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L Train Shutdown Planning Ignores Needs of Small Businesses, Owners Say

By Gwynne Hogan | February 20, 2017 11:36am
"We've sort of given up [on] help from the MTA," one shop owner said.
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DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

WILLIAMSBURG — Small business owners along the L train corridor are terrified they'll be ignored by city and state agencies planning for the service's 18 month shutdown — adding the agency's handling of Second Avenue subway construction woes gives them cause to worry.

The MTA and the Department of Transportation are collecting commuters' input at a series of public meetings and this spring will release a plan for alternative ways of getting around, officials said at a Williamsburg meeting Thursday.

But many business owners say they've seen no effort from state or city agencies to work with them — adding that they worry their interests of bringing more people to the area are in direct conflict with those of the MTA.

"The situation is a bit scary because they are really focused on moving people, not on bringing people into the area which is what we need as businesses," said Felice Kirby, head of Brooklyn Allied Bar and Restaurants who also heads up the L Train Coalition, an umbrella group that represents many Greenpoint and Williamsburg small businesses.

"There doesn't seem to be much planning for the sections of the community that have really contributed to the Brooklyn and New York City economy that now represent tens of thousands of jobs [and] tax revenue," Kirby said.

Beth DeFalco, a spokeswoman for the MTA, said the L train shutdown doesn't begin for another two years and the agency is just starting to figure out how to get people around without the train.

"The first step in helping businesses is developing a transportation alternative plan during the closure for impacted riders — aka customers," DeFalco said. 

"We will also work with all appropriate agencies to find ways to minimize impacts for local businesses going forward."

Business owners and employees are not expecting "expedited treatment," said Kirby, but they worry that the clock is ticking. 

"We've sort of given up [on] help from the MTA," said Lexi Oliveri, owner of Antoinette, a vintage shop at 119 Grand St.

"I'm just preparing for the worst. It's every man for themselves. Every business is trying to figure out how we're going to go about this.

"I'm gonna start to panic around summer of 2018."

Elected officials have been calling for interagency cooperation since a July letter they wrote to the mayor, the governor and the MTA immediately after the MTA announced the full 18-month shutdown of the train service.

On Jan. 30, the city's Department of Transportation and the MTA wrote back saying their "foremost priority" was planning for commuters and pointed to a series of public workshops.

"We hope you are able to attend," the letter read.

Minna Elias, the chief of staff for U.S. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney who was also involved with businesses struggling during the Second Avenue subway construction, worried little will be done on behalf of the businesses.

"If history is anything to go by, they just expect the businesses to weather [the shutdown]," Elias said.

"You end up with the businesses' needs and the MTA’s needs being at odds. [The businesses'] goal is to encourage traffic. The MTA’s goal is to discourage traffic.

”The past has not given us reason to hope that they will do anything for the businesses."

A spokeswoman for Empire State Development deferred comment to the MTA. The city's Economic Development Corporation said it had no role in the L train shutdown and deferred to the city's Department of Small Business Services.

Nick Benson, a spokesman for SBS, said a representative was at Thursday night's community meeting and spoke with business owners there.

"What we are doing is attending public meetings, we’re collecting information, we’re listening to the concerns of business owners and collaborating with our colleagues in government," he said.

None of those agencies are currently studying the economic impact the shut down will have, they confirmed.

The mayor's press office and the governor's press office didn't respond to requests for comment.

"I guess I don't understand the short-sightedness of it," said Brain Sahd, owner of Abode, a home furnishing store at 179 Grand Street.

"Small business is the backbone of the economy. If there's no small businesses, the whole fabric of Williamsburg is just going to struggle to survive."

The MTA is shutting down L train service between Bedford Avenue and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan for 18 months in order to make repairs to the Canarsie Tunnel that flooded during Hurricane Sandy.

Service between Canarsie and Bedford Avenue will continue as normal during that time.