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Erratic Water Shut Offs Leaving Myrtle Avenue Businesses High and Dry

By Donna M. Airoldi | September 14, 2015 11:02am
 Water shut-downs are disrupting small businesses.
Myrtle Avenue Water Main Closures
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CLINTON HILL — Water main work that is expected to continue through at least October is disrupting small businesses along Myrtle Avenue, multiple merchants told DNAinfo New York.

The New York City Department of Design and Construction (DDC) began shutting water off in phases between Classon Avenue and Hall Street in order to replace underground pipes that have been there since 1908, officials said. But local businesses say the agency hasn't done a very good job of keeping them informed in a timely manner.

“It’s been a frustrating ordeal the last few weeks as no one seems to know what is going on,” said Alain Farrelly, one of three brothers who own Brewklyn Grind Coffee Roasters at 557 Myrtle Ave. Farrelly estimates the shop has already lost about $7,500 in business during the shutdowns Aug. 22 and Sept. 9 and 10 — and said he couldn't receive confirmation if he would have water on Monday until 8 a.m. that morning because the DDC doesn’t work weekends.

“I don’t know how they expect people to operate like this. Everything we use is fresh and perishable — pastries, milk, etc. We need to give suppliers at least 24-hours notice, and when we don’t, they deliver, and we have to pay for that,” Farrelly said.

Hair salons Shic, at 564 Myrtle, and Soketah, across the street at 563 Myrtle, said they've also been getting the runaround about the work schedule.

Merchants were told mid-week that the water would be off on Friday, Sept. 11. Yet, business owners learned after 4 p.m. on Thursday that the water would actually be on on Friday — and that the water might be off again all day Monday and Tuesday, or possibly Wednesday and Thursday.

“We’re losing a whole lot of business,” said the salon's owner, Keisha Farrell, 38. “I can’t even tell you [a number,] but it’s a lot.”

Other merchants along the avenue said they've learned to work without water.

On shut-off days, the Green Pets Spa & Boutique at 572 Myrtle doesn’t schedule any grooming appointments, said manager Calvin Mewborn. Tepango, a Mexican taqueria at 568 Myrtle, opens later than usual. “We’re slower during the day and more of a nighttime business, so it hasn’t been too much of a problem,” said owner Lorenzo Marin, 47.

Community organization Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership — also known as MARP for one of its two organizations, the Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project — has been acting as a liaison between the DDC and the local merchants impacted by the construction.  The water main work is part of the Myrtle Avenue Plaza and Street Reconstruction project — which will result in a 25,000-square-foot pedestrian plaza along the avenue.

“We’re trying to mitigate the impact of the construction as much as possible,” said the partnership’s executive director, Meredith Phillips Almeida. “The first closure was on a Saturday, which was problematic for many businesses. We’ve advocated for no water main work to take place on weekends, and so far it hasn’t [since.]”

“We also reached out to the Department of Small Business Services to inquire about a temporary water solution, such as a water truck with a tank, and they told us that there is no compensation provided by the city, and the businesses that want a water truck would have to pay for it,” she said.

DCC Community Construction Liaison Christopher Fields said he’s been speaking or meeting with MARP daily regarding community impact and understands the merchants' frustrations.

“It’s a water shut-down. Not everyone is going to be happy all the time,” Fields said. “Some businesses are open during the day, others at night. It’s a tough situation. We’re working with everyone as best as we can, but we can’t appease everyone.”

Fields said the DDC tries to provide up to 72-hour notice as a courtesy, but the department’s protocol is to confirm closures within 24 hours.

“It depends on what is going on under the ground. There are a lot of utilities and wires, and construction has a lot of variables and things that come up,” he said. “It’s not as simple at times.”

Fields could not confirm how many more days construction would impact the water main or for how long, but he did say the plaza project would continue through mid-2016.

Almeida said she thinks that Fields “is doing the best he can to communicate with the businesses ... but I can’t help but think there could have been more intense coordination [by DDC] at the outset of the project.”

Shic’s Farrell agrees.

“They should have factored [compensation for business losses] into the budget,” she said. “[DDC] can have 10 businesses closed so they can get their work done, but we don’t get our work done. At the end of the day, the landlords still want their money.”