scaffolding that's surrounding his Amsterdam Avenue eatery Tessa.
"It is dirty, covers our storefront, blocks the sunlight and generally diminishes local foot traffic," he said in an email. "It clearly hurts our business, especially the sidewalk cafe."
The permit for the scaffolding, which was granted in November 2013, expired more than a year ago, forcing Bellone to lodge a series of 311 complaints. The Department of Buildings could not say why the scaffolding was there, though a spokesman said permits must be renewed yearly or building owners risk fines.
In response, Bellone has tried to make the outdoor cafe seating underneath the scaffolding feel like a garden oasis.
"We have hung sets of patio string lights across the scaffolding cross bars, creating a warm festive glow," Bellone said.
The restaurateur also hung 10 baskets with trailing flowers and vines from the metal pipes and wrapped more lights around them.
"When given lemons make lemonade," he said of his approach, which was also echoed by other owners.
On Columbus Avenue, the independent bookstore Book Culture last week put up roughly two dozen brightly colored, semi-translucent umbrellas to spark interest in the store.
The display is also a marketing move, as the store offers the umbrellas for $8 each.
"We've sold a lot of umbrellas," store manager Flora Greeson said.
The scaffolding went up in front of the store, at West 82nd Street, several weeks ago, employees said. This past week, the staff decided they had to do something to catch people's attention.
"The scaffolding was just kind of gloomy and we wanted to put up something springy," Greeson said.
Book Culture owner Chris Doeblin bought the umbrellas while on a shopping expedition, he said.
"I was looking for ideas and thinking of Chinese lanterns, so I went shopping in the wholesale stores in Midtown and bumped into this bit of inspiration," he told DNAinfo in an email.
Around the same time, neighboring shops Mint, a women's clothing boutique, and Yogurt & Candy World both put up balloons to catch the eyes of passersby.
When scaffolding went up along their stretch of Columbus Avenue a few weeks ago, "the owners were pretty disappointed," said Mint employee Charlotte Noordsy.
"I'm just trying to attract attention," said Noordsy, adding she has to refresh the balloons about once a week when they start to look deflated.
Shaharier Mulla, manager at the adjacent Yogurt & Candy World, also put up several bunches of balloons in all different colors.
But he's even more vigilant with his balloon display, having an employee refresh them once a day.
"The balloons have helped [attract business]," Mulla said.
Like Purdy Girl and Book Culture, Yogurt & Candy World is new to the neighborhood, only opening in mid-February.
The scaffolding, which went up after the store opened, agitated Mulla, who said he is trying to establish a customer base.
"Nobody can see the sign or my store," he said.
The DOB could not say what purpose the scaffolding there served.
A spokesman said that while there are regulations pertaining to posting signage on scaffolding and street sheds, an on-scene inspector would have to determine whether the decorations constituted a violation of building code.
He could not immediately point to any part of the code prohibiting this kind of decorating.